john kerry

High-level visits between the Obama administration and Latin American governments

Below is a timeline including the travels of the President, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and the various US Secretaries of Defense to Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as visits by regional leaders to the United States during Obama’s time in office. It was compiled using resources from the US Department of State Office of the Historian and other US government websites.

Last Updated: November 20, 2016

January 13, 2009: Mexican President Felipe Calderon meets with US President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama in the United States. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe also visits the United States to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

March 14, 2009: Brazilian President Lula da Silva visits the United States for a “working visit.”

March 25, 2009: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to Mexico to meet with Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa and to discuss the Merida Initiative.

April 16, 2009: President Barack Obama travels to Mexico for a meeting with President Felipe Calderon.

April 16-19, 2009: Clinton meets with President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis in Haiti, and also travels to the neighboring Dominican Republic to meet with President Leonel Fernandez. Obama and Clinton also attend the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

May 31-June 1, 2009: Clinton attends the inauguration of President Mauricio Funes and a “ministerial meeting of Pathways to Prosperity in America” in El Salvador.

June 2, 2009: Clinton travels to Honduras for an OAS General Assembly meeting.

June 23, 2009: Chilean President Michele Bachelet travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 29, 2009: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

August 9-10, 2009: Obama attends the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico.

September 24-25 2009: Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon attend the G-20 Economic Summit in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

January 16, 2010: Clinton travels to Haiti to meet “with Haitian officials and [assess] disaster relief efforts.”

March 1-5, 2010: Clinton attends the inauguration of President José Mujica in Uruguay. She also travels to Argentina for a meeting with President Cristina Kirchner, and to Chile for a meeting with President Michele Bachelet and President-elect Sebastian Pinera, where she discussed “disaster relief.” Clinton also travels to Brazil to meet with President Lula da Silva and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim. She then travels to Costa Rica, where she addresses the “Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Ministerial Meeting” and meets with President Oscar Arias and President-elect Laura Chinchilla. And on March 5, Clinton visited Guatemala to meet with President Alvaro Colom and “leaders of the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.”

March 8, 2010: El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

March 9-10, 2010: Haitian President Rene Preval travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

March 23, 2010: Clinton travels to Mexico for a “U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group meeting” and a meeting with President Calderon and Foreign Secretary Espinosa. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen also travel to Mexico.

April 11-13, 2010: Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon attend the Nuclear Security Summit held in the United States.

April 14-16, 2010: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates travels to Peru, Colombia and Barbados.

May 19-20. 2010: Mexican President Felipe Calderon travels to the United States for a state visit during which he addresses a joint session of Congress.

June 1, 2010: Peruvian President Alan Garcia travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 6-10, 2010: Clinton travels to Peru for a meeting of the OAS General Assembly, to Ecuador to meet with President Rafael Correa, and then to Colombia to meet with President Alvaro Uribe. She also travels to Barbados for a meeting of the CARICOM Foreign Ministers and the announcement of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.

July 12, 2010: Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

September 24, 2010: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos meets with President Obama at the UN General Assembly in New York City.

November 18-22, 2010: US Defense Secretary Gates travels to Chile and Bolivia.

January 1, 2011: Clinton attends the inauguration of President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.

January 24, 2011: Clinton travels to Mexico for a meeting with Foreign Secretary Espinosa.

January 30, 2011: Clinton travels to Haiti for a meting with President Preval and “political and civic leaders.”

March 3, 2011: Mexican President Calderon travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

March 19-23, 2011: Obama travels to Brazil for a meeting with President Rousseff, to Chile to meet with President Pinera, and to El Salvador to meet with President Mauricio Funes.

April 7, 2011: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

April 28, 2011: Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 22, 2011: Clinton attends the Conference of Support for the Central American Security Strategy in Guatemala. She also travels to Jamaica for “the High-Level U.S.-Caribbean Conference.”

July 6, 2011: Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

September 20, 2011: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff meets with President Obama at the UN General Assembly in New York City.

October 5, 2011: Honduran President Porfirio Lobo travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

November 10-13, 2011: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala attends the Asia-Pacific Economic and Cooperation Summit at Honolulu and Kapolei, Hawaii.

February 19, 2012: Clinton attends a G-20 Ministerial Meeting in Mexico and signs the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Agreement.

April 2, 2012: Mexican President Felipe Calderon attends the North American Leaders’ Summit in the United States.

April 9, 2012: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

April 13-19, 2012: Obama and Clinton attend the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Colombia. Clinton then travels to Brazil for the Third U.S.-Brazil Global Partnership Dialogue, also addressing the First Annual Meeting of the Open Government Partnership there.

