Foreign Security, Allyship, and Challenges: FIU hosts eighth annual Hemispheric Security Conference

Associate director for the National Security Program at the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy Leland Lazarus opening the conference | Andres Davila, PantherNOW

Andres Davila | Assistant News Director

Issues regarding foreign security and allyship were central topics to FIU’s eighth annual Hemispheric Security Conference, hosted by the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy on May 2 and 3.

The conference is an annual event revolving around experts from academia, governmental organizations, non-profit organizations, and private sectors to discuss security issues in the Western Hemisphere.

Leland Lazarus, associate director for the National Security Program at the Gordon Institute, spoke to his excitement about the conference in an interview with PantherNOW.

“It’s extremely important because the theme for this year’s conference is partnerships in the decisive decade. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there’s so much opportunity, but there are also so many challenges,” said Lazarus. “From citizens’ security to climate change to strategic competition between the United States and China in Latin America to cybersecurity and even emerging technologies.”

With Lazarus opening the conference, several panels and chats were hosted in regard to security levels, Latin American relations with U.S. and Europe, and climate change.

A notable panel featured a conversation between Brian Fonseca, director of the Gordon Institute, and Juan Gonzalez, National Security Council (NSC) Director to the White House.

The discussion mainly focused on U.S. – Colombia relations under current Colombian President Gustavo Petro compared to his predecessor, Iván Duque.

“We need to find areas in which interests [of both countries] converge, which what you want and I want are the same, as opposed to you want something that I can’t have. That’s sort of the trade-off,” said Fonseca about Colombia’s relationship with the U.S.

This conversation also highlighted Colombia’s importance to the future of Venezuela. 

“The way that we engage Venezuela is arguably different than the way we engage [with] Petro. Maduro is not a democratically elected leader. There are still grave human rights violations going on within Venezuela,” said Fonseca in the panel. 

“The migration of Venezuelans outward has been arguably the largest migration crisis in the hemisphere. It is kind of the position that we [leaders of the conference] have where we have to be honest and clear about that. For us, it’s about the restoration of democracy.”

Conversation between NSC Specialist Juan Gonzalez and Gordon Institute Director Brian Fonseca | Andres Davila, PantherNOW

Day one also included a conversation between United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Deputy Administrator, Isobel Coleman, and FIU alumni and 2021 USAID Donald M. Payne Fellow, Pierina Lopez.

The panel emphasized how marginalized communities are being impacted both in the Latin American and Caribbean regions, but also in the United States.

In the panel, Coleman describes the continuous localization efforts USAID has been implementing throughout the year to support these marginalized communities. 

“A year and a half ago, we [USAID] were at around 6% of direct funding to local organizations, and we are on a path by 2025 to raise that 2.5%. So we’re going to see really adulterate over the next year,” emphasized Coleman.

In addition, Coleman discussed the importance of digitalization in providing marginalized populations more access to spaces and development when Lopez mentioned the emerging technologies arising in the region.

“The digital space is essential to everything that we do. I mean, everything now has more and more of a digital component and making sure that countries understand the security of your digital platform,” said Coleman.

Conversation between USAID Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman and FIU Alumni and Payne Fellow Pierina Lopez | Andres Davila, PantherNOW

The conference provided many insights for not just the leaders that joined the event, but also for students.

“They [students] shouldn’t be shy in making connections meeting these people [when] asking them questions. They can also be part of the solution, not when they graduate, not a couple of years from now, but right now. By engaging [with] these people, by offering their own suggestions on how to solve some of these big issues, they can make a direct impact in international policy,” Lazarus reassured.

The first day of the conference ended with more insights that can be applied to the experts that attended.

“They’re [these leaders] gonna go back after this conference and continue to move that conversation to form policies and then [think] ‘how do you implement your good policies so that you can affect the security in a positive way?’,” said Fonseca. “Then reconvene in a year and have the conversation again about what have we [the experts] done.”

“Are we moving it forward? Is insecurity so persistent that you just haven’t found the right solution? I think that’s what’s really valuable about [these] sort of convenings like this, and what happens after.”

Lazarus reiterated a similar thought, discussing how the conference can resemble progress upon the work of an expert.

“I think a measure of success for us would be how the discussions that took place today impact policy in the region and in the United States. In what ways, what best practices did a policymaker learn that he or she is going to commit to when they return to their home country to actually implement it.”

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