Making Hilton Head Island Vision 2030 a Reality – Tina Gentry

The Islands Society is pleased to recognize Tina Gentry as its Hilton Head Island Vision 2030 voice of the month. Gentry was raised in Beaufort, South Carolina, and graduated from the University of South Carolina with degrees in business administration and finance. Before accepting the position of President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way of the Lowcountry in 2011, Gentry worked as the Vice-President of patient access and sustainable resources for Four Seasons in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

One of guiding principles of the Hilton Head Island Vision 2030 is “working together and volunteering for the greater good of the Hilton Head Island Community.” Why is this guiding principle important moving into the future?

In order to create positive lasting change, it is imperative that members of a community clearly see ways that they can become a part of making that vision a reality. Progress is realized when people work together toward shared goals.

Is Hilton Head Island currently in a position to fulfill this guiding principle? If not, what needs to be done to position the island to accomplish this goal?

I absolutely believe that Hilton Head Island is positioned to fulfill this guiding principle. The diversity of the people who call the Island home is one of the Island’s greatest strengths. The collective wisdom that comes from resident’s experiences and knowledge is an incredible asset for any type of community change. Hilton Head has experienced many successes because individuals come together and work for the greater good.

How is United Way of the Lowcountry contributing to accomplishing the aforementioned guiding principle?

The United Way of the Lowcountry’s history is deep-rooted in people working together and volunteering. In fact, our agency exists today because a group of local business leaders, in 1958, recognized needs in the community and came together to raise money for agencies and services to fulfill those needs.

The United Way’s current Community Impact work can only be accomplished because stakeholders truly had a voice in the issues that will be addressed. They have a common understanding of those issues and a clear discernment of how it takes everyone working together to achieve positive change, which can be measured through common outcomes.

Having grown up in Beaufort, you’re now in a position as CEO of United Way of the Lowcountry to make far-reaching positive changes in the region. What sort of changes do you envision?

We are all so blessed to live in the beautiful Lowcountry where so many positive initiatives for change are taking place. There are a number of improvements that I would personally like to see including the following:

  • Every child in Beaufort and Jasper Counties should be provided with the opportunity to develop the foundation that allows them to succeed in school, resulting in a minimum of 80% of children entering the 4th grade functioning at grade level.
  • All residents of Beaufort and Jasper Counties should have: access to safe, affordable housing options; convenient access to, and knowledge of, comprehensive healthcare; and economic opportunities through diversified and meaningful employment options that allow for financial and family stability.

Why are nonprofit organizations vital to creating a sense of identity?

Most people are innately wired to connect with a purpose. They are passionate about any number of issues. When people are connected to organizations and feel passionate about the mission their involvement fuels the agency. Those people who become champions and supporters of an agency’s mission through volunteering, donating or both take pride in their involvement in that agency and its work becomes a part of their identity.

Finally, if you could add one additional guiding principle to the Hilton Head Island Vision 2030, what would it be?

I believe that the guiding principles for Hilton Head Island’s Vision 2030 are very comprehensive. The process that was used to identify these principles appears thorough and I trust that process. Therefore, I have no additions. I do look forward to seeing the guiding principles lived out on Hilton Head Island.


Tina Gentry is the President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way of the Lowcountry.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: Alistair Nicol (Flickr CC)

Meeting the Needs of Latinos on Hilton Head Island – Eric Esquivel

Eric Esquivel is the president, publisher and managing partner of La Isla Magazine. Based on Hilton Head Island, La Isla is a national award-winning publication whose work helps Latinos integrate into American society, promotes cross-cultural awareness, and helps businesses increase their share of the local Hispanic market.

One of the guiding principles for Hilton Head Island Vision 2030 is “providing meaningful experiences that cherish our history, the arts, cultural diversity and enrich the lives of our residents and guests.” As publisher of La Isla Magazine, what does this guiding principle mean to you?

It means understanding the deep historical roots of Hilton Head and what we call the Lowcountry. If you don’t know the history, the complexities and who the players are, then you can’t move forward into the future. With that you develop the ability to understand the arts by understanding the diversity and who played that role in the arts.

I think the guiding principle is not only understanding it but also helping highlight the great diversity that doesn’t only exist culturally, but also on so many levels: the ecology, the history and the residents. What’s happening today, especially with mass development, if we don’t preserve and have guiding principles in all these factors we will lose that through the economic development and the drive to continue to do more business.

Currently, we not only have to know the guiding principle. We also have to speak to it and bring people together to understand each other. If we do not acknowledge the history, the arts, and cultural diversity we can’t enrich the lives of residents and guests because we don’t have a guiding principle behind it.

According to the 2010 Census data, the Hispanic or Latino population of Hilton Head Island makes up 15.8% of the population or 5,861 of the total 37,099 population. As the largest minority on Hilton Head Island, is enough being done to promote cultural diversity on Hilton Head Island? If not, what changes would you make?

I was the census chair for Beaufort and Jasper county in 2010. I’ll start off by saying that the 5,861 number is probably closer to 15,000. So, we don’t really understand how big our community truly is and its numbers. One of the reasons is that they do not indicate race as Latino or Hispanic on the census – and they’re supposed to defer to others – so that’s why there’s a high error rating.

I would say that while there are factors being done to promote cultural diversity, not enough is being done. Specific to Hispanics, we need more leadership and involvement civically and politically so we can move forward that recognition; not only culture diversity of the population but also of representation for the betterment of the Latino community as a whole and integration, common respect and understanding of what it means to be Latino or Hispanic-American in the deep South.

In many senses, there are two faces to Hilton Head, the one that serves our wealthy and tourists, and one that turns a blind-eye to our communities of needs. There needs to be more efforts no matter how hard the work is to engage the Latino community. You have to go to them and have to build the relationship before doing business.  Engagement is key because that engagement empowers them.  If you let them know what’s at stake, they will take ownership and be proud of it. They are a shadow workforce that has not been engaged and they are not being represented as well as they should be.

