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Podcast Episode 21
Host: Hello, my name is Ashley Müller, and welcome to this week's episode of the Geneva Centre for security policy podcasts on the latest issues advancing peace, security, and international cooperation. In recent months, the Latin American region has experienced an upsurge in protests. And as the region struggles to cope with a wave of COVID-19 we discuss the region's challenges with Dr Christopher Sabatini, Senior Research Fellow for Latin America, US, and the Americas Program at Chatham House. And as global leaders are in the spotlight as they try to cope with the global consequences of the pandemic, we spoke to Dr Patrick Sweet, co-director of the Geneva Leadership Alliance about an opportunity for leaders to develop their skills.
Ms Ashley Müller: So thank you, Dr Sabatini for joining us at the GCSP today. A pleasure to have you. So Dr Christopher Sabatini is a senior research fellow for Latin America, US, and America's Program at Chatham House and was formerly a lecturer on the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University. Chris is also on the advisory boards of Harvard University’s LASPAU and of the Inter-American Foundation. His areas of expertise include democracy, human rights, foreign policy in the region, social inclusion, resource extraction, and community rights, Venezuela, and Cuba. Chris, thank you so much for joining us here today. My first question to you is what is the current security relationship between the US and Latin America?
Dr Christopher Sabatini: The US’s relations with Latin America not just in security but primarily in security have been driven by these domestic issues and currently it is drugs primarily, and narcotics corruption and crime. And that has meant oftentimes providing assistance to the armed forces in and to the National Police in combating issues of drug trafficking, illicit markets, human trafficking, and the like. And then increasingly also, perhaps, unfortunately, given the tone of this discussion in terms of also, immigration. And then there's also the issue of Venezuela, which has become an increasing security concern for the United States that does not involve obviously military assistance to Venezuela or to any of its neighbouring countries. That really involves and recently involved in the issue of handing down a series of indictments for high-level Venezuelan officials and members of the armed forces and the police forces concerning their lead allegations of involvement in narcotics trafficking, and arms sales. So that's been a security concern for the United States as well, which will only grow as Venezuela becomes more and more fragile, and the possibility of collapse looms even greater the risk that Venezuela will become, if you will, a failed state within the region grows more and more.
Ms Ashley Müller: There has been a recent upsurge in protests in Venezuela and a lot of other countries in the Latin America region. Why is that? What can be done? And will human rights and democracy be achieved?
Dr Christopher Sabatini: Wow, those are big questions. Okay. Let's start with the social protests. The reasons vary. We've seen them break out in Haiti. We have seen them break out in Honduras, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela. And the reasons are diverse, it's difficult to lump them all together. So let me just try with a risk of some overgeneralisation to group some of them but be careful in broad painting a broad brushstroke on this. First of all, is the case of Chile and Colombia. In particular, what we see there is a rise of demands over social justice, social inclusion, access to public services, and improvement in public services. The reason was often labeled as being inequality. But that really doesn't explain it because these have been largely unequal societies for a long time historically even. So why now? And the question is, is really about rising relative insecurity, rather rising inequality, as well as perceptions about inequality, as well as a relative level of prosperity that have allowed citizens to be able to make these demands and Chile its demand is better education, better health care, including also better representation in the political system that it becomes somewhat ossified the same thing in Colombia, but also in Colombia. It's a case where the peaceful process where 20 years ago, Colombia was on the brink of a failed state has allowed these demands to be able to percolate to the top and be to be expressed in a peaceful way. In the case of Bolivia and Venezuela the different reasons they have to deal with democratic rights. In the case of Venezuela, we now as of January 23, have the unusual situation of January 23 2019, of the unusual situation of two presidents Juan Guido, who was nominated by the National Assembly as constitutional president interim president and has been recognised by almost 60 countries worldwide. And then Nicolas Maduro, the man who was elected in 2018, another very controversial and probably fraudulent election. Guido has tried to bring his supporters to the streets over and over again to demand free and fair elections for human rights That's been met with repression by the Maduro government. In the case of Bolivia, those protests erupted on two sides. First, it was the allegations of a stolen election by then-President Eva Morales who were running for questionable fourth terms, and questions that were raised by credible international election observers that led eventually to his ouster, arguably in a coup by the military. And now you're seeing protests by his supporters against an interim government that is cracked down very violently against the supporters, and most recently, using COVID-19 quarantine measures as an excuse to crack down on Morales’ supporters and try to round them up and purge, if you will, society and the government. So again, questions why corruption stole elections, human rights as well as in the case of Chile, and Colombia, a rising level of prosperity and citizens, I think healthy demands for more responsive, more accountable, and more effective social programmes.
Ms Ashley Müller: And there seems to be a polarisation happening in the leadership in these in several countries. Where, as you've mentioned, the disdain for checks and balances and what is happening in the leadership side of things amongst different officials across the region?
