Inter-American Dialogue

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Inter-American Dialogue
Inter-American Dialogue logo.svg
Abbreviation IAD, the Dialogue
Formation 1982; 36 years ago (1982)
Type Latin America Public Policy Think Tank, Forum of Leaders
Headquarters 1155 15th Street NW, Suite 800
Michael Shifter
Carla Hills Ernesto Zedillo

The Inter-American Dialogue (also the Dialogue or IAD) is a U.S.-based think tank in the field of international affairs primarily related to the Western Hemisphere. Headquartered in Washington, D.C it intends to "foster democratic governance, prosperity, and social equity in Latin America and the Caribbean". The Dialogue's research areas focus on the rule of law, education, migration, remittances, energy, climate change and extractive industries.

History and major initiatives[edit]

The Dialogue originated from the efforts of Abraham F. Lowenthal, who in the late 1970s and early 1980s was the secretary of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.[1] Together with Peter D. Bell, who at that time was engaged in Latin America program at the Ford Foundation, he approached Sol M. Linowitz, former US Ambassador to the Organization of American States, with an idea to assemble citizens from throughout the hemisphere to set a new regional agenda.[2] Linowitz proposed creation of an "inter-American dialogue". He broached the idea to Galo Plaza, the former president of Ecuador and past secretary general of the Organization of American States.

The Dialogue’s first meeting of members took place in 1982 under the auspices of the Aspen Institute.[3] At first the Dialogue did not engage in extensive original research, having only one or two professional full-time staffers. Eventually, Lowenthal raised enough funds to convert the Dialogue into a full-scale think tank with a full-time research staff. This, along with the changes in the world politics, put the Dialogue in the advantageous position to shape Latin America policy of the Clinton administration.[1] By 1993 the Dialogue expanded and diversified its activities to include conferences, working groups, congressional seminars, forums for visiting Latin Americans, and individually authored articles.[3] Linking market economics and democracy, the Dialogue was able to portray any regional alternative to neoliberal economics as antidemocratic.

In 1993 the Dialogue conducted a research into the role "external actors could play in consolidating, deepening and defending democracy in Western Hemisphere". The timing was deemed appropriate considering "the move of the Eastern Europe and Latin America to democratic government". Advocating "market-based solutions to the reduction of poverty" as the force driving the democratic wave, the Dialogue was eager to foster in Latin America "an economic model fueled by the individual desire to consume and employing market-set prices to coordinate with relative efficiency the supply and demand for goods, services, and capital".[4]

In 2005, the Dialogue released a report on Latin America entitled "A Break in the Clouds", exposing "the many daunting challenges still confronting the region".[5] The report drew a critique of the ambassador of Venezuela Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, who lambasted the report for criticizing Venezuela in "shortsighted and narrow-minded fashion". In a letter sent to the members of the Dialogue Alvarez outlined his specific objections to the report's characterization of Venezuela, noting that the report lacked "original thinking, critical analysis, or progressive proposals for change" and tended towards "the trap of promoting a policy of isolation for Venezuela" that had been "outwardly rejected by every country in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Canada and Mexico". Further, he argued against the neoliberal economic reforms that had resulted in rising levels of inequality in the region.[6]

In 2009 the Dialog released "A Second Chance: U.S. Policy in the Americas", the report prepared for U.S. policy makers in the wake of the 2008 global financial-economic crisis. The report openly concededed that "popular frustration may lead to diminished support for democracy and markets" throughout both North and Latin America, yet recommended for the United States to quickly "gain congressional ratification of the already negotiated and signed free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama" while preserving "hemisphere-wide free trade" as a "critical long-term goal".[7]