What role does the Latino community play in shaping the overall identity of Hilton Head Island?

We’re in the middle of it and that’s what so cool about it. It’s almost a message back to our Latinos, ‘here’s a soft piece of putty, what legacy and shape do we want to leave?’ The role is there to Latinos to shape the identity of Hilton Head. Serving as one of the founding members of what’s called the Santa Elena Foundation, we have proven that the first true settlement was not Plymouth Rock, but Santa Elena one hundred years before. I’ve used this as an example to create a sense of pride with the new Latinos saying we’ve got roots that go all the way back.

Where we are today, time will tell.  But my message to our Latino community is that the opportunity is there.  But, they have to be willing to take a risk, to step forward, and have their voice heard. To the non-Latinos, my message is to embrace what you don’t know, what’s different, because that what makes us stronger as a country of immigrants and will welcome and help the Latino shape their role and identity in the community. The sooner people feel a part of the community, the sooner they become more proactive to make the community better.

A recent article in the Island Packet highlighted the rapidly growing Latino population in Bluffton and the role that community organizations and religious groups are playing to meet their needs. Why are community organizations like these important to creating a strong community for everyone?

They are the foundation of our community, not just for Latinos but as support beams for integration for the people who don’t have the voice. Historically, without these organizations the new community’s success would not exist for immigrants. Community organizations like nonprofits, religious groups, and even businesses such our own and others are taking a risk by breaking the norm or going against the grain. There is no race, color, creed or religion in business; opportunity is opportunity. These organizations help reach down to the first generations and help them get established.

What is the purpose of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition and what is your involvement with the organization?

When I came back to run La Isla, I knew the rule of journalism which was to tell the story and not be the story. But the stories I was telling weren’t okay with who I was, my religious values, my heart, my soul and the culture I loved.  My father is Hispanic and he was an immigrant who came here and was very successful. Seeing what was going on, I wasn’t okay telling the story. It wasn’t good for our community, our kids, our economy and our future. This is a place where I grew up and I had come back to make a career, but with a business representing Latinos. I wanted to not just talk the talk but walk the walk.

Because of what I saw happening locally, statewide, and nationally with very counter-intuitive and negative, discriminatory laws on local, county and state levels through grassroots, I helped found the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition and currently serve as co-chairman. Our roots go back to 2006 when Beaufort County tried to implement a copycat law of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. A Lawful Employment Ordinance put the burden of immigration enforcement on small business.  But the way they originally wrote the law and wanted to pass it was that anybody could call the county and report that they thought a certain business had someone illegal working there based on how they looked. In Hazleton, this was already happening. It brought a negative ambience with it to a community who depends on Latinos for a workforce.  People become deathly afraid to stand up for their rights and speak the truth.

Since then our mission has become to be a human and civil rights advocacy group and stop violations on local levels. We put on educational forums for Latinos on how to be better citizens.  We do citizen workshops, health fairs, rallies or protest prayer vigils.  On the flip side, we run voter registration, development and educational forums and speak to our extreme counterparts on immigration reform.  We also reach out to our opposites to education them and bring them closer. We have served, fought and defeated many local anti-immigration laws. We helped defeat the “show-me-your-papers” South Carolina Senate Bill 20; about 80% of that law. It’s in the law books as Lowcountry Immigration Coalition and plaintiffs versus governor Nikki Haley. We’re currently are part of the amicus brief  for the supreme court hearing, that started taking place on April 18th for the DACA and DAPA expansion hearings.

It has been reported that 20.7% of the Beaufort county Hispanic/Latino population is living below the state poverty rate. What needs to be done to decrease this percentage of those living under the poverty rate?

I think when they take these numbers it’s just a general study of everybody else. To fix this on the local level we need comprehensive immigration reform. We have a lot of people living in the shadows, that have chosen to live here even though they may have come legally but overstayed their visa or work permits. They feel life is still better here than their home countries. In many ways, it creates scenarios of a mild form of indentured servitude that the shadow world takes advantage of. We need more outreach and education and also we need to look at the unintended consequences of laws we are creating.

We need to get more proactive on how we welcome and embrace, and how we get new immigrants into the system and integrate them into our community instead of putting up laws and creating obstacles. The example I use now is DACA, which gives kids the ability to process in and look like a citizen two years at a time. The intent of it was was the Dream Act which would allow these kids to join the military or go to college, and the state of South Carolina created a piece of legislation that says if you’re DACA:  1) you have to pay out of state tuition and 2) if you’re DACA and you go study for a career that needs a state license, we’re not going to give it you. We have kids graduating with nursing degrees and other degrees and go find out they can’t use it in a state that has a shortage of labor and workforce. Ultimately these kids of Latino descent are going to be a product in our community one way or another. Do we want them to be successful or do we want them to be a drain on our community?   It starts at the state legislature; these state laws need to stop countering federal law.

In a Pew research poll conducted last fall, 58% of the Hispanic population characterize racism as a “big problem” in the United States. What can be done to create a more open and culturally sensitive environment here in the Lowcountry?

I think some of the things La Isla is doing is groundbreaking and I think we’re a role model for the state of South Carolina as a bilingual publication. Not because they need to learn English, but because isn’t it smart to help people who don’t know the language to know the laws and how to be a part of our community. We do more outreach to both families and adults, more interactions, for example our festivals that we do twice a year such as the  festival de Mayo and Latin music festival. We bring out around 8,000 people a festival; it’s about 60% Hispanic 40% non-Hispanic.  It’s an appreciation of the culture and a respect and celebration.

