Mexico in transition

February 18, 2015

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s interview with Grapevine Magazine.

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With lower oil prices now around $50 a barrel, what effects do you foresee for Mexico and for Round One bidding?

The low global oil prices have absolutely changed the energy landscape for countries across the world and Mexico is no exception. For Mexico, an oil producing and exporting country, the most immediate effect is the fiscal one, as less revenue flows back into Pemex or is channeled into the federal budget, which has been receiving roughly one third of its funding from these energy revenues.

The Mexican government has actually been preparing for this type of drop, by employing an extensive annual hedging scheme that, along with gasoline taxes, will somewhat soften the blow this year. But if prices don’t start rebounding, and it doesn’t look like they will anytime soon, then they’ll need to make up for the lost revenues. One way the government could do this would be to raise taxes, and since they recently promised not to do this, their options will largely be constrained to cutting spending, taking on more debt, or doing a little of both. In fact, we’ve already seen them slash planned government spending by over $8 billion in response to oil prices. And with roughly half of that earmarked for Pemex, it’s not hard to imagine the types of effects that this will have for Mexico’s energy sector, not to mention the country’s economic growth more broadly.

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Give George Washington his due

February 17, 2015

John L. Loeb, Jr. (Ambassador to Denmark, 1981-1983)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Loeb’s February 16, 2015 special to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Let’s give his birthday back to George Washington. Is there some timely reason? Yes.

Since 1879, Washington’s Birthday, Feb. 22, has been celebrated as a federal holiday – although, in 1968, as part of a grand plan to create three-day “holiday weekends,” it was pegged to the third Monday of the month. Officially, it is still “George Washington’s Birthday,” but for most people, it has become an amorphous “Presidents’ Day.” More of that in a moment.
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Noncommunicable Disease – An Emerging Global Health Crisis

February 9, 2015

Nancy Brinker (Ambassador to Hungary, 2001-2003; Chief of Protocol, 2007-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Brinker’s February 4, 2015 post on The Huffington Post.

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Over the course of the last 30 years, I have watched women’s cancers go from being a disease that only affects affluent countries to being a global problem. If there was ever any truth to the notion that cancer is mostly a rich country’s problem, the facts no longer support it. The numbers of deaths each year from breast cancer are now equally split between developed and developing countries.

All of us involved in the work of global health, and women’s health in particular, need to better understand what we are up against. And a 2014 report by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) does exactly that.

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A Field Guide to Jordan’s Struggle Against ISIS

February 6, 2015

Marc Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s February 5, 2015 special to the Huffington Post.

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There are few nations in the Middle East, perhaps aside from Morocco (a bit of prejudice here), that is as blessed with such decent people and respected leadership as Jordan. It is a vulnerable, but stable desert kingdom constantly defying the forces arrayed against it. Jordan’s boundless generosity has provided a safe haven for the human tide of refugees that have been thrust upon it from war ravaged Syria and Iraq. A nation poor in natural resources – Jordan nevertheless is an oasis of dependability in a Levantine desert seeming devoid of anything but.

King Hussein of Jordan – one of the truly great leaders of the modern Arab world and father of the current monarch, King Abdullah, described his nation this way:

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Ambassador McCormack Discusses Careers, Ethics and Public Policy

January 29, 2015

Richard T. McCormack (U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, 1985-1989)

This speech was originally presented at Yale Law School on November 3, 2014.

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When Greg Fleming, my highly respected friend and former boss at Bank of America/ML, asked me to say a few words to you about careers and ethics, I felt deeply honored. All of us are relay runners, and some of you in this room will soon be asked to pick up the baton from my generation and carry on the race.

Greg asked me to say a few words about some of the lessons of my own career that may be relevant to you, offer some thoughts about ethics and the powerful value of good mentors, and finally outline some of the many public policy problems that you may face when you leave this school and begin your careers.

THE UNPREDICTABLE EVENTS THAT SHAPE CAREERS

When I graduated from Georgetown, I passed the foreign service exam, with the intention of a career in the State Department. But that summer, I decided to spend a year or two abroad to develop some language skills and enrolled in the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where the classes were multilingual. A senior professor encouraged me to enter the PhD program, which I did, and graduated three years later.

When I returned to the U.S., I applied for a job in Congress to learn how our Congress works. I was asked by the House Republican Conference to help run the summer intern program and work on several public policy issues, including Vietnam. We also helped fix Washington’s poorly organized Project Headstart. These efforts drew the attention of the senior people in the Republican leadership, and I was advised to consider a career in the political system rather than the career service. A senior Ambassador reinforced this advice.

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Ambassador Garza on Mexico’s Future

January 26, 2015

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s January 2015 newsletter.

