SFS Grad Provides Insight on US Relationship with Latin America

By: Andrew Johnian, Reporter

Photo Credit: International Trade Administration

Former US Ambassador to Chile, Michael A. Hammer, visited Georgetown University’s campus on Thursday afternoon as part of the semester’s “Ambassador Series” to discuss opportunities and challenges for the United States in the Western Hemisphere. Ambassador Hammer’s distinguished career in public service includes stints with the National Security Council (NSC) in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. As a US Foreign Service officer, he has worked extensively with Latin American countries and populations to address pressing issues and increase American engagement in the region. Ambassador Hammer graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 1985.

Ambassador Hammer spoke of the unshakeable bond between the United States and its southern neighbors that has been highlighted in the “Summit of the Americas” meetings. Mr. Hammer spoke of engagement through “common interest and mutual respect” as the driving force behind US-Latin American relations.

The past several years have presented a series of challenges for Latin American countries as they grapple with strengthening democratic institutions and promoting economic development. In discussing the Obama administration’s legacy, the ambassador highlighted the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, and the administration’s investments to combat social inequity and promote clean energy initiatives. Hammer noted importance of the United States remaining engaged in the hemisphere, in particular given the growing footprint of China in South America, pointing to China now becoming Chile’s largest trading partner.

The United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership that included Canada, Mexico, Peru and Chile will be viewed with disappointment by those countries and could create a vacuum unless the new administration launches new initiatives with Latin America. The ambassador highlighted some challenges in Latin America, including instability in Venezuela, the future of the Colombian peace process, security concerns in Central America, and the risk of natural disasters particularly in states such as Haiti.

Ambassador Hammer also spoke of security concerns in the region related to narco-terrorism and transnational crime. He noted that criminal violence in some Latin American countries was undermining state authority and could result in humanitarian or migration crises that could pose challenges to several nations, including the United States. With the election of Donald Trump, “the ways and means used to pursue security interests is likely to change,” according to Hammer. He spoke of the need to strengthen security through interagency and international cooperation, citing as an example the excellent work done by of the Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-South) in Key West, using fusion cells and shared information to combat trafficking.

In terms of efforts to eradicate drug production, Hammer noted the difficult challenge of the “Balloon Effect.” A term used in security circles, the Balloon Effect refers to a condition where solvency in one area leads to heightened criminal activity in others. He noted the importance of building partner capacity, yet hoped that America’s relationship with countries in the region wouldn’t be dominated by concerns over narco-trafficking. As such, Ambassador Hammer emphasized the value of non-military and law enforcement solutions, including institution building, economic development, and public-private partnerships.

The priorities laid out by former Ambassador Hammer to mitigate security concerns in the Western Hemisphere focused on building community resiliency and state capacity as well as strengthening the longstanding US-Latin America relationship.

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