So, I think seeing that Hispanics are the fastest growing minority not only nationally and now South Carolina being the fastest growing emerging state, we need our leaders to get on board and be progressive in the sense that we’re welcoming and helping others. A lot is accomplished with our leadership, our outreach, infrastructure, logistics, and bilingual materials. If we’re not willing to reach a hand out and welcome and help integrate, we are postponing and prolonging the inevitable but making our situation worse. It has to be a partnership of public and private and it has to be scaled throughout a business and community along with our adults and youth.

Finally, what is your vision of Hilton Head Island in 2030. And, how do we get there?

I have a vision that it’s a beautiful island, a first class destination that understands how sensitive and balanced it is to not just serve the economically fortunate and tourist but also has a balance and importance of the people that serve that beautiful place with a respect and cultural diversity that exists here. My vision includes a belief that the kids of 2030 grow up color blind, but know the history we’ve had to fight for to pave the way to a new and different existence.  I want them to know  that it isn’t an issue what skin tone you have – that everyone should have an equal opportunity and that everyone has a voice in development and economics. When we can understand and do what’s right for all we will be so much stronger and will not be fighting unintended consequences whether its workforce or housing or everything else.  These are big issues that we have to deal with now. They’re not going away – we either deal with them now or they fester, and stay with us.

I therefore envision a place where all can be successful and fully integrated – where being Latino isn’t assumed that you’re Mexican or you’re illegal, but another part of our community. Also, that we’re holding very delicate and true that the history of those challenges – just like the people who came before us, the enslaved Africans – these examples should enable us to learn from them.   We don’t want to continue to commit the same errors so that when the next generation of immigrants comes, we know how to do this already and don’t make the same mistakes.

Eric Esquivel

Eric Esquivel is the president, publisher and managing partner of La Isla Magazine.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: George Lezenby via Flickr CC

Inspiring Children with Art in Charleston – Lisa Estes

This month, the Islands Society is proud to recognize Lisa Estes as our latest “Sea Islands Community Leader.’ Estes is the founding director of Art Goes There – a nonprofit that provides children with programs that enrich their participation in the arts. A Charleston, S.C. native, she graduated from University of South Carolina School of Law. Later, she opened Estes Law Firm, LLC, in Beaufort where she practiced until returning to Charleston in 2010. A life-long supporter of the arts, Estes has served and advised non-profit boards since 2001. James Carroll, Managing Director of the Sea Islands Society, therefore sat down with Lisa to learn more about Art Goes There and some of the challenges nonprofits face in the Lowcountry.

What motivated you to start Art Goes There?

“Art Goes There” promotes and creates connections among artistic, cultural, and educational collaborators to provide inspiring and challenging programs for children that broadens, deepens, and diversifies participation in the arts. I had spent many years representing nonprofits as an attorney and working for several non-profits. I had seen best practices and also how things can be improved in the inner workings of a non-profit organization. I wanted to be able to create a vehicle that would allow me and others to collaborate and connect to bring arts education to areas where programs don’t exist or are hard to maintain. I saw a need in McClellanville and Awendaw, S.C. and decided to use that area for a pilot program.

Why is it important for local communities to support art programs?

Arts programs help build strong economic communities. Charleston is a perfect example of a community that benefits from a rich artistic history. Additionally, the advantages of arts education have been routinely studied and proven to enhance educational programming. Students whose educational opportunities include art components routinely have lower dropout rates, score higher on standardized tests and have better overall educational experiences. Art programs opportunities, both in and out of the school setting, are especially crucial in rural and island areas where programs are irregular or non-existent.

From your point of view as a lawyer and as the director for your nonprofit, what are some of the challenges of running a nonprofit?

Nonprofits are very unique organizations and many people don’t understand the organizational model. As an attorney representing nonprofit organizations since 2001, I’ve helped organizational leaders to understand the responsibilities of their employees and board members. I’ve also worked for nonprofits and founded “Art Goes There,” so I have detailed knowledge of day-to-day best practices. I used all of these experiences to build “Art Goes There” as an organization that can withstand the many challenges nonprofits face. Funding is always a challenge and I see a lot of nonprofit leaders and boards that don’t understand the detail required to maintain a healthy and legally sound organization.

In the Lowcountry, nonprofits have access to many grants that provide basic services but not as many grants for long term capacity building. What are the other issues nonprofits are facing in the Lowcountry?

When founding “Art Goes There,” I focused on creating collaborative relationships. I was born and raised in Charleston. If you live here all your life, you get to know many people. Charleston’s population has changed but it has also added to the opportunities to connect and work together. Many nonprofits in the area work together but long term collaborative relationships could help to spread critical services. The Lowcountry has many nonprofits providing similar services to similar populations. Cross-collaborations are key for longevity.

Why do you feel it’s important for the Lowcountry to promote more women, minorities and young people in nonprofit leadership roles?

Nonprofits must be diverse to survive. The Lowcountry’s population is always changing and nonprofits need to be sure that leadership is reflective of that diversity. We also need to be sure that young people learn the landscape of the nonprofit world so that they can grow into future leaders in the important work that area nonprofits provide.

Finally, what does it mean to be a leader in Charleston?

Charleston has become an international hub. It’s interesting to travel outside of the state and the country and find that people actually know about Charleston, S.C. Being a leader in the Lowcountry allows me to connect with opportunities locally and all over the world and I hope to show those opportunities to some of the children served by “Art Goes There.”


