Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with his counterparts: Erika Mouynes of Panama, Rodolfo Solano of Costa Rica, and Roberto Álvarez of the Dominican Republic / Ministry of Foreign Relations, Dominican Republic.

At the Summit of the Americas last week, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that his country would join the Alliance for Development in Democracy (ADD). The alliance, launched in 2021 by the governments of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Panama, contains no great powers and has a combined population of fewer than 40 million people. But it may be the best ally yet for the United States in an era of regional fragmentation.

In the weeks leading up to last week’s summit, discussions over who would be invited overshadowed substantive issues. When U.S. officials, in their role hosting the regional conference, floated their plans to exclude Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela from the guest list, leaders from across the hemisphere voiced their displeasure. Many threatened to boycott the event. In the end, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, representing the largest U.S. trade partner in the region, failed to attend. The leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—three major countries of origin for immigrants to the United States—were also absent. Presidents Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Alberto Fernández of Argentina attended only reluctantly. Bolsonaro reportedly used the occasion to ask Biden to interfere on his behalf in his country’s elections. Fernández lambasted his hosts for denying authoritarian countries a seat at the table.

The recent behavior of countries like Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico has highlighted a difficult truth of Latin American politics: Many of the region’s leaders hold only a tenuous commitment to the rule of law and democracy, whether in their own country or elsewhere.

Despite these disagreements, the U.S. government has rightly sought out areas of cooperation with each of these countries. In Mexico and the Northern Triangle, the United States has pursued assistance on migration. In the region’s largest countries, U.S. officials have sought cooperation on climate change, trade, and investment.

But in their effort to assuage reluctant partners in the region, U.S. officials risk ignoring Latin American and Caribbean governments that have consistently supported U.S. interests and values. The Alliance for Development in Democracy, with its commitments to sustainable growth, shared prosperity, democracy, and the rule of law, unites four of these governments in one regional bloc.

Opportunities for Collaboration

At first glance, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Panama are not as central to U.S. interests as other countries in the region. But as Dominican Foreign Minister Roberto Álvarez noted in February, the combined economies of the Alliance for Development in Democracy comprised the third largest U.S. trading partner in the region, even before Ecuador’s adhesion. The three founding members are members of the Central America Free Trade Agreement, and as research by the Global Americans High-Level Working Group on U.S.-Ecuador Relations demonstrates, there are ample opportunities for trade integration between the U.S. and Ecuador as well. The Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, launched by President Biden in Los Angeles, should give ADD members a central role.

On migration, the Alliance for Development in Democracy is similarly critical to U.S. interests. In 2021, Ecuador rose to the fourth largest country of origin for undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. A rising number of Venezuelan refugees and immigrants have crossed Panama’s Darien Gap, an insecure, sparsely populated region along the country’s border with Colombia. And less than a year after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Haitians continue to flee their country, often passing through the Dominican Republic, Panama, or Costa Rica. As the U.S. and the region seek to implement the Declaration on Migration and Protection, signed in Los Angeles last week, the ADD countries will be both key players and willing partners.

Finally, members of the ADD are important interlocutors for the United States to achieve its climate and sustainability goals. At the Summit of the Americas, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the U.S.-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis 2030, recognizing the Caribbean’s unique vulnerability to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and rising temperatures. As the Global Americans High-Level Working Group on Climate Change in the Caribbean has written, the Dominican Republic should be a major partner in this partnership, straddling both the Caribbean islands and the Spanish-speaking states of Latin America.

Nearshoring and Friendshoring

In exchange for the alliance’s cooperation on trade, investment, migration, and climate, the United States must go beyond supportive rhetoric and deliver concrete benefits to member countries. Support for nearshoring/friendshoring is the most tangible way for the U.S. to stimulate growth in the Alliance for Development in Democracy while also promoting U.S. interests.

Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the resulting economic crises have laid bare the risks of far-flung supply chains, particularly in authoritarian countries like China and Russia that share neither U.S. values nor U.S. interests. Today’s high inflation rates are largely a consequence of these unforeseen disruptions. The Trump and Biden administrations have responded to supply chain risks by variously advocating for reshoring (relocating supply chains within the United States), nearshoring (relocating supply chains closer to the U.S.), and friendshoring (relocating supply chains in friendly countries).

