Interview
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"In defense of our interests, it's our duty to stop the disintegration of democracy"
Biden's Ambassador to the OAS Frank Mora talks about the authoritarian alternatives that are emerging throughout the continent, including the US, as a result of discontent. An in-depth dialogue on a crucial problem.

Francisco Frank Mora combines academic practice and practical management like few people. He have studied the often problematic relationship between the United States and Latin America in detail. He wrote several articles and five books about it, including the one summarizing the bond entitled "Neighborly Adversaries." But he was also Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere during the administration of Democract Barack Obama and, for almost a year, he has been the US Ambassador to the Organization of American States. To access this key position in US Foreign Affairs Policy towards the continent, Mora was nominated by Joe Biden, and he achieved the majority support of the Senate. In an exclusive dialogue with LPO, this Cuban-American reflects without euphemisms about democracy distrust, the immigration and fentanyl crisis, plus the United States' view of Latin America.

9 months after taking office as Ambassador to the OAS, What is the political map of the continent?

Since we arrived at the OAS, we had two or three priorities, consistent with President Biden's policy. First, strengthen the institution and give it credibility. During the campaign and adminsitration, the President and the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, both in Washington and at the United Nations, spoke a lot about the importance of international alliances, of strengthening and using multilateral institutions to face the common challenges we have, like climate change. I pick that up, it's my way.

What is your specific objective as a delegate to the OAS?

Regarding the OAS, it is important to demonstrate that it has an impact, that it can have more impact on the lives of citizens of the Americas, including the United States. We have been in that process of demonstrating it, which is partly a communication challenge as well. A challenge to communicate and let the press and governments know the importance of the institution in solving a series of problems. One of them, the other priority, is the issue of democracy. The President himself spoke about it focused here in the United States. There is an erosion in democratic governance in the region, including the US.

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How do you define this crisis of democratic governance?

There is great distrust in democratic institutions, in political parties, and the Judiciary. And we have not only the obligation, but rather in defense of our interests, to mitigate and stop this process of erosion that we are seeing, that of disintegration of democracy.

"In defense of our interests, it's our duty to stop the disintegration of democracy"

What examples do you see of this dismantling of democracy?

We see it in the region. For example, Guatemala, but we can name others. It is important to see that the OAS and the international community have risen to the moment, to defend democracy and the results of the elections in Guatemala. It is not an exaggeration to say that the OAS is accompanying this transition process to guarantee that the will of Guatemalan people is respected, despite the fact that there have been efforts by anti-democratic forces to prevent it.

There is a great distrust in democratic institutions, in political parties, and the Judiciary. And we have not only the obligation, but rather in defense of our interests, to mitigate and stop this process of erosion, that of disintegration of democracy.

Beyond authoritarian drifts, this social distrust in democracy, which also extends within the United States, is a symptom of what?

The Secretary of State has said it in the UN General Assembly. And it's not the first time he's said it. The issue of quality, of the performance of democracy goes beyond left or right, it occurs in all countries, including what happens here in the United States.

Do you perceive a turning point towards that trend?

Before the pandemic, the economic social situation was quite good in Latin America. In other words, poverty levels had decreased. Inequality, which is a large part of the problem in the region, also fell. There was a certain social and political stability. The education and health systems seemed to be improving, although they were not complete. The pandemic demonstrated, brought to light, the structural problems that the region still had. Pre-existing conditions. Then a gap was created between what the people's expectations were and the decline in their social and economic situation. That gap has produced what we saw in the polls. When Latin Americans are asked what their level of support for democracy is, it barely reaches 48% or 49%. Just 10 years ago it was 58%. There is a drop of 10 to 11 points. That is significant. So people are already looking for alternatives to democracy, which are always undemocratic. And as we have said on several ocassions, the solution to democracy is not less democracy, but more democracy. The OAS's fundamental pillar is the defense and promotion of democracy and human rights. Guatemala is a test.

"In defense of our interests, it's our duty to stop the disintegration of democracy"

What other countries are testing democracy?