April 23, 2012: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta travels to Colombia, Brazil and Chile.

June 18-22, 2012: Obama and Clinton attend the G-20 economic summit in Mexico, and Clinton travels to Brazil for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

October 5, 2012: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta travels to Peru and Uruguay.

October 15-16, 2012: Clinton meets with Peruvian president Ollanta Humala and addresses the Conference on Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion.

October 22, 2012: Clinton travels to Haiti to attend the opening of Caracol Industrial Park, and to meet with President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.

November 27, 2012: Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

May 2-4, 2013: Obama meets with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico and also travels to Costa Rica to meet with President Laura Chinchilla and leaders of the Central American Integration System.

June 2-4, 2013: Chilean President Sebastian Pinera travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 4-5, 2013: Kerry attends OAS General Assembly meeting in Guatemala.

June 10-12, 2013: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

August 12-13, 2013: Kerry meets in Colombia with President Juan Manuel Santos, Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, and “Colombian Peace Negotiators.” He then travels to Brazil to meet with President Rousseff, Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, and Education Minister Aloizio Mercadante.

December 2-4, 2013: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

February 19, 2014: President Obama meet in Mexico with President Enrique Pena Nieto for the North American Leaders Summit.

April 23-26, 2014: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visits Mexico and Guatemala.

May 21-22, 2014: Kerry travels to Mexico “to discuss a range of bilateral issues, including expanding trade and economic growth, increasing higher education collaboration, and our continuing security cooperation.”

July 1, 2014: Kerry travels to Panama for the inauguration of President Juan Carlos Varela.

October 2014: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel travels to Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago.

December 11-12, 2014: Kerry travels to Peru and Colombia to meet with Presidents Humala and Santos.

April 9-11, 2015: Obama travels to Jamaica. He and Kerry then travel to Panama for the Seventh Summit of the Americas.

August 14, 2015: Kerry travels to Cuba to “formally re-designate the U.S. Interests Section to U.S. Embassy Havana. While in Havana, he met with senior Cuban government officials.”

October 5, 2015: Kerry travels to Chile for the second “Our Ocean” conference. He also personally delivers to Chilean President Michele Bachelet documents related to the 1976 assassination of Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier.

October 6, 2015: Kerry travels to Haiti and meets with Haitian President Michel Martelly and other senior Haitian officials.

January 14, 2016: Vice President Joe Biden travels to Guatemala to attend the inauguration of President Jimmy Morales.

February 3-4, 2016: Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos visits Washington, DC to discuss the ongoing peace process in his country.

February 24, 2016: Biden receives the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in Washington, DC to talk about the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity.

February 25, 2016: Biden travels to Mexico for an economic summit.

March 20-22, 2016: Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years. Kerry also travels to Cuba and meets with Colombian peace negotiators.

March 23-24, 2016: Obama travels to Argentina on the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup there, after promising to declassify U.S. records related to the “dirty war” that followed.

May 3, 2016: Biden meets with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in Washington, DC to talk about the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity. Obama also stops by for part of the meeting.

August 3-6, 2016: Kerry travels to Argentina for bilateral meetings, then to Brazil as part of the U.S. delegation for the Olympic Games.

September 23, 2016: Biden meets with the presidents of Guatemala, Hondruas and El Salvador at the Inter-American Development Bank for a forum entitled “The Northern Triangle – Constructing together a more prosperous future for the region.”

September 26, 2016: Kerry travels to Colombia for the signing of a peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Kerry also reportedly met with Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro on the sidelines of the event.

October 19, 2016: Biden meets with representatives from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras regarding the “Alliance for Prosperity.”

November 18-21, 2016: In his final foreign trip as president, Obama attends and economic summit in Lima, Peru.

U.S. Names Special Envoy to Peace Process with Colombia’s FARC Rebels

Cross-posted with Public Diplomacy Musings

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama named Bernie Aronson as a special envoy to the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group. The move is perhaps the United States’ strongest signal of its support for the process since it began in 2012.

In a statement announcing Aronson’s appointment, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “After careful consideration, President Obama has come to the conclusion – which I share, needless to say – that first, while significant obstacles remain, a negotiated peace in Colombia is absolutely worth pursuing and absolutely worth assisting if we are able to; and second, as Colombia’s close friend and ally, the United States has a responsibility to do what it can in order to help Colombia to achieve that peace.”