Lisa Estes

Lisa Estes is the founding director of Art Goes There of Charleston, South Carolina.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: Kwong Yee Cheng via Flickr CC

Supporting the Asian Community in Charleston, South Carolina – Joyce Menon

The Islands Society is proud to recognize Dr. Joyce Menon as the Sea Islands Female Leader for the month of March. Since 2008, she has been studying lung cancer in a research lab at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Separately, Dr. Menon has volunteered with the India Association of Greater Charleston (IAGC) for the last eight years, and has provided executive leadership in organizing and hosting India Fest for three consecutive years in Charleston in an effort to promote understanding and appreciation of Indian Arts and Culture. In addition to her work with the IAGC, she has been involved with a fundraiser for Mitchell Math and Science Elementary, a local school in Charleston; a summer educational program for inner city kids at St. Julian Devine Community Center; and the installation of the bust of Mahatma Gandhi in Liberty Gardens at Pinewood Elementary, the first in the state of South Carolina. The managing director of the Sea Islands Society, James Carroll, therefore reached out to Dr. Menon to discuss her accomplishments and her efforts to promote cross-cultural awareness through her work with the IAGC.

What are you currently researching at the Medical University of South Carolina?

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. More people die of lung cancer than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer and the current chemotherapy drugs used to treat it have only limited efficacy. One of the reasons of this resistance is because the cells are undergoing Epithelial to Mesenchymal (EMT) transformation and this is currently being studied in our lab.

Please tell me about your involvement with the India Association of Greater Charleston. Why do you feel it’s important to highlight Indian arts and culture in Charleston?

I have been involved with India Association of Greater Charleston (IAGC) since 2005. I have been a Secretary (4 yrs) and a President (2 yrs) and am now the co-chair for its Events Planning Committee. One of the aims of IAGC is to promote an understanding of the culture and heritage of India within the Charleston community. We believe that strong bonds of friendship are built when mutual respect is borne as a result of this exchange.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the Asian population of South Carolina is only 1.5% of the total population. This is far lower than the national average of 5.4%. Do you feel that South Carolina is an unattractive place to live for immigrants from East Asia, Southeast Asia, or South Asia?

Most immigrants from the Indian subcontinent to United States are either medical or IT professionals. Since South Carolina offers a limited number of industries and institutions in these fields, the percentage of that demographic is also low. Now that we have large industries like Boeing and BMW openings plants in this area, we should see an increase in this population. Moreover, I have seen a steady increase in the hiring of professionals of Indian origin at MUSC.

Have you ever faced challenges because of your ethnicity or gender?

I have been blessed that ethnicity and gender has not played a part in my life as a working woman and later a working mom in South Carolina. However, I am very well aware about the challenges women (regardless of their ethnicity) face in this country. But, the great thing about being an American is that you have the freedom of speech to voice your opinion, and bring about changes through grass root awareness.

A recent study found that South Carolina ranks 50 of 51 states (including the District of Columbia) in women’s well-being. What do you think needs to be done to improve this dreadful ranking?

There is a high correlation between poverty and the level of education amongst women in our society. Investing in educational programs for women – whether it’s for young girls, mothers or grandmothers – would be the best “Return On Investment.” Giving vocational training to women would go a long way in improving the situation. I am a firm believer that while educating a man will save a family, educating a woman will save the world. Including women in strategic and long-term policy making decisions would be a step in the right direction.

What advice would you give to young women and girls from island communities who want to pursue a career in medicine?

As our population gets older, we will need more medical professionals to join the ranks. The recent emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs at high schools is certainly going to help. But, pursuing a medical profession requires a significant commitment and individual sacrifice. As a society, we should provide an environment that is supportive to the challenges women will face in balancing personal life and work. This is where I believe society can help by providing certain benefits that will help alleviate the load on women. One good example of this is the recent campaign to provide maternal and child care benefits to working mothers.


Local Female Leader
Local Female Leader

Dr. Joyce Menon at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). She is also the past president of the India Association of Greater Charleston.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: sandeepachetan via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Supporting Marginalized Citizens in Beaufort County, South Carolina – Fred Leyda

This month, the Islands Society is proud to recognize Fred Leyda as the inaugural Sea Islands Community Leader by its constituent society for the Lowcountry – the Sea Islands Society. As the director of Human Services Alliance for Beaufort County, Leyda oversees various organizations and groups working together to promote and sustain activities that improve the quality of life for Beaufort County residents. James Carroll, Managing Director of the Sea Islands Society, asked Leyda to discuss the work of the quality of life service agencies in addressing difficult social challenges in Beaufort County.

What does it mean to be a community leader in Beaufort County, South Carolina?

I consider it an honor to serve my community and believe strongly in Servant Leadership. As such, one of the most rewarding experiences I have in my position as Beaufort County Human Services Director is watching diverse groups of organizational and community representatives come together in a collaborative process. The good that can come from such a process is sometimes unimaginable. Recently we were recognized by the Education Oversight Committee for having improved our school readiness levels. When asked why we were able to achieve such results using methods that are common to other communities, we realized that it was because our efforts weren’t happening in a “silo” – they were being implemented in a community filled with other groups all working collaboratively to “hitch our wagons to the same train and all pull in the same direction.”

As director of Beaufort County’s Human Services Alliance, is enough being done to support marginalized citizens of Beaufort County?

Put simply – NEVER! There can never be enough done to support Lowcountry residents who are marginalized or in need. We are living in a county accurately described as “islands of affluence surrounded by a sea of poverty.” We have families in our communities living in homes with dirt floors and no indoor plumbing. I have stood on the ground where a homeless man died of exposure on Christmas Eve a few years ago. From where I stood, I could watch families celebrating the holiday in their nearby condominiums. This happened on Hilton Head Island, one of the most successful resort communities on the East Coast. What happens to the least of us, affects us all in one way or another.

Now a few years old, the 2012 Together for Beaufort County report highlighted four quality-of-life indicators (the economy, education, poverty and health) in Beaufort County. What has been the impact of this report and what has since been done to meet these objectives?