ADD members are close to the United States, both in their location and their attitude toward markets and rule of law. They are ideal candidates for nearshoring and friendshoring, as U.S. officials have recognized in their decision to form a strategic alliance with the ADD. And locating supply chains in these countries, rather than within the United States, offers firms an opportunity to limit risk while still benefiting from lower costs. Yet there has been little movement toward nearshoring/friendshoring, either in U.S. policy or in businesses relocating.

From Rhetoric to Results

To bridge the gap between supportive rhetoric and concrete results in nearshoring, U.S. policymakers have several policy options at their disposal.

First, the United States should build on its phase-one trade accord with Ecuador, signed in 2020, with further trade and investment liberalization between the two countries. Ecuador has already taken unilateral steps to attract investment; the U.S. can encourage further progress. In the short term, Congress should renew the Generalized System of Preferences, which grants tariff-free access to imports from Ecuador and other developing countries. The Senate has passed the America COMPETES Act and the House has approved the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act to do exactly this, but the bills have since languished in conference committee. House and Senate leaders must speed up the process. In the medium and long term, the U.S. Trade Representative should deepen trade negotiations with Ecuador to achieve lasting, bilateral reforms.

Second, U.S. officials should provide greater regulatory clarity for companies that wish to relocate their supply chains to friendly countries around the Caribbean Basin, including the ADD member countries. When operating abroad, U.S. firms must comply with certain U.S. government regulations, certain foreign government regulations, and their own corporate governance obligations on issues from labor and the environment to anti-corruption and social responsibility. The U.S. government can help corporations comply with these rules in two ways. First, officials can offer information about existing regulations and compliance mechanisms. Second, the United States can use its convening power to help countries in the ADD streamline their regulations to attract greater investment.

Finally, to the extent that U.S. policymakers are engaged in industrial policy, they should not discriminate between the United States and friendly countries around the Caribbean Basin. Over the last several years, U.S. policymakers have proposed a series of incentives for companies to reshore their production in the United States. Some of these measures, such as infrastructure and education spending, would make the U.S. economy more competitive and naturally attract companies looking for a productive workforce and high-quality investment climate. Others, such as the Trump administration’s tariffs against China and the Biden administration’s “Buy American” requirement for government procurement, distort the economy, raising prices at a time when inflation is already the primary issue facing most Americans.

To avoid becoming a form of “backdoor protectionism,” writes Global Americans Advisory Council member Richard Feinberg, Biden’s industrial policies should offer the same benefits to firms investing in the Caribbean Basin that they offer to firms investing in the United States. Funds designated for U.S. technological hubs could just as easily incentivize high-tech hubs around the Caribbean, building on existing free trade zones. Just as businesses can receive low-cost loans to move their supply chains to the United States, they should be able to access the same loans through the Import-Export Bank and the Development Finance Corporation. Like the Made in America industrial policy, a potential Made in the Americas policy would encourage companies to relocate their supply chains toward safer shores. But the Made in the Americas policy has an added advantage: that of lower labor costs, and in turn, lower prices for U.S. consumers.

To tackle the issues of trade, investment, migration, and climate, the United States must cooperate with its neighbors in Latin America. At a time when so many of these neighbors are either ambivalent or outright hostile to U.S. interests and values, initiatives like the Alliance for Development in Democracy are more important than ever. Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Panama have taken the initiative. It’s time for the U.S. to respond.

Robert (Bo) Carlson is the Editor of Global Americans. He previously held roles at the OAS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and has written for The National Interest and The Diplomat. You can find him on Twitter: @bocarlson1.

Photo: President Xiomara Castro of Honduras and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. Source: Erin Schaff / New York Times.

Honduran President Xiomara Castro is far from the typical U.S. ally. Promising a “socialist and democratic state” at her inauguration last week, Castro used one of her first executive actions to recognize Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro. And yet U.S. leaders have taken exactly the right approach with the new leader of Honduras, welcoming Castro as a partner to resolve the root causes of migration.

