CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

The Future of U.S. - Central American Relations

March 11th, 2008

On March 11th, 2008, Arturo Cruz, current Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States, analyzed the future of U.S.-Central American relations at Tulane’s Center for Inter-American Policy and Research. Dr. Cruz, a historian and political scientist, is the author of “Nicaragua’s Conservative Republic 1853-1893” (Palgrave 2002) and “Varieties of Liberalism in Central America: Nation-States as Works in Progress (University of Texas, 2007, along with Forrest Colburn). Prior to his appointment, Ambassador Cruz was a Tenured Professor at INCAE Business School in Managua, Nicaragua, and a Visiting Professor at the Advanced School of Economics and Business in San Salvador, El Salvador. A former Bradley Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC, Cruz’s academic focus has been the analysis of social, economic, and political trends in Latin America.

While crucial to U.S. foreign policy during the 1980s, the Central American region was practically forgotten after the end of the Cold War and especially after 9/11. However, recent developments suggest it could once again play a pivotal role in inter-American relations. The region is already a source of steady migratory flows to the U.S. The appearance of violent Maras with close links to U.S. urban gangs and the entrenchment of international drug-trafficking, money-laundering, and human contraband networks have implications for transnational security that afflict the region as much as the U.S. On the political front, the return to power of Daniel Ortega and, more recently, Honduras’ accession to Petrocaribe have brought the region into the tensions playing out at the hemispheric level between Chávez and the U.S. On the other hand, Costa Rica’s departure from the rest of Central America to establish diplomatic relations with mainland China—now a looming presence in the Western Hemisphere—has also raised Central America’s international political profile. On the trade front, the ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the start of negotiations for an association treaty with the European Union, have advanced the region’s global integration and increased its prospects for foreign investment.

Central America also holds great relevance for Louisiana and New Orleans. It has been a historical market for locally-based businesses and a significant source of imports. Many staples of the region, like coffee, enter the U.S. through the port of New Orleans. Most Latin American migrants in New Orleans have come from Mesoamerican countries and the city remains a favorite destination for tourism and travel originating there.

We are most fortunate to have a scholar with the credentials and experience of Ambassador Cruz to address this subject.