There are other crises emerging. When President Castillo's coup attempt occurred in Peru, there was an effort by some sectors to break the process and the democratic transition. We went out to protest and not only against those forces, but against the same government that was violating the human rights of those who were protesting. You have to be consistent. And don't forget the Nicaraguan people. Nicaragua will officially leave the OAS in November. We are going to hold an event to remember the tragedy of what is happening. Our administration's commitment to democracy is very important. But not for altruistic reasons. It's for value reasons, yes, but also for our interests. Democracy is not perfect, but history tells us that it is the best system to solve everyday issues, such as climate change, polarization, security, etc. And we are going to continue defending it for selfish reasons.

Do you mean that a country leaving the democratic game destabilizes the entire region?

All democracies are fragile. In the OAS there is the Inter-American Democratic Charter that was signed 22 years ago. It was a commitment on the part of all members to defend and promote democracy. And to take action in case of a breakup. That applies to Guatemala, but it also applies here.

Is the migration crisis on the southern border of the United States a direct consequence of that fragility?

Partly because of the pandemic and because of the desperation of people, the frustration, the discontent with democracy or policial systems. Then people vote for the populist candidate or for leaving their country.

"In defense of our interests, it's our duty to stop the disintegration of democracy"

Does the migration crisis have a solution or, until there is certain stability and prosperity in the region, can patches be applied?

Yes. This isn't magic, you don't have a magic wand to, boom!, solve the problem. That does not exist. They are structural problems that are not solved overnight. But I would say two things. It requires the will of all countries, as President Biden said. All countries have to contribute and work together. No country alone can solve the problems of climate change or immigration, including the United States. We need a coordinated strategy. And part of the problem, not all, is due to the governability crisis, to the poverty and inequality that have re-emerged again, with people's expectations that were more positive.

Partly because of the pandemic and the desperation of people, hearing the frustration, the discontent with democracy or the political systems, people vote for the populist candidate or for leaving their country.

What can especifically be done about it?

Vice President Kamala Harris, for example, when faced with this situation early in the administration, identified more than $4 billion from the priviate sector to invest in the region as part of the solution. But the return on that investment does not happen overnight. It's part of the strategy, but it's a whole issue.

"In defense of our interests, it's our duty to stop the disintegration of democracy"

Regarding the crisis in Haiti, with gangs in the streets, What proposals are being considered?

We hope that the resolution that is being negotiated for Kenya to send a thousand police officers to Haiti to stabilize the security issue is approved.

Do you mean "street control"?

Sure. The United States are going to contribute approximately 200 million dollars for this operation. The idea is that the resolution leads to action from the OAS. Afterwards, the members will be asked to contribute materially to this operation with police and other contributions, so that it is not just Kenya. The Bahamas, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda and other countries have said they will commit and send police officers to Haiti as part of the mission that Kenya will lead.

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You study the relationship between the United States and Latin America, in which at times the possible options seem to be a Monroe Doctrine 3.0, or total indifference. Why is this connection so difficult?

I think that neither the Monroe Doctrine 3.0 nor indifference are options. There are politicians who use history to add fuel to the fire because they see an advantage in spreading the word that there is a conflict with the United States. They talk about the history of the 30s or 50s to say that they cannot trust or work together. But in reality this speech is used for domestic political purposes.

Do you say so because of some anti-American demagoguery?

A narrative is created that undermines the ability to work together. But from my experience in the Pentagon and now in the OAS, I have always noticed a great willingness on the part of the vast majority of countries, not all, to work with us. We continue to be the partner of choice for many countries in the region. Not all, but many. For us it is an opportunity to continue maintaining, confronting and looking for ways to collaborate and work together without any paternalistic style, but rather showing that we are equal partners.

Can the nearshoring policy, within the framework of the tense trade race against China, strengthen the United States' relationship with Latin America?

I think so. There is the APEP initiative (Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity) that I do not lead, but it is an economic initiative to help some countries, which at the moment are 11. Reform economies so that they can be linked to the treaty that already exists between the United States and Mexico.