The old adage “what gets measured gets done” certainly applies! While collaborative efforts have been in place in our community since the 70s, the process to actually identify, measure, and track quality-of-life indicators began in 2006. This process, and the indicators themselves, became a rallying cry around which many private citizens, agencies, and community action groups coalesced. These became many of our foundational community action teams, known as Together for Beaufort County Coalitions. We have actually shifted the report to an interactive website which can be accessed at One of the most significant changes is that, in response to years of community and stakeholder feedback, we have refined the focus of our quality-of-life indicators to include five realms of study rather than four.

In 2013, you stated that there were approximately 4,000 to 5,000 homeless people in Beaufort County. Has that number increased or decreased?

Estimates of homeless individuals living in the community are a rapidly-moving target that’s hard to hit. In the case of homeless individuals who are truly homeless (living on the streets, in the woods, or in their cars) we find that the population is transient and highly mobile, and may come or go depending on the weather or other circumstances. When we discuss Beaufort County homeless, our office also includes those who are without a home, but living with friends or family, who may have shelter one week and be on the street or at a hotel the next depending on their personal situations. Those individuals constitute the bulk of our estimate. Lastly, individuals living in substandard housing – that is to say, housing without running water, electricity, or housing with structural issues like holes in the roof or walls – are also considered homeless. However, many housing surveys ask, “Where did you spend the night last night?” to which they inevitably respond, “Home!” This creates a lot of barriers toward developing a comprehensive and exact count. Long story short, however, we believe that the number of 4,000 – 5,000 homeless in Beaufort County remains our best estimate and, presumably, has improved slightly as the economy picks up.

Recently, the topic of racism has been addressed in Beaufort County. What needs to be done to promote a safe and healthy living situation for all residents and guests?

The answer to that question lies in the difference seen between the response of Charleston, South Carolina to trauma and the response seen in Ferguson, Missouri. What came out of Charleston in response to the tragedy was a community-wide conversation about race and forgiveness. Charleston demonstrated an unbreakable sense of community which resulted in that overwhelming message of love and togetherness, the very embodiment of the ‘Beloved Community’ spoken of by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As Co-Chairs, Rev. Jim Wooten and I have been working with Beaufort County Community Relations Council to foster Dr. King’s ‘Beloved Community’ here in our community. We recognize that open and honest dialogue and communication are key components to fighting racism and division. The Council is currently developing a strategic plan for achieving these objectives and fostering a similar sense of community to our Sister City.

Finally, as a community leader, what does the future of Beaufort County look like and how do we get there?

I am very excited about the direction we are moving as a county. Growing participation by local residents coupled with a willingness on the part of Beaufort County Council and other elected officials to take a serious look at difficult social challenges in our community like homelessness, affordable housing and economic development is a powerful combination. Together we have made significant progress already – prenatal care rates now exceed state averages, 98% of our entering Kindergarteners are testing at grade level as they start school, high school graduation rates are improving, and Beaufort County’s Health Ranking is #1 in the state once again in overall quality of life and longevity. Recently the Community Services Committee of County Council requested a Resolution to Address Homelessness in Beaufort County. If these trends continue we are poised to really see some positive growth socially, economically, and environmentally!


Fred Leyda

Fred Leyda is the Beaufort County Human Services Director in Beaufort, South Carolina. He is also the Co-Chair of the Beaufort County Community Relations Council.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: atelier_flir via Flickr CC

Islanders of African Great Lakes Should Embrace Identity – James Carroll

Effective management of the African Great Lakes is paramount for sustainability of the area’s natural resources in the years ahead. For example, consider the transboundary waters of Lake Victoria. They pose interrelated challenges that lead Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as international actors, to struggle in their quest for lasting solutions. At the forefront of this struggle is the question of how to manage the resources in an inclusive and participatory manner, while promoting sustainable development. One approach that could prove to be a viable solution is to engage key demographics — specifically, populations living on the islands of Lake Victoria.

A Better Approach Needed

Lake Victoria faces a range of issues that vary in complexity and magnitude. It already supports over 30 million people in three East African countries, and their populations are growing rapidly. The challenges facing Lake Victoria are well documented, ranging from unplanned urban growth to climate change. Some of these issues require governments to take leading roles, while others require innovative approaches due to their transboundary nature.

The challenge of finding solutions lies with how governments and large organizations engage key demographics and organizations around Lake Victoria. Too often, governments and international actors are detached from local populations where they are actively working. This disconnect between the two parties prevents governments and international actors from properly understanding the complexity of issues. These challenges have led governments and international actors to recognize the need for better approaches to the management of Lake Victoria’s resources.

Using Public Diplomacy as a Tool

Several institutions have been established by the East African Community (ECA) for international water governance of Lake Victoria. These include the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) to promote sustainable development of the basin region and the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO) for the collaboration in development and management of the fisheries of Lake Victoria. While these organizations are working toward the aforementioned goal, both the LVBC and the LVFO would benefit from working closely with organizations that engage populations at the sub-national level.

One organization with which the LVBC has collaborated is the East African Communities Organization for the Management of Lake Victoria Resources (ECOVIC). ECOVIC is reestablishing the link amongst ethnic groups around Lake Victoria. Their tasks include strengthening and fostering greater participation of stakeholders in the sustainable management of Lake Victoria as well as giving formal participation to stakeholders in decision-making. ECOVIC is filling an important role for governments and international organizations by working with populations based on an identity other than nationality. Through the shaping of a shared identity amongst different people, actors who engage in public diplomacy will be able engage those populations more effectively.

Subnational Identity of ‘Lake Islanders’

An analysis of the Lake Victoria region conducted by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) states that “most people would probably define their primary identity as something else than Kenyan, Ugandan or Tanzanian.” Echoing this approach is the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW). The AMCOW identified that working at the transboundary and sub-national level is one key strategy toward basin planning.