End of a Narco-State

With Castro’s inauguration, Hondurans marked the end of twelve years of rule by the conservative National Party, led first by Porfirio Lobo (2010-2014) and then by Juan Orlando Hernández (2014-2022). Corruption and drug trafficking flourished under National Party rule, landing close relatives of both presidents in U.S. prisons. Cementing Honduras’ status as a narco-state, U.S. prosecutors alleged in 2019 that Hernández himself had accepted bribes from drug trafficking organizations.

Under Hernández’s rule, free and fair elections were far from guaranteed. In 2017, left-wing candidate Salvador Nasralla consistently led in polls against the incumbent president with Xiomara Castro as his running mate, but narrowly lost the vote. The Organization of American States reported widespread irregularities and called for a new election. When Hernández refused, the resulting protests lasted more than a year, leaving 38 dead and over 1,000 arrested. The Trump administration, which recognized Hernández’s victory after a month of violence, only made matters worse.

Last year’s election was different, in part thanks to the actions of the Biden White House. Constrained by term limits, Hernández designated his hand-picked successor, Nasry Asfura, to face off against Castro, who now sat at the top of the ticket with Nasralla as her running mate. Shortly before the election, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols visited Honduras to urge free and fair elections.

When election day came on November 28, many Hondurans feared a repeat of 2018. At midday, the National Party announced—in a since-deleted tweet—”We won, we have a president!” A few hours later, Mel Zelaya, the husband of Xiomara Castro and himself a former president, tweeted that Castro’s coalition had won the presidency, before the electoral commission had released preliminary results. By that night, preliminary results indicated that Castro had won in a landslide victory, and Asfura began urging his supporters to wait for the official results. Once they became available on November 30, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Castro, and Asfura conceded to the president-elect in person.

It’s important not to overstate the U.S. role in ensuring that Honduran elections were not rigged. The most important factor preventing a stolen election was the broad coalition that Castro had assembled with her local allies; faced with such a landslide, the government could not have manipulated the results without being brazen. Yet to the extent that foreign pressure played a role, the Biden administration was acting in U.S. interests, promoting stability and rule of law in a country where both are key to stemming immigration to the United States.

The Biden administration’s welcoming gestures toward Castro have further promoted U.S. interests following the election. In the last two months, the United States sent two under secretaries of state to Honduras, along with USAID Administrator Samantha Power, and, to top it all off, Vice President Kamala Harris. While Castro promised to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China during the campaign, her administration has since pledged to strengthen ties with Taipei. This decision may be partially due to pressure from the United States; shortly before the election, Reuters reported that a visiting U.S. delegation had urged both candidates to maintain relations with Taiwan if elected.

A Plausible Partner

As Castro takes office, a productive U.S.-Honduras relationship will continue to yield benefits. When Biden entered office, his team correctly adopted a more confrontational stance toward Juan Orlando Hernández and President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador. For a time, Guatemala’s Alejandro Giammattei appeared a credible ally, but his increasingly illiberal behavior has recently soured the relationship. Castro is now the only plausible U.S. partner in the Northern Triangle of Central America, one who is willing to combat corruption and cooperate with Washington to limit immigration. Castro’s social democratic politics may even be an asset in her dealings with the United States, with her views on economic inequality and women’s rights aligning with Biden’s. As Benjamin Gedan and Richard Feinberg wrote in Foreign Policy this week, “In many ways, the region’s social democrats are natural allies of Washington.”

Castro’s task will not be easy. Even before the inauguration, a crisis erupted when several members of Congress formed their own, breakaway legislature. The crisis, likely an attempt by corrupt legislators to stymie Castro’s good governance reforms, remains unresolved.

Yet here too, U.S. support for Castro is the best path forward. While some of Castro’s agenda items, such as an international anti-corruption commission, depend on Congressional approval and are likely out of reach, others can be accomplished through executive action alone. The United States can complement Castro’s anti-corruption agenda with legal, financial, and technical expertise—as well as the ever-present threat of extradition—to circumvent the Honduran legislative crisis even if it persists far into the new president’s term.

If Castro is far from a typical U.S. ally given her avowedly leftist policy positions, she is also far from a typical leader in her region given her stance against corruption. In the last two decades, nearly every president in the Northern Triangle has faced credible accusations of corruption. Many have been jailed. Castro’s election presents a golden opportunity; the time for U.S. support is now.

