President’s Column – Q1 2022

As the war in Ukraine enters its fifth week –with the resulting destruction of once vibrant cities, cultural heritage and, most of all, senseless loss of human life – the geo-political and economic impacts across the Americas are ever-present.   

While most countries across the Americas have officially condemned Putin’s actions in the UN General Assembly resolution on Russia last month, it was notable, but not surprising that Bolivia, Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua voted to abstain and Venezuela would fail to even vote at all given the growing level of political influence that Russia has in these countries.  

Already, the trade embargo and economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., Canada and other Western nations against Russia are upending global supply chains and changing the rules of the game on globalization and free trade as we once knew it.  As a result, the price of oil, gas and other critical commodities is on the rise.   This has fueled inflation, spooked investors and now threatens to derail the hopes that many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean had of economic recovery at a time that it was most needed as the region works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and its worst economic contagion in a generation. 

Here, along the San Diego-Tijuana border, Ukrainian refugees are already beginning to arrive to our region with many already having secured asylum while Central American migrants and other third-country national asylum seekers continue to wait. 

As the war-related economic embargo has prompted a rush to find alternative fuel sources to Russian oil and gas, for many, environmental concerns have become a political afterthought. The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report offers a sober reminder that the time to act is now given the growing evidence that climate change impacts are “unequivocal” and with any more delays “we will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity” for a globally livable future, with Central and South America and the islands of the Caribbean among the most severely impacted.

Amidst the backdrop of rapidly changing geo-politics, last month the Institute of the Americas welcomed respected scholar, Dr. Moisés Naím, as our first distinguished speaker for 2022 to reflect upon key takeaways from his new book, Naím’s presentation was excellent and is worth watching for those of you that missed it.   

Building upon the central message of Naím’s book on the risk of autocratic rule and the importance of working to promote democracy across the Americas, the Institute is working to support the 9th Summit of the Americas that will be hosted by the United States in Los Angeles on June 6-10 with a focus on “Building a Sustainable, Resilient and Equitable Future.”  For the Summit itself, Institute team members will be represented on civil society work groups focused on clean energy, green futures and democratic governance.   The Institute is also hard at work in organizing the Pacific Climate Forum of the Americas on June 1-3 in La Jolla, in collaboration with Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UC San Diego’s School for Global Policy & Strategy (GPS).  Details are forthcoming. Stay tuned for additional details.

As the Institute positions itself to respond to the growing demands of these changing times, we are strengthening our bench of board members, advisory council members, staff, non-resident fellows. Here, I am pleased to welcome the addition of GPS Dean Caroline Freund as a member of our board as well as Alfredo Thorne, Ph.D. and Professor Richard Feinberg as members of our Advisory Council. We are also pleased with the addition to our three newest Non-Resident Fellows: Soffia Alarcon, Carla Lacerda, and Trinidad Castro Crichton and interns, Daniela Nelson and Jonah Harris that are supporting our Environment & Climate Change program.

As COVID cases in Southern California begin to fade — at least for the time being–, the Institute has begun to re-start its public programming with a number of live, in person programs planned in the coming months. To provide greater leadership on these efforts, Sherry White of our team has been promoted as our new Vice President of Public Programs with Francesca Carrillo her Assistant Director for the new program.

We look forward to seeing you in forthcoming Institute programs both in person and virtual in the months to come.