For his part, Arnson said, “Peace can only be made by Colombians themselves. We have no blueprint made in Washington to offer. We will not take a place at the negotiating table, but we can push, prod, cajole, and clarify and help wherever we can. The parties have made substantial progress, but the hard, knotty issues have been left to the end as they usually are. Now the parties must resolve them, because windows for peace, as all of us know, can close without warning, and sometimes they never reopen.”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed Aronson’s appointment, saying “We are grateful to President Obama and his government for this new gesture.” The FARC also welcomed Aronson’s appointment and reiterated its commitment to ending the conflict, in addition to thanking the U.S. for its moves toward fulfilling Santos’ December 2014 request for the country to take a “more direct role in the peace process.”

Secretary Kerry praised Aronson for “his well-recognized hard work in helping to resolve the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua.” However, as Mother Jones reported in October 1987, Aronson was among the so-called “Gang of Four” Democratic operatives who “sought to rally the party behind the Nicaraguan rebels” known as the Contras, who were fighting the ruling Sandinista government at the time.

As author Michael Massing wrote, “The four testified in Congress, lobbied the administration, wrote articles, and drafted speeches. They also worked with the contras themselves, seeking almost single-handedly to mold the rebel army.”

Aronson, who went on to become Latin America advisor at Goldman Sachs before starting his own Latin America-focused private equity firm, also served as assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs during the George H.W. Bush administration from 1989 to 1993. While Secretary Kerry praised Arnson for his work in El Salvador, the latter has his critics among foreign policy observers for the role he played in that conflict as well.

Aronson’s new appointment will test his public diplomacy skills. During the ceremony for his appointment Aronson also said, “Now it is time, long past time, for the FARC and hopefully the ELN to demonstrate their courage by renouncing violence forever so Colombians can heal the wounds of war and live in peace with justice under the law.” This was a curious and slightly concerning statement considering the Colombian government itself has confirmed that the indefinite and unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC has held despite continued offensives by the Colombian military.

The U.S. government has labeled the FARC a “foreign terrorist organization” since 1997. For this reason, the Obama administration’s efforts to support the peace talks will likely face similar attacks as they have in Colombia.  Foreign Policy magazine once described the mantra “the United States doesn’t negotiate with terrorists” as a “constant refrain,” though it is one to which there is not much truth.

The U.S. (and Aronson) must walk the same “fine line” as the Colombian government. What I wrote previously about the Santos administration applies equally to Obama’s; “It must [engage in] the process with the FARC in good faith and frame both concessions and acquisitions in the negotiations in a positive light for the general public, while simultaneously countering alternative narratives about the talks from the FARC and the right-wing opposition.”

In another sign of support for the peace process, U.S. ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker, suggested in a recent media interview that the Obama administration could request an increase in aid funding for Colombia to support post-conflict initiatives in the event of a final peace accord.

Despite the efforts of some right-wing elements to derail or discredit the peace process, it seems to be on fairly firm footing – in both the U.S. and Colombia. While some observers have reservations about Aronson, his appointment nonetheless signals the Obama administration’s firm commitment to helping Santos achieve the “bilateral and indefinite” ceasefire with the rebels that he has called for repeatedly and urgently.

Kerry’s Remarks Show US Hypocrisy on Venezuela

In remarks delivered to the Freedom Online Coalition Conference via teleconference yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “In Venezuela, the government has used security forces to disrupt peaceful protests and limit freedoms of expression and assembly. And this has included blocking access to selected websites and limiting access to internet service in certain parts of the country.”

The Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua fired back today saying, “The Bolivarian government rejects [Kerry’s] statements…Violent groups encouraged by the government of the United States burned a communications center. So, we reject this baseless and misguided statement…”

There have been reports in the past that Venezuela has exercised censorship over the internet, but in general, the portrayal of Venezuela’s hostility toward freedom of speech is overblown.

Nevertheless, let’s examine the hypocrisy of Secretary Kerry’s assertions – first, the claim that “the government has used security forces to disrupt peaceful protests.” As I’ve noted before, not all of the anti-government protesters in Venezuela are peaceful – and some have said outright that they are not.

During the Occupy protests of 2011 in the United States, reports of police brutality against peaceful protesters were routine. In one particularly egregious instance, a police officer at the University of California Davis pepper-sprayed a group of non-violent protesters while being filmed by an onlooker. A few weeks later, an 84-year-old woman was among those pepper-sprayed during a march in Seattle. Occupy activist Cecily McMillan elbowed a New York City police officer who violently grabbed her breast at a demonstration in March 2012. She was then beaten severely, suffered a seizure and was initially refused medical treatment by the police. McMillan currently faces up to seven years in prison for “assaulting” the officer.