Robert (Bo) Carlson is the Editor of Global Americans. He previously held roles at the OAS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and has written for The National Interest and The Diplomat. You can find him on Twitter: @bocarlson1.

Photo: Chileans celebrate as the Senate votes in favor of same-sex marriage. Source: Rodrigo Garrido / Reuters.

Times are strange for LGBTQ rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. Left-wing presidents across the region, from Pedro Castillo of Peru to Luis Arce of Bolivia, have dismissed the topic, even as conservative President Sebastián Piñera oversaw the successful passage of a marriage equality bill in Chile last December.

The politics of LGBTQ rights clearly no longer fit into a left-right framework, if they ever did. To understand why some LGBTQ movements in the region have stalled while others have succeeded—and to advocate for future change—we have to look beyond party ideology.

A Divided Left

On the left, analysts have observed leaders both supporting and opposing LGBTQ rights. Last June in Americas Quarterly, Paul Angelo and Will Freeman wrote of a “new, socially conservative left” among the region’s leaders. One such leader is Pedro Castillo of Peru, who told supporters at a rally that “we have to repudiate this attitude; we have to throw this trash out,” referring to gender identity.

Unlike the socially conservative left that Angelo and Freeman describe, the “new millennial left” that Anders Beal describes in Global Americans is progressive on both social and economic issues. This group is typified by Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric—a social democrat who has firmly rejected the support of his leftist authoritarian counterparts and places identity issues on par with material concerns.

On LGBTQ rights, at least, both the socially conservative left and the new millennial left emerge from a long tradition in Latin America and the Caribbean. As Javier Corrales explains in The Politics of LGBTQ Rights Expansion in Latin America and the Caribbean, leftist movements were often as virulent in their homophobia as those on the right. In Cuba, the regime of Fidel Castro imprisoned gay men in internment camps during the years following the revolution, considering their demands for political rights to be “borgeouis decadence.” More recently, campaigners have faced state repression from leaders such as Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, who shuttered the offices of Fundación Xochiquetzal, the country’s oldest LGBTQ rights group, last year amid his crackdown on political opponents.

At the same time, progressives such as Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and José “Pepe” Mujica of Uruguay were responsible for many of the region’s strides toward social equality in the mid-2000s and early 2010s.

A Divided Right

Parties on the right side of the political spectrum are equally split when it comes to gender and sexuality today. While Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s homophobic rhetoric and policies are well-documented, several of his center-right counterparts in the region have quietly embraced LGBTQ rights. In June 2021, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso illuminated the presidential palace with the colors of the pride flag and designated a new Subsecretary for Diversity to mark International LGBT+ Pride Day. The same month, President Sebastián Piñera of Chile announced his support for marriage equality; Piñera had previously supported civil unions for same-sex couples as early as 2006.

These leaders, too, have their predecessors in Latin American history. During the Cold War, right-wing authoritarians used the force of the state to repress LGBTQ campaigners and political dissidents in comparable measure. On the other side of the ledger, center-right President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia included LGBTQ themes in the peace agreement he negotiated with the FARC guerrilla group in 2016, against the objections of religious groups and his political mentor, former President Álvaro Uribe. Mauricio Macri, then-Mayor of Buenos Aires, also shocked observers in his own party in 2009 when he declined to appeal a court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, whatever his personal convictions. Macri’s decision pressured then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to make her own much-delayed announcement in favor of same-sex marriage in 2010, which the Argentine Congress passed the same year.

Beyond Party Politics

Party ideology fails to explain why so many leaders on the left today have stalled on LGBTQ rights, and why other leaders on the right are advancing. To understand these trends, we have to understand that leaders operate within constraints. Ideology may often determine what policy a leader favors, but public opinion and the strength of organized pressure groups determine which policies are possible to enact. These factors constrain the policy choices available to each country in the region, regardless of whether the left or right holds office at any given moment.

Public opinion on LGBTQ rights varies widely across the continent. In 2018, AmericasBarometer surveyed countries across the hemisphere, asking respondents to rate their acceptance of same-sex marriage on a scale from one to ten. Average responses varied from 1.8 in Jamaica to 7.2 in Uruguay. Differences in public opinion offer a partial explanation for why countries like Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay have legalized same-sex marriage, while many islands in the Caribbean continue to prohibit intimacy between same-sex couples.

