Democratic Backsliding and International Relations in the Americas


Thursday, February 25, 2021, 3:30pm to 4:45pm

For a recording of this event, click here.

Speakers: Celso Amorim, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defense, Brazil; Susana Malcorra, Dean, IE School of Global and Public Affairs and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Argentina; Ambassador Thomas Shannon, Senior Fellow, Future of Diplomacy Project, Harvard Kennedy School and Former U.S. Under Secretary of State
Moderated by: Steven Levitsky, Director, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies; David Rockefeller Professor of Latin American Studies and Professor of Government, Harvard University

In recent years, several countries throughout the Americas have increasingly experienced concerning signs of democratic backsliding: Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador, Paraguay and Peru have all seen varying degrees of deterioration of their democratic institutions such as independence of the judiciary or the right to free protest. Similarly, the United States, which has long prided itself as a champion of democracy in the region and the world, was shaken by an unprecedented threat to its democracy on January 6 when a mob of insurgents sieged the Capitol building in an attempt to overturn election results. What are the main challenges to democracy in the Western Hemisphere? How are international organizations and foreign policymakers responding to de-democratization in the Americas? What is the role of diplomacy in defending democracy? And what is the role of civil society in reversing these trends?

Celso Amorim is a Brazilian diplomat with a long history of government service, beginning in 1987 when he was appointed Secretary for International Affairs for the Ministry of Science and Technology. In 1989, he became Director-General for Cultural Affairs in the Ministry of External Relations, and in 1990 he became Director-General for Economic Affairs. Amorim served as Minister of Foreign Relations 1993-1994, as Brazil's permanent Ambassador to the United Nations and the WTO from 1999-2001, and as Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2001-2002. From 2003-2010 Amorim again served as Minister of Foreign Relations, making him Brazil’s longest-serving Minister of Foreign Relations. From 2011-2014 he served as Minister of Defence. Amorim was a professor of Portuguese language at the Rio Branco Institute, as well as professor of political science and international relations at the University of Brasília and as a Fisher Family Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Future of Diplomacy Project . He is a permanent member of the Foreign Affairs Department of the University of São Paulo Institute of Advanced Studies.

Susana Malcorra is the Dean of the IE School of Global and Public Affairs in Madrid, Spain, a distinguished fellow for IE’s Transatlantic Relations Initiative in Madrid, and a member of the Democracy Cluster at EUI’s School of Transnational Governance in Florence. She is also part of the executive councils of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, the Atlantic Council, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Aspen Ministers’ Forum. From 2015-2017, Susana served as Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Argentina and as Minister Advisor to President Mauricio Macri, having presided over the 11th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires. Prior, she had an illustrious career at the United Nations, serving as Chief Operating Officer of the World Food Programme, Under Secretary-General of the Department of Field Support, and Chief of Staff for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moo. Susana has invaluable experience in humanitarian aid, peacekeeping operations and complex negotiations in various countries. She coordinated the mission to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons and the first ever Ebola emergency response in West Africa, for example. Susana has a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Rosario as well as 25 years of professional experience in the private sector, including as CEO of Telecom Argentina.

Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon is a Senior Fellow of the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In 2016, Ambassador Shannon was appointed by President Obama to serve as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the third highest ranking position at the State Department. Holding the personal rank of Career Ambassador, he was the highest ranking member of the United States Foreign Service, the country's professional diplomatic corps. During his tenure as Under Secretary through 2018, Ambassador Shannon was in charge of bilateral and multilateral foreign policymaking and implementation, and oversaw diplomatic activity globally and in our missions to international organizations. Prior, Ambassador Shannon was the United States Ambassador to Brazil (2010-2013), Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (2005-2009), Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council (2003-2005), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State (2002-2003), and Director of Andean Affairs (2001-2002). From 2000-2001, he was US Deputy Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, with the rank of Ambassador. During his career, Ambassador Shannon served in the US Foreign Service at embassies in Guatemala, Brazil, South Africa, and Venezuela.

Steven Levitsky is the Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University. As the David Rockefeller Professor of Latin American Studies and Professor of Government, his research focuses on democratization, authoritarianism, political parties, and weak and informal institutions. He is author (with Daniel Ziblatt) of How Democracies Die (Crown, 2018), a New York Times Best-Seller that has been published in 22 languages, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War (with Lucan Way) (Cambridge, 2010), and Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America: Argentine Peronism in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge, 2003), and co -editor of Informal Institutions and Democracy in Latin America (with Gretchen Helmke) and The Resurgence of the Latin American Left (with Kenneth Roberts). He has written frequently for the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Vox, The New Republic, The Monkey Cage, La República (Peru) and Folha de São Paulo (Brazil). He is currently writing a book (with Lucan Way) on the durability of revolutionary regimes. Levitsky received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

Presented in collaboration with Future of Diplomacy Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School and Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School