"In defense of our interests, it's our duty to stop the disintegration of democracy"

Is China's growing influence over Latin American countries a threat to the US?

You mention the word threat. We do not use it in relation to China. It is a competitor, we have to compete with China. In some things we are doing it and in others we are not. In the 19th century, the infrastracture in Latin America was built by the English. In the 20th century, by the United States. And now China wants to be the one that builds in the 21st century. And we must compete, and create the conditions so that we can continue expanding our investments. But be careful, we continue to be the most important investor in the region. We are still the most important, although sometimes it is thought that the Chinese are investing much more than us. We have to compete, but the threat implies a conflict. And in Latin America it should not be seen as a conflict, but as...

To see who seduce more and better?

And who has the capacity to support and invest, to work with our partners in the region.

Is the fentanyl trafficking and consumption crisis another factor of instability in the region?

Definitely. President Biden said so. For the country, immediately and in domestic terms, it is a great threat we are facing. And he told all the members of the Cabinet that it has to be the priority. Secretary Blinken picked up on that and has had several meetings to take action to confront this threat. Many governments in the region are aware and very interested in supporting the effort. It's up to me to do the diplomatic part of coordinating efforts. The Department of Homeland Security has its responsibilities. It's among the first three topics of the conversation.

The word threat implies a conflict. And in Latin America it should not be seen as a conflict with China, but seen as who has the capacity to support and invest. We continue to be the most important investor in the region.

Is there that level of dialogue and collaboration wiht Colombia?

Yes, about a series of topics. The relationship between the United States and Colombia remains strategic, regardless of who the president of the United States or Colombia is.

Did Gustavo Petro's promotion harm the bond?

No, we are going to obviously have our differences and that happens in all estrategic relations, even with friends. But we continue working above all on a series of issues such as drug trafficking and immigration.

"In defense of our interests, it's our duty to stop the disintegration of democracy"

The government gave much importance to Biden's recent meetings with Brazilian Lula da Silva. What kind of alliance and role can Brazil play in the search for regional stability?

This relationship is complex and strategic due to the broad issues we are addressing and we have to work with them. On climate change, Brazil and the United States are working very closely there. We have a lot of coherence there. But also, in other cases, there will be differences. But we should not concentrate too much on the speech, but rather see what is tangibly happening in bilateral relations.

With Petro we are obviously going to have our differences and that happens in all strategic relations, even with friends. But we continue working above all on a series of issues such as drug trafficking and immigration.

Are Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela the countries that clearly do not meet the basic requirements of a democracy?

Exactly.

What happens with the rest? Do they have gray areas but keep their feet in the democratic games?

Exactly. But we have noticed the phenomenon of these hybrid democracies which, with its challenges, is also a problem. It's a situation we have to deal with. More than anything, we must create confidence in our people that democracy should be the only game in town.

What are low intensity democracies?

Obviously, I can say Guatemala. But if there is a transfer of command on January 14, I would no longer say that it is in that situation. We have seen challenges in Peru, but democracy continues there even with all its problems. I would say that for the majority, from one level to another, including the United States, facing our challenges.

Are all democracies on the continent, including the United States, in danger?

I'm not saying it, the President of the United States says it. There are threats and dangers.

Regarding the issue of the International Monetary Fund, we are trying to help Argentina in this negotiation process, trying to support the monetary and economic stabilization of the country. Something very important, not only for the United States, but for Mercosur.

In this context of instability, How do you characterize the current situation in Argentina and its current bilateral relationship with the United States?

It's very important. I'm referrring to the work and the issue of the International Monetary Fund, where we are trying to help in this negotation process, trying to support the monetary and economic stabilization of the country. Something very important, not only for the United States, but for Mercosur. There is a series of opportunities. I think the sale of fighter jets is an important issue. We have several common agenda items. I don't want them to think that we are not following up on all the events in Argentina, because it is far away or because we sometimes have a complicated relationship. No, not at all. And we are going to work with the government, whoever is elected, because this is not about whether it is right or left.

Even if Javier Milei is elected president?

Correct. We have common interests and destinies.

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