Fortunately, some of the factors that drive public opinion improve with time. As countries become wealthier, more urbanized, and more educated, their populations tend to converge on opinions regarding human rights. However, there are also historical factors that can cause support for LGBTQ rights to stagnate.

While most Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries in the region legalized same-sex intimacy in the mid-1800s after the implementation of the Napoleonic codes, most Anglophone Caribbean countries retained their Victorian Era bans on same-sex activity even after decolonization. For these countries, the movement for LGBTQ rights can seem like a foreign imposition on domestic policy and spark a nationalist backlash.

Organized pressure groups, too, play a role in constraining leaders’ decisions. On LGBTQ rights, the most obvious pressure groups are pro-LGBTQ campaigners, whether international or local. Organizations like Chile’s Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Movilh) and the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays have played key roles in their countries’ movements toward equality.

But there are also groups that have mobilized against the expansion of LGBTQ rights, none more prominently than the web of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, whose membership has outpaced population growth in nearly every country in the region in recent years. In the words of Javier Corrales, “the rise of these churches constitutes the most important demographic change in Latin America since the 1970s.”

As Evangelical and Pentecostal churches grew in the 2010s, they formed a common front with Catholic congregations. Protestant clergy adopted the Catholic positions against abortion, and Catholic clergy took a renewed stand against LGBTQ rights. Both churches became more politically active. In Brazil, the Evangelical-Catholic coalition assisted in Jair Bolsonaro’s 2018 election. In Colombia, they stalled an anti-bullying initiative by the Ministry of Education and led the “No” campaign on the Colombian peace referendum. And in Costa Rica, they nearly brought Fabricio Alvarado, a right-wing Evangelical pastor, to power in 2018 on a campaign centered on his rejection of same-sex marriage.

The Path Forward

Given that the constraints of public opinion and organized pressure groups, and not just party ideology, matter, what should those of us who care about advancing LGBTQ rights do?

First, we should be willing to work with leaders from parties on both the left and right to advance LGBTQ rights in the Americas. As the examples of Lasso, Macri, Piñera, and Santos demonstrate, there are plenty of center-right politicians in the region who have moved their countries in the right direction. By developing relationships with both sides of the political spectrum, LGBTQ campaigners can progress no matter who is elected.

Second, we should consider how to outflank the organizations that oppose LGBTQ rights. The strongest such organizations, Evangelical and Catholic churches, often preach about the incompatibility between religion and LGBTQ identity. Progressive leaders can reach audiences who might otherwise be swayed by these messages by developing relationships with pro-LGBTQ clergy.

Third, we should be aware of the role of nationalism. When Fabricio Alvarado campaigned against same-sex marriage in Costa Rica, part of his message centered on religion, but part of it centered on self-determination. Then-President Luis Guillermo Solís had accepted a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights demanding that Costa Rica implement marriage equality. In response, Alvarado promised not only to disregard the ruling, but withdraw from the Inter-American Court altogether. As I argued last year, a better path for human rights activists is to push the boundary of human rights at the domestic level, while reserving the Inter-American system for well-established rights that governments have failed to protect. This approach is similarly applicable to the Anglophone Caribbean, where local LGBTQ campaigners might focus on the colonial origins of anti-sodomy laws and thus use nationalism to their advantage.

Left and right are poor proxies for leaders’ support of LGBTQ rights. By understanding the constraints on political leaders, advocates will be better positioned to advance human rights in the Americas.

Robert (Bo) Carlson is the Editor of Global Americans. He previously held roles at the OAS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and has written for The National Interest and The Diplomat. You can find him on Twitter: @bocarlson1.

Image Credit: Guy Corbishley / Alamy 

Last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released a nonbinding decision against Jamaica’s ban on same-sex intimacy. The law, shared by nine other Caribbean nations, is discriminatory and should be repealed. But when it comes to hotly contested issues such as LGBTQ rights and abortion, the Inter-American system is the wrong venue for change. Instead, advocates should embrace a two-pronged approach, pushing the envelope at the domestic level while reinforcing well-established rights through international institutions.