In 2010 Michael Shifter, the president of the Dialogue, and Jorge Dominguez, Professor and Vice Provost for International Affairs at Harvard University, organized a meeting with the representatives of the Washington political community about democratic institutions and practices in Latin America. In particular, the sessions discussed constitutional reforms made by Latin American presidents, the growing influence of the Executive branch over the Judicial branch in many Latin American countries, corruption in governmental institutions and the challenges that it presents to democracy, advances in terms of social inclusion, the effects of the growing restrictions on the communications media and on opposition parties in some Latin American countries, and organized crime and drug trafficking and the threats that they present to democratic institutions.[8]

By 2015 the Dialogue has become increasingly worried about the Chinese activities in the Latin America. Its analysis showed that China held $65 billion of Venezuelan debt, and that in 2016 92% of China’s loans directed to Latin America went to Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil.[9] In a 2015 interview Margaret Myers, director of the China and Latin America program at the Dialogue, called the Chinese diplomacy and also Chinese foreign policy "slightly more aggressive" than earlier. She said that "partnerships in the region between China and certain countries that would in some form have been thought to provoke the U.S. in the past [are] no longer seemingly a major consideration".[10]


The Dialogue's sources of funding come almost exclusively from northern corporations, governments, foundations, and northern-dominated international financial institutions primarily associated with U.S.—not Latin American—corporate wealth. Among the corporate-backed foundations are the General Electric Foundation; the Ford Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; the Annie E. Casey Foundation; the Henry Luce Foundation; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Two corporate funders of the Dialogue benefited greatly under neoliberalism: Merck & Co. is a pharmaceutical giant that has a natural interest in the ongoing privatization of local health systems, while top ten holdings of the American International Group—four of which emerged from the privatization of state assets—are engaged in resource extraction, banking and finance, and telecommunications.[7]

Among the contributors of the Dialogue's funding are companies involved in fossil energy (Chevron, Sempra International, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Statoil), mining (Rio Tinto), military equipment (Boeing, Raytheon), information technology (Apple, Google, Oracle), television (Televisa), publishing (Pearson PLC).[11]

The Dialogue has been a strong advocate of free trade agreements negotiated with the United States and has received donations from countries like Colombia, which spent several years advocating passage of its own trade deal by Congress.[12] Other government funding from Latin nations comes from the embassies of Chile and Mexico.[7]


The Dialogue has 132 members from Latin America, the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. 17 of its members served as presidents of their countries, 40 served at the cabinet level, 17 served in national legislatures, 25 are leaders in business or finance sectors, and seven are associated with the media.

Board of directors[edit]

The Inter-American Dialogue is currently chaired by former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo and former U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Carla A. Hills. Its vice-chairs are Mack McLarty, former White House Chief of Staff, and L. Enrique Garcia, president of CAF – Development Bank of Latin America.

Other members of the Board of Directors:


  1. ^ a b Wiarda, Howard J. (1995). Democracy and Its Discontents. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 101. 
  2. ^ "2012 Annual Report". Inter-American Dialogue. July 11, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Inter-American Dialogue (IAD)". National Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA). 2002. 
  4. ^ Legler, Thomas; Lean, Sharon; Boniface, Dexter. Promoting Democracy in the Americas. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. VIII. 
  5. ^ "A break in the clouds" (PDF). Inter-American Dialogue. 2005. 
  6. ^ Herrera, Bernardo Alvarez (August 4, 2005). "Letter sent by Ambassador Alvarez to the Inter-American Dialogue" (PDF). 
  7. ^ a b c Newbauer, Robert J. (November 18, 2011). "Dialogue, monologue, or something in between? Neoliberal think tanks in the Americas". Simon Fraser University. 
  8. ^ "The Construction of Democratic Governance in Latin America". fundacion Vidanta. October 5, 2011. 
  9. ^ Chun, Zhang (April 12, 2017). "Latin America's oil-dependent states struggling to repay Chinese debts". 
  10. ^ "U.S. Intervention In The Caribbean Comes On China's Heels". NPR. April 9, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Leadership for the Americas: 2015-2106 report" (PDF). Inter-American Dialogue. 2016. 
  12. ^ "Foreign Government Contributions to Nine Think Tanks". The New York Times. September 7, 2014.