Dr Christopher Sabatini: Well, the polarisation really is sort of the key to understanding a lot of this and the reasons stem from a number of issues. First of all, is growing citizen distrust in their political leadership that we're seeing in surveys across the board. A number I like to cite is according to Vanderbilt University in the United States, surveys called Latin American Public Opinion Polls. More than 80% of Latin American citizens believe that half or more of their politicians are corrupt. That means that people simply don't trust the political system and are willing to sort of engaging in support for populist outsider candidates or other candidates in very much a polarised world relationship, that sort of in which sort of corruption has become the de facto sort of cleavage within these societies in which there's no sort of in-between nobodies for corruption, never, it's always a question of who's less corrupt than the other who's more self-righteous than the other. And that does lead to a level of polarisation that we're seeing in places like Mexico or Brazil, Colombia as well, in which that's very, very difficult to define. And the problem is this, along with this, this lack of trust in the political class has been a collapse of political parties. So we've seen massive amounts of electoral volatility even in places like Colombia, but also obviously in places like Peru, which has effectively not had a party system since 1990. But in Brazil as well, and even in cases like Chile, where levels of political support of political parties have been the lowest in the hemisphere. And so in these cases, what it means is that raises the risk of the rise of populist candidates who claim to speak on behalf of the popular will, and who come from the outside and sort of don't have the sort of training or background a trajectory, even arguably the disposition to be able to support democratic checks and balances and to bring the country together. We see this in Brazil with President Borsonaro, we see this in Mexico with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. And we see this with the rise of other candidates, including an El Salvador, for example, Nayib Bukele, who came to power as an outsider candidate and has really stoked these divisions in a way that risks even further polarisation. and developing some sort of consensus to lead these countries forward.
Ms Ashley Müller: They've all had different approaches as we've entered the Coronavirus crisis globally. But in the region specifically, what's coming?
Dr Christopher Sabatini: Well, COVID-19 is really thrown, I think, a sharp light on what were trends that were already evident in the region. First of all, on one hand, the economies in these regions were already cooling down. Now, because of COVID, because of the shutdown, we're looking at as much as 6% contraction in the case of Mexico and stagnating or negative growth throughout the hemisphere. So already, these middle-income countries are sort of at risk of seeing their middle classes fall through the cracks, and grow even more unequal. The second thing the COVID-19 has had, you know, in the overlay of this populism that I talked about is we're seeing really divergent responses to COVID-19. The populist governments in Brazil, Nicaragua, and Mexico that I mentioned, are really ignoring the warning signs of COVID-19. In those cases, the presidents have urged their people to get out of the streets. They have not enforced any element of a federal level, self stay-at-home measures, or self-containment measures. In the case of Brazil's Bolsonaro has mocked COVID-19 and being a hoax or being nothing more than a measly cold. In Mexico, the President Andres Amos has said that he carries lucky charms that protect him from infection by COVID-19. What that means is these countries are very susceptible to rising infection rates. But it also demonstrates, I think, a profound lack of respect for science and tech, technology and expertise that was fundamentally lacking, it will really indicate a real long haul for these governments to be able to overcome the effective dysfunction that we're seeing today. So in those cases, we're seeing, I think, a rebound that may actually, in the end be to the benefit against the level of populism that I talked about. But also we're seeing this point we're seeing in the case of El Salvador is a real risk to the checks and balances, the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, who in mid-March implemented a very strict lockdown and travel bans in the country now as use COVID-19 as an excuse to enforce his quarantine at gunpoint by the Armed Forces rounding up over several hundred political prisoners, and as ignore the warnings of the Supreme Court, to roll back those policies and not to enforce it not to engage in human rights abuses. So it's going to be a mixed bag. I think the larger issue we need to focus on here is the economic effects overlaid over already alarming levels of disaffection and polarisation.
Ms Ashley Müller: My last question to you is one that I like to ask people who are very familiar with the regions that they're talking about, and it's what can help us understand the region better. What's the outside world to those who are not so familiar? Is there anything misunderstood about the region that we need to understand that's important to know?
Dr Christopher Sabatini: There was a famous New York Times journalist, Scott Rustin, who said about Americans that Americans will do everything for the region, meaning a lot in America, except to read about it and understand it. And that implies obviously intervening, peddling bad opinions and doing all sorts of other things. So the first thing I think, is follow it and understand it and understand it in its diversity. And this is not the fault necessarily only of the outside world, Latin Americans love to talk about their solidarity and their commonalities, but the truth is they're a very diverse region, with a lot of tensions that are playing out not just historically, but are playing out now. When we see for example, in the case of Venezuela, 1.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country, the economic and humanitarian disaster, and taking up residence in Colombia. That's out of a total of nearly 5 million Venezuelans that have left. For the first time we're seeing really nationalistic, even xenophobic reactions against those Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. So understanding that there are tensions within this hemisphere, while also understanding that when people talk about a hemisphere that is governed by elected governments, with the exception of Cuba, but even within sort of the broad definition of democracy, there's a lot of variation you have, really sort of the authoritarian and even failed states of Venezuela and Haiti, despite the nominal elections that they've had on you have functioning liberal democracies like Chile, Mexico, Argentina, and even Peru. But in those cases, too, they're still structural weaknesses that are something to very much keep an eye on. And then of course, there's the issue of crime and insecurity across the region. So, again, it seems peaceful. But there are a whole series of undercurrents that are very, very troubling, and are challenging human rights and humanitarian conditions.