Latin America played an outsize role in shaping the human rights movement that emerged from World War II. Later identified as the “forgotten crucible” of the movement, the region originated concepts of economic, social, and cultural rights, challenging European ideas that prioritized civil and political rights.

The resulting Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 was plagued by problems that have only grown in the decades since. As Eric Posner notes in his provocative essay, “The Case Against Human Rights,” the declaration wasn’t binding; subsequent treaties would entail commitments, but even these came with no enforcement mechanism. The economic, social, and cultural rights that Latin American jurists had so ardently supported posed a special problem—they imposed unsustainable costs on poorly funded governments. Perhaps the greatest challenge was the vagueness of each right that the UDHR established, leaving room for constant reinterpretation and no clear arbiter.

In the years since 1948, academics, activists, and politicians have rapidly expanded their interpretation of existing rights. After a push from LGBTQ organizations, United Nations officials reinterpreted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, three decades after its signing. Pro-choice campaigners have likewise interpreted CEDAW to justify “abortion as a human right.” The problem isn’t that abortion and LGBTQ equality have gained public support in the intervening years, but rather that changes in opinion have been inconsistent across different countries. Within the Western Hemisphere, Canada and Uruguay registered around 75 percent support for same-sex marriage in 2016, the last year for which comprehensive survey data is available. In Haiti and the English-Speaking Caribbean that same year, less than 15 percent of the population were in favor.

When international human rights bodies ignore the cultural, historical, and political differences across countries, they aren’t just ineffective; they also provoke a backlash. Social conservatives gain the upper hand, framing progressives as outside forces trying to impose foreign norms.

In May 2017, the IACHR held a hearing in Chile on reform to the country’s abortion laws. The following month, over 700 Latin American legislators signed onto the Mexico City Declaration, which rejected any imposition of “new rights” concerning abortion or same-sex marriage by the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, or the IACHR. The Commission continued to press for abortion rights, coming to a head in 2019 when conservative senators in the United States successfully lobbied the Trump administration to revoke its funding from the IACHR.

The Inter-American System courted controversy again in 2018, with the Court ruling that signatory countries must protect same-sex marriage. Fabricio Alvarado, an evangelical presidential candidate in Costa Rica, put the issue at the center of his campaign, promising not just to ignore the particular ruling if elected, but also to withdraw from the Court’s jurisdiction. His stance took him from obscurity to a first-round victory in the election, before ultimately losing to his moderate opponent in the second round.

To be clear, any campaign to advance reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality will create some amount of backlash. But there are ways to minimize it. By pursuing a two-track approach, progressive campaigners can maximize social change while avoiding overreach.

On controversial issues where public opinion varies widely across countries, activists should engage at the domestic level, tailoring their advocacy toward local conditions. LGBTQ campaigners in the English-speaking Caribbean might bring light to the colonial origins of anti-gay laws, for example, while their counterparts in Chile may emphasize the steps already taken by Argentina, Uruguay, and most of Western Europe to recognize same-sex marriage. Pro-choice campaigners in Honduras can move the needle by gradually carving out exceptions to the total prohibition on abortion. In countries that already have exemptions, local activists can push for more ambitious reforms.

Rather than weighing in on contested issues and provoking a nationalist backlash, the Inter-American Court and the IACHR should instead reinforce rights that are widely approved by the public but neglected by governments. In Venezuela, the regime of President Nicolás Maduro has used extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, and restrictions on free expression to repress the opposition. In the Northern Triangle of Central America, governments routinely fail to protect their citizens’ security; Honduras and El Salvador, for example, rank among the five countries in the world with the highest homicide rates. Even countries with stronger human rights protections, such as the U.S., have distressingly high levels of police brutality. On these issues, a strong statement from international organizations can emphasize the gap between governments’ rhetorical commitments and their practices.

Given the potential for backlash against internationally imposed norms on divisive issues, human rights activists should take a cautious, two-pronged approach to reform. Doing so would advance reproductive freedoms and LGBTQ equality while also improving respect for human rights more broadly.

Robert (Bo) Carlson is the Program Coordinator of the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy. He previously held roles at the OAS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and has written for The National Interest and El Faro. You can find him on Twitter: @bocarlson1.

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