One key population that governments and organizations could engage at the subnational level are the people that reside on islands throughout Lake Victoria. There are several thousand islands that span the coastlines of the three countries. The populations that live on these islands are at the forefront of many of the issues facing Lake Victoria. Both the people that identify as Lake Islanders, as well as governments and international organizations, would benefit from forging the subnational identity of ‘Lake Islander.’

In the first place, when governments and organizations work at the subnational level, they are better placed to understand the needs of the communities they serve. Through giving these Islanders a platform, governments and international actors can better understand the challenges and needs of these populations, regardless of nationality or ethnicity. By empowering marginalized voices that lack participation in decision-making, more effective policies and initiatives can be developed to meet the challenges of environmental problems.

Secondly, those who identify as Lake Islanders will find that when they engage governments and organizations collectively, they will have a stronger position to negotiate. This stronger position will allow them to participate in policymaking and become stakeholders in regional governance. As fishing stocks decrease, for instance, the need for transnational cooperation between populations is crucial for sustainable fishing. Through the formation of a shared identity, the increase of regional integration between populations that depend on the resources of Lake Victoria will have a higher degree of cooperation for the management of the resources.

Thirdly, the forging of a subnational identity will allow for the creation of a common identity between populations that might otherwise feel a lack of shared connection. This will allow for international integration between members of the same identity. For example, by identifying as Islanders, the populations that live on the islands of Lake Victoria share a common identity with the populations of the littoral states (Austria, Germany, and Switzerland) of Lake Constance in Europe. While the nationalities and backgrounds of these two subpopulations may be different, they face similar challenges and have similar aspirations. Islanders of Lake Victoria will find that identifying as such could be beneficial to achieving various objectives. One instance is that building transnational ties potentially leads to an increase in foreign aid.


Although the formation of a subnational identity will take time, all parties involved will find that the benefits will be innumerable. Governments and international actors will find that as participation in problem-solving becomes more inclusive, policies and initiatives will be more successful. At the same time, individuals will feel that they are part of a collective identity that shares the same outcome, thus they will be more likely to adhere to regulations beneficial to all. As Lake Victoria continues to deteriorate, major stakeholders must work quickly to ensure that all possible solutions are explored, or risk facing a major environmental disaster.

Image Credit: Ryan Harvey | CC 2.0

The Obama Administration’s New Chapter of Engagement in Latin America – Juan Sebastian Gonzalez

In April 2009, President Barack Obama told his Latin American counterparts that he wanted to begin “a new chapter of engagement” with the region. Almost two years later, Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said that the Obama Administration remained committed to shifting “the balance in the U.S.-Latin American relationship in a positive and constructive direction.” As we enter the twilight of its term in office, regional experts are trying hard to account for the ways in which the Obama Administration has followed through on these commitments. For our second interview in the “LATAM Subject Matter Experts Series,” James Carroll, Managing Director of the Inland Islands Society, therefore discusses the current state of the U.S.-Latin American relationship with Juan Sebastian Gonzalez, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State.

What is the current state of US relations with Latin America? What do you feel are the greatest opportunities and risks facing the American national interests in Latin America?

Latin America and the Caribbean are critically important to the United States, as demonstrated by the active pace of engagement by President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry and other members of the Administration on everything from promoting energy security in the Caribbean through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative to partnering with Caribbean nations against transnational criminal organizations through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative. Elsewhere, we are deepening our trade ties with Canada, Mexico, Chile, and Peru through the Trans-Pacific Partnership and helping Central America tackle poverty and insecurity. Just as important are the ties between the people of the Americas, which we are working actively to expand through initiatives like President Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas to increase study abroad programs within the Western Hemisphere.

Throughout the hemisphere, U.S. foreign policy is driven by the premise that a middle class, democratic, and secure region is not just profoundly in our national interest, but also a critical building block of a more prosperous global economy and a more peaceful, secure, and free world. To take advantage of the limitless potential, we need to renew the common stake that we have in one another to effectively address such shared challenges as climate change, terrorism, and the spread of Zika, but also to seize economic opportunities by breaking down trade barriers, investing in the region’s education, and promoting equality for all our citizens.

The second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) was release by the State Department this past April. What has been the impact of the QDDR on US diplomacy in Latin America?

The QDDR sets forth Secretary Kerry’s policy priorities for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development. In the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, our policy development is informed by the four policy priorities outlined in the QDDR: 1) Preventing and mitigating conflict and violent extremism; 2) Promoting open, resilient, and democratic societies; 3) Advancing inclusive economic growth; and 4) Mitigating and adapting to climate change. These form the basis of our common agenda with our Caribbean partners.

The 2015 National Security Strategy identified that climate change poses a threat to US national security and the QDDR called for a “historic global framework” on climate change. Latin America and the Caribbean combined have more than 525 million people and will emit more greenhouse gases by 2050 than the US. How will the US work with Latin American countries to move towards more sustainable practices? Do you feel that the pact signed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference has done enough to prevent future insecurity in the region?

The United States collaborates with governments, businesses, and civil society groups on a wide range of initiatives related to climate change, clean and renewable energy, and other sustainable practices. We are engaging actively with governments in the region to implement the Conference of Parties Agreement from December in Paris, and we have several efforts underway to address shared energy needs in specific while mitigating the effects of climate change.

The Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) promotes the sharing and implementation of solutions to energy and climate challenges facing the hemisphere. Connecting the Americas 2022 (Connect 2022), an ECPA initiative, promotes universal access to reliable and affordable electricity through increased interconnection and aims to catalyze private investment in generation, transmission, and distribution in order to promote greater access to cleaner and low-cost energy in the region’s power sector.

The Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI), launched by Vice President Biden in June 2014, is intended to support Caribbean nations in their efforts to overcome their reliance on imported petroleum products and to chart their own energy futures. At the Caribbean Energy Security Summit in January, government, finance, and private sector leaders from the United States and the Caribbean, along with representatives of the international community, agreed to promote a cleaner and more sustainable energy future in the Caribbean through improved energy governance, energy diversification, greater access to finance, and donor coordination.

In April 2015, President Obama and regional leaders announced the creation of a Task Force on Caribbean-Central America Energy Security to evaluate progress under these initiatives and identify concrete steps to advance energy sector reform, regional integration, and clean energy development. He also announced a $20 million Clean Energy Finance Facility for the Caribbean and Central America (CEFF-CCA) to provide early-stage funding to clean energy projects and spur greater public and private sector investment. The facility, officially launched in October, will help the region increase local, renewable energy sources, cut down on imported fossil fuels, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The final Task Force meeting is scheduled to take place in early 2016.

We are also working with partners throughout the region to ensure traditional fossil fuel energy development is performed responsibly. This includes working to implement best practices for social and environmental standards for unconventional and offshore oil and gas development, such as through the Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program (UGTEP). While we work to ensure best practices in using today’s energy, we are also paving the way to help the region transition to a cleaner, more secure, and more sustainable energy future.

Eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies is critical to realizing a clean energy future, and the United States and a growing list of countries have endorsed fossil fuel subsidy reform in multiple international forums, including APEC, the G-20, and the Summit of the Americas. Fossil fuel subsidies often encourage wasteful energy consumption, undermine incentives for investment in clean energy, and hinder progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The United States is committed to working with other governments to rationalize and phase out these harmful subsidies.

Finally, we are also working closely with Latin America and Caribbean partners to ensure all countries have access to timely and accurate climate information and modeling data. While all countries are susceptible to the impacts of climate change and extreme weather, nearly half in the Western Hemisphere lack the meteorological and climate services necessary for informed decision-making and long-term planning. Our many partnerships in this area build national capabilities to use climate data and strengthen our region’s ability to reduce the risks posed by natural disasters from droughts to floods.

In the QDDR the passing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would put “the United States at the center of a free trade zone covering two-thirds of the global economy (p9).” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell stated that it would be a mistake if the White House pushes through a vote on the TPP before the next election cycle. If the deal does not get passed, how could this jeopardize US political and economic interests in Latin America?

In their entirety, the countries of the Trans Pacific Partnership have a combined GDP of nearly USD 30 trillion, covering two-thirds of the global economy and economies as diverse as the United States, Malaysia, Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Canada. It is a 21st century trade agreement, with strong labor and environmental protections, that will support the creation and retention of jobs and promote economic development among its members by increasing market access, and by levelling the playing field.

Everyone is familiar with the allure of Asia’s economies, but we also see enormous potential in the Americas. The TPP is also the manifestation of our vision for a broader Pacific that includes the Western Hemisphere. Grouped together, the Western Hemisphere’s market of nearly a billion people is an active hub of trade and investment. The agreement will significantly deepen our trade relationship with a region that is the global epicenter of energy, the destination of almost half of all U.S. exports, where we already have a nearly unbroken line of free trade agreements from Canada to Chile, and where we have a trillion dollars in trade with North America alone.

In November, the 12 countries released the complete text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The text will be public for at least 90 days before the President signs it. After that, Congress will review and consider the agreement before the text is put to a vote and we are confident the agreement will earn strong bipartisan support.

Christopher Sabatini of Columbia University makes the argument in Foreign Policy that the election results in Venezuela and Argentina, as well as President Dilma Rousseff facing impeachment, are leading to the Death of the Latin American Left. In your opinion, does the US have an opportunity to take advantage of the friendlier governments in countries that were historically hostile to American foreign policy?

President Obama made a commitment at the Summit of the Americas in 2009 to begin a new era of cooperation with the hemisphere, as equal partners, with relations rooted in mutual respect. This commitment continues to guide our approach to the region and nowhere is it more apparent than in President Obama’s historic decision to change our outdated policy toward Cuba.

Throughout my travels, I’ve been fortunate to meet many inspiring leaders who are working to lift their citizens out of poverty, to diversify and open up their economies to compete globally, to integrate energy markets and national infrastructures, and to build new spaces for dialogue and cooperation. It is up to the citizens of each country to choose their leaders, and our foreign policy priority is to formulate policies that promote and enhance such trends, regardless of a government’s political ideology.

Recently, Congress approved of a $750 million program for assisting Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to increase security, strengthening institutions, and reducing poverty. Some believe that this plan will only exacerbate existing problems in the region. How does this program defer from previous less successful attempts to realize the US’s interests in the region?

With the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America, the United States is partnering with governments in the region to address the underlying conditions that drive migration. As you note, the U.S. Congress just agreed to invest up to $750 million in Central America, and our government is committed to use that money to support the efforts of the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to reverse endemic violence and poverty, promote economic prosperity, crack down on criminal networks, and strengthen good governance and the rule of law.

Make no mistake, the problems in Central America can be fixed; but it will take resources and a sustained commitment that works both ways. Here is what is different this time: the Central Americans are putting their own money on the line–up to $2.6 billion–and they are following through on political commitments. The Central American governments are having some success resolving their own problems, as well. Honduras reduced a budget deficit that had reached a record high of 7.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—roughly $1.4 billion—in 2013 to only three percent of GDP today, outperforming the International Monetary Fund-mandated target of 3.5 percent. El Salvador increased tax revenues by 30 percent from 2010 to 2014 through improved enforcement of tax policies, which provides the country greater resources for social and productive sector investments. Guatemalans are making historic progress combating corruption and impunity with an independent criminal investigative body known as CICIG: it has investigated approximately 200 complex cases, which led to the recent arrest of the former president and vice president of Guatemala.

