Advice for John Kerry

Mexico is still suffering from horrible cartel violence, but a new study from the University of San Diego indicates that drug-related murders have either plateaued or declined (perhaps significantly) since 2011. In Honduras, unfortunately, drug violence and corruption have reached truly catastrophic levels, which is why the United States established three new Honduran military bases in 2012. Honduras now has the highest murder rate in the world, and also the most dangerous city in the world (San Pedro Sula). “By many grim measures,” declared a December 2012 Associated Press dispatch from the capital city of Tegucigalpa, “the troubled Central American republic is barely clinging to its status as a functioning country.”

The situation in neighboring Guatemala is somewhat more encouraging: The Guatemalan murder rate has dropped by nearly one-quarter since 2009. However, the country is still experiencing a dire security crisis, and the notorious Zetas cartel (Mexico’s most ruthless drug gang) still controls a disturbing amount of territory in the northern Guatemalan states of Petén, Alta Verapaz, and Izabal. For all these reasons, Kerry should support a new aid package for Central America -- a complement to the Central America Regional Security Initiative -- that is focused on building better, cleaner police forces and stronger legal institutions. (According to an October 2012 New York Times report, such a plan is already in the works, at least for Honduras.)

As for reforming the OAS, he should aim to bolster the Inter-American System of Human Rights and also transform the Inter-American Democratic Charter into an official treaty. It is encouraging that Kerry (along with Democratic senator Robert Menendez, Republican senator Marco Rubio, and former GOP senator Richard Lugar) signed a November 2012 letter warning that the hemispheric body was “sliding into an administrative and financial paralysis” and headed for possible “irrelevance.” He should follow up on this letter by pushing for genuine OAS reforms.

Many U.S. conservatives don’t trust Kerry’s instincts on Latin America, largely because of his 28-year Senate record. In the 1980s, Kerry dismissed the U.S. invasion of Grenada as “a bully’s show of force against a weak Third World nation,” and he fervently opposed Ronald Reagan’s Contra policy in Nicaragua. For that matter, Kerry opposed pretty much Reagan’s entire Latin America strategy. As Jay Nordlinger of National Review has noted, he “was the only senator to vote against money for police training in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica” in December 1985.

During the 1990s, Kerry endorsed U.S. military intervention to restore the thuggish Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president of Haiti. In a 1994 New York Times op-ed, he wrote that Aristide “has already demonstrated his willingness to compromise, agreeing to share power with a broad-based coalition with safeguards for everyone’s rights.” Ten years later, in a 2004 interview with Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer, Kerry said the pro-democracy Varela Project created by the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá “has gotten a lot of people in trouble” and “brought down the hammer in a way that I think wound up being counterproductive.”

If he is to succeed in Latin America during his tenure as secretary of state, Kerry must show better instincts than he did during his long Senate career. Hopefully he will understand the real opportunities and real challenges facing the United States south of the border.

(You can read this article in Spanish here.)