This is not to say that police abuse is acceptable. Obviously, it’s not. But as journalist Chris Hedges recently wrote of the Occupy protests:

I saw police routinely shove protesters and beat them with batons. I saw activists slammed against police cars…I saw, and was caught up in, mass arrests in which those around me were handcuffed and then thrown violently onto the sidewalk. The police often blasted pepper spray into faces from inches away, temporarily blinding the victims. This violence, carried out against nonviolent protesters, came amid draconian city ordinances that effectively outlawed protest and banned demonstrators from public spaces…The message the state delivered is clear: Do not dissent.

The point is, this is not a problem to which the United States is immune – and, for what it’s worth, the Venezuelan government is investigating officers involved in abuses of demonstrators.

Now, how about “limiting access to internet service in certain parts of the country”?

Under a plan devised during the administration of George W. Bush, the Department of Homeland Security apparently has the capability to do exactly that. The agency is currently fighting a lawsuit by the Electronic Privacy Information Center to divulge the details, but according to an executive order issued in July 2012, DHS can shut down communications networks during national emergencies.

Also, it’s not as though American officials have never shut down communications networks in the event of protests. In 2011, the San Francisco public transit agency known as BART shut down the subway system’s wireless network, presumably to thwart protests against the killing of a homeless man by police.

Whatever you make of Secretary Kerry’s claims about the Venezuelan government’s “terror campaign against its own citizens“, it is undeniably hypocritical for US officials to lambast a foreign government for “us[ing] security forces to disrupt peaceful protests and limit[ing] freedoms of expression and assembly,” when their own government has engaged in similar behavior so recently.

Mexico: Police chief head Mondragon resigns

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 9 March to 17 March 2014.

The head of Mexico’s federal police force has resigned as of Monday; Manuel Mondragon stepped down from his position as head of the National Security Commission but will still be working with the department on strategy efforts in fighting crime.

The Associated Press reports, “The 5,000-officer force was supposed to have been on the streets by the end of last year but Mondragon announced last summer that it wouldn’t be ready until mid-2014.”

Self-defense forces known as “autodefensas” have been springing up in Mexico just recently. They are usually formed by citizens in cartel-controlled areas who are frustrated with what they perceive as an inadequate response from the state to security issues posed by organized criminal groups.

Although the autodefensas are technically illegal, the Mexican government has been moving from simply tolerating them to openly cooperating with them in anti-cartel operations in recent months, especially in Michoacan state, which is largely under the control of the Knights Templar gang. However, the effectiveness of the autodefensas could be negatively impacted by the emergence of factional infighting.

It has also been found that the Mexican drug cartel group Knights Templar makes more money with their iron ore mining efforts. They make so much that it is now their “principal source of income.”

A feud had been growing for months between Hipolito Mora, leader of the La Ruana autodefnesa, and Luis Antonio Torres Gonzalez (also locally known as “El Americano”), the leader of a rival group. Mora had accused Torres and his men of collaborating with cartels, while Torres accused Mora of corruption in the lime-growing business.

This week, the Mexican government arrested Mora on suspicion that his group took part in the killing of two men belonging to Torres’s faction. Mora’s autodefensa handed over their weapons to prosecutors after Mora was arrested and Mexican authorities detained 10 members of the self-defense forces.


Balbina Flores Martínez, a correspondent from Reporters Without Borders, was threatened by someone claiming to be Omar Treviño, leader of the Zetas cartel.

Mexican newspaper Noroeste reported receiving harassment and threats, ostensibly from the police, after investigating allegations that members of the municipal police in Sinaloa had been acting as bodyguards for the recently arrested Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry defended proposed cuts in aid to Colombia and Mexico, some of which will include reductions in funding for anti-narcotics programs.

The head of the Knights Templar cartel, Nazario Moreno, was killed by Mexican security forces. He had supposedly been killed in 2010, but it was “an open secret” that those reports were false.

The government dropped charges against 5 people accused of carrying out a car bombing in 2010. The defendants had alleged that the federal agents had extracted confessions from them using torture.

Some experts speculate that Guzman may have been sold out by his second-in-command, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.

To watch

Violence against women in Mexico has skyrocketed in recent years, involving increasingly vicious attacks against younger and younger victims.

The Knights Templar have muscled in on the mining business in Michoacan and are selling iron ore and gold to China in exchange for precursor chemicals to produce drugs.

El Chapo’s arrest could spur more violence in Mexico and knocking off kingpins has historically led to bloody succession battles and turf wars.