Only a serious, sustained effort between the United States and Central America will really transform the region. The core Central American problems underlying undocumented migration have been growing for decades. The joint work to solve these problems will be measured in years, not months.

The surge of Cubans seeking passage to the United States has put a strain on Central American countries. And, Nicaragua and Guatemala have responded by refusing to allow passage to cubans through their countries. What is the American point of view on this issue and how will it be resolved?

We understand regional governments are working to find solutions to the ongoing Cuban migration challenge, including coordinated and comprehensive solutions that focus on preventing loss of life, ensuring the human rights of all migrants are respected, and promoting orderly and humane migration policies. We remain concerned for the safety of all migrants throughout the region. This dangerous journey illustrates the inherent risks and uncertainties of involvement with smugglers and organized crime in attempts to reach the United States by irregular migration.


Juan Sebastian Gonzalez

Juan Sebastian Gonzalez is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, with responsibility for U.S. diplomatic engagement. He was previously at the White House, first from 2011 – 2013 as National Security Council Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, then most recently from 2013 – 2015 as Special Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden on Western Hemisphere Affairs. In the Office of the Vice President, Juan advised and represented the Vice President on all policy matters related to the region, and accompanied him on seven visits to eight countries in the hemisphere including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Guatemala. Prior to working at the White House, Juan served in various capacities in the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, including Chief of Staff to Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela. He was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Huehuetenango, Guatemala and worked in the New York State Assembly as a Legislative Assistant to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt (D-144). Juan received an M.A. with distinction from Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a B.S. from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations and speaks fluent Spanish. He is a native of Cartagena, Colombia.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: ryanaward via Flickr CC

Mitigating Sea Level Rise on Hilton Head Island Requires New Identity – 2/27/16

Recently, the Island Packet reported that the Hilton Head Island Town Council is evaluating the community’s interest in “creating a new vision for the town.” Apparently, the Town Council feels that the participation by residents in this process might prove difficult due to “retirees in gated communities, which are like separate towns and their residents often don’t feel engaged with or mistrust local government, owners of rental properties who don’t live on the island, and younger residents in the ungated parts of town who are often the least vocal.” Of course, the Town Council should be concerned about the challenge of overcoming these factional divides to create a new identity. But, the Town Council should be even more concerned about how these factional divides are already undermining how the local community tackles complex issues that require long-term solutions. For example, consider the threat posed by sea level rise. Certainly, sea level rise poses a long-term threat to the safety and security of the local community. Unfortunately, many of the permanent residents on the island will not be around to see the long-term consequences of sea level rise on the local community. This should be a serious concern for the Town Council. Without young families with a personal investment in the long-term future of the island, sea level rise may not receive the attention that it deserves until it is too late.

Local Demographics

Local demographics confirm that Hilton Head Island is deeply factionalized. Let us consider a few statistics. First, the median age of the population has increased annually from 29.6 in 1975 to 50.9 in 2010 according to the 2012-2017 Sustainable Practices Action Plan. This stands in stark comparison with the median age of 37.9 across the state in 2010. Second, the residents of the island are geographically divided. In fact, according to some estimates, Hilton Head Island is comprised of 70% gated communities. Third, a little more than half of the island’s housing units are classified as vacant (rental properties, seasonal, second-home or for sale). In fact, the 2010 census states that of the 33,306 units, 16,535 are occupied housing units while 16,771 are vacant housing units. Fourth, many of the permanent residents do not have children. According to some reports, only 3,039 of the 16,535 households have children under 18 years. Of course, we could go on. But, the point is made. Hilton Head Island is factionalized along at least three important lines (i.e., age; residency; children) that impact the ability of the local community to tackle sea level rise and other complex issues that require long-term solutions.

Sea Level Rise

Regardless of where one stands on the politicized topic of climate change, sea level rise is an objective threat to the coastal region of South Carolina. And, Hilton Head Island is not alone in being unprepared for the growing threat. Overall, South Carolina recently received a D rating for “its below average level of preparedness in the face of an average overall coastal flooding threat.” This is because many coastal communities across South Carolina have taken little action to plan or adapt to future coastal flooding. But, there are exceptions. For example, the most populated city and economic hub of the Lowcountry, the City of Charleston, has recognized that sea level rise is a direct threat. And, they have released a strategic plan to counter this growing challenge. Hilton Head Island needs to be a leader on this issue as well.

One of the environmental strategies outlined in the Sustainable Practices Action Plan is to “reduce and mitigate negative impacts of sea level rise and global warming effects through beach re-nourishment and development regulations.” Unfortunately, both these measures do little to reduce or mitigate the long-term consequences of sea level rise. Beach re-nourishment projects are temporary solutions at the cost of millions of dollars every few years. At some point, these efforts might even prove cost prohibitive for the local community. But, that is not a personal concern for many of the permanent residents of the island. They will not be here when that day arrives. It is only a personal concern for the young families in our community. They will be the ones that will have to bear that burden.

Lack of Identity Undermines Action

While there has never been a better time to address that sea level rise is threat, Hilton Head Island is simply not in position to meet the challenge of sea level rise. And, the lack of a ‘sense of community’ will continue to hinder any future efforts to counter sea level rise. From my perspective, the local community therefore needs to shift the demographics. Hilton Head Island needs more young families who are personally invested in the same long-term aspirations and goals for their local community. Communities with a strong sense of identity are better placed to meet challenges of sea level rise. This is because they face a shared future. Research seems to support this. One study found that communities with a high resiliency to climate change have achieved it through a ‘bottoms-up’ approach where citizens feel that climate change directly impacts their homes or neighborhoods.

Now, it is well-known that Hilton Head Island is a popular retirement destination. But, a poll released by Pew Research Center on American’s views on