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As 2015 kicks off, there is a lot of talk about what we should be watching over the coming months. Analysts such as Ian Bremmer and Andy Langenkamp have offered their thoughts in wide-ranging and succinct geopolitical roundups. Their hotspots span the globe, but reading them I was struck by how little there was on Latin America or Mexico in particular. So to complement their global approach, here’s a look into what events and trends I’ll be watching in the region over the coming year.

Looking at Mexico’s future, I would be remiss without starting with the two biggest things that everyone will be watching, and that is what develops on the security and energy fronts. After the heartbreak of the missing 43 students, government corruption, and the outpouring of emotion and frustration across the country, the government’s actions in 2015 will be critical for proving its leadership and ability to strengthen the country’s rule of law. What happens or does not will influence everything from protecting citizens to safeguarding investments to influencing the midterm election outcomes later this year.

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Russia: Bruised Feelings or Self-Inflicted Pain?

January 15, 2015

Donald Blinken (Ambassador to Hungary, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Blinken’s January 13, 2015 special to to The Huffington Post.

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Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, Russia’s is using complaints of humiliation by the West to support its seizure of the Crimea, its military presence in Eastern Ukraine, and its provocations in the Baltics.

One of the chief abuses Moscow cites it is the eastward expansion of NATO. In fact, however, expanding NATO has enhanced Russia’s security by extending the frontiers of stability. Since the 1990s, peace and quiet have prevailed along the NATO-Russian border. Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland – much less any of the Baltic states – were not, and are not, about to invade Russia. Meanwhile, the terrorist attacks suffered by Russia over the past two decades have all come from places to the east, like Chechnya and other former Islamic states of the USSR.

Nevertheless, Russia’s complaint about its humiliation at Western hands is being taken seriously in many circles, particularly this version of history: Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the U.S. and its allies deceived then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev by promising him that a reunited Germany would not join NATO, nor would Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) be offered NATO membership.

It is a cleverly concocted story, but the facts say otherwise.

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The Increase of Islamist Attacks is Alarming

January 13, 2015

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s January 13, 2015 blog post.

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We are living in the most crucial time in modern history since the Cold War. Today’s enemy is not a standing army of a sovereign nation. It is a theological movement with a mission to destroy Western civilization. As the Cold War ended in the 1980s, the U.S. focused more on the Eastern Bloc countries, although the real threat to our security was brewing in Africa and the Middle East. We continued to build up our military might for ground-style wars, but did not see the danger of terrorism that would erupt into a different kind of warfare.

The U.S. could have learned a lesson in the early 1980s, when there were thirty-six suicide attacks against Americans inside Lebanon. In April 1983 the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed by Hezbollah, killing 63 people. At the request of the Lebanese government, the U.S. established a peacekeeping force to control the conflict between Muslims and Christians. The Muslim military viewed our soldiers as their enemies and attacked them regularly. In October 1983 truck bombs struck two barracks, killing 241 U.S. troops for which the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. In December 1983 a truck filled with explosives rammed into the three-story administrative wing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City, killing five people. That attack was claimed by a radical Shiite group with ties to Iran.

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Evaluating the Transatlantic Partnership

January 6, 2015

Norman L. Eisen (Ambassador to the Czech Republic, 2011-2014)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Eisen’s December 24, 2014 interview with the EU Bulletin.

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EUBULLETIN: It seems that the conflict in Ukraine has unexpectedly tightened political relations across the Atlantic. Since the beginning of the conflict, both the U.S. and the EU have intensively cooperated to shape the “anti-Russia” policy. Sanctions are likely the most important part of this policy but they have had ambiguous results so far. What should be, in your opinion, the next steps Washington and Brussels should take to advance the solution to the conflict?

Eisen: You said the magic word, sanctions. We need truly tough sanctions with real unity behind them, as the West has, for example, demonstrated towards Iran. I know that will be painful for some businesses and some nations’ economies, but in the long term the price will be even higher if we do not stop Mr. Putin.

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As Cuba Thaws, is the Cold War Back in Europe?

December 22, 2014

Jim Rosapepe (Ambassador to Romania, 1998-2001)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Rosapepe’s December 22, 2014 article in the Diplomatic Courier.

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Twenty-five years to the month after Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was deposed, President Obama announced normalization of relations with Communist Cuba. Ceausescu’s Christmas Day execution, less than two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was the final major domino in the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the raising of the Iron Curtain from the Baltics to the Black Sea.

For Americans, not to mention eastern Europeans, the sudden change in 1989 was astonishing, and welcome. Not so for a 37-year-old KGB agent in East Germany, Vladimir Putin. If America had “won” the Cold War, as President George H.W. Bush said repeatedly, to Putin and Russians like him, Russia had lost.

They didn’t forgive—and they didn’t forget.

For him and for us, the 25th anniversary of the end of the Cold War has been the year Russia invaded Ukraine.

Americans wonder: is the Cold War back in Europe while it thaws in the Western Hemisphere?

The answer is no. Not even close.

In fact, the period we call “post-Communist” itself is largely over.

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