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Host: Earlier we spoke to Dr. Patrick Sweet, co-director of the Geneva Leadership Alliance. Firstly, what is the Geneva Leadership Alliance?
Dr Patrick Sweet: Good question. There are three aspects to it. You can look at it as a resource, you can look at it as a living experiment. And you could look at it as a paradox as a resource, the Geneva center for security policy in the Center for Creative Leadership brings together some 70 years of experience in leading innovatively in their respective spaces. So we're a resource that combines like no other place in any university. And we're both recognized as being like in the top 10 around the world for what we do. So we're a unique resource for people in Geneva and around the world. And we address some really, really innovative, and challenging leadership challenges that are faced by everybody here as an experiment. We are unique because it's not been done before. And it is an experiment. So we're learning as much as anything else. And one of the key aspects that we're learning about leading is that leading is about learning as well. So we're an experiment. We're bringing together 70 years of experience on both sides, hundreds of years of professional experience of the people inside. And we're experimenting our way forward. GCS p itself started as an organization to reimagine what diplomacy and what leadership looks like in military and defense. And it continues that tradition and CCL do the same thing. We started with innovative ways of looking at how to lead; they were outside of the military outside of corporate things that were new. And so we brought in things like a glass ceiling, multi-rater, assessments, many kinds of innovations that today are standard. And the Geneva Leadership Alliance tries to bring all this together in what we call a kind of a paradoxical way. We're an experiment. And we're a paradox. We bring together tradition and innovation as a resource that's unique across the world. And we bring it to people here in Geneva and two organizations that they work with outside of Geneva.
Host: Thank you, Patrick. And what is the Geneva Leadership Alliance offer?
We offer ourselves as a trusted adviser to organizations that are trying to reimagine how to lead in this complex and diverse environment. And so how do you create a strategy when everything is emergent, when everything is polarised, when you need to respect tradition and innovation? And so we act as a trusted adviser to identify how you can align an emergent strategy with leadership development activity, a leadership development strategy for the talent that you have inside and we do that on two levels. We look at individual human capital, what do I need to do as a leader? And then the social capital, what do we need to do? What are the practices that we need to share? So what we offer our trusted advisor design kinds of skills to help you figure out how to develop your leadership core in your organisation. We also offer open enrollment courses so people can come in and mix with other people from other organizations from around the world. So they're kind of open enrollment courses around core essentials in leading and complex and turbulent, and extraordinary times. And we also do kinds of evaluative work, we can help you assess what it is that you need, we can help you take a look at where you need to go before you start the design work. So we do assessments, we do trust advisory work, and we do customer educational programs as well as open enrollment programs.
Host: So why is it that you've created the Geneva Leadership Alliance?
Dr Patrick Sweet: It's hard to answer the first two questions about what and how without really asking yourself why. And I can almost turn the question around and say, you know, of those seven years I spoke about I've been working in leadership and organization development myself for 30 years, and never before have I seen such rapid change, such unpredictability, such polarized tensions and such tangled Information ecosystems. And it doesn't seem to be getting any better as part of why we're experimenting our way into this. The reason is that we're in this rupt disruptive environment. And it's going to continue. So we brought these two institutions together to experiment our way forward, to take what we know that works, our research, and also recognize this rupt of environment and help others with us learn how to lead in that context. So the Why is really big. I think we need it today more than ever before. And when we look around the other leading institutions with whom we compete all the time, they tend to be universities like IMD, or Harvard or Stanford, or any of the numbers that you can find. None of them are bringing these two together. So the Why is we need it? And we have these two really world-class assets as a resource. And that's why we did it.
Host: Patrick, my final question to you is, what is your advice to current and future leaders in international peace and security?
Dr Patrick Sweet: Recognise that leading is as much about learning as anything else and recognize that as a leader you need to help in this really extraordinary time. Others learn to lead your institutions, your friends, your workmates, your subordinates, and your bosses. It's about learning so if there's one key aspect that I could say is become self-aware, learn how to learn and learn how to lead learning.
Host: That's all we have now for today's episode. Thank you to Dr Christopher Sabatini for joining us along with Dr Patrick Sweet. Listen to us again next week to all the latest insights on international peace and security. Head to our SoundCloud channel, and don't forget to download or subscribe to our podcast on Apple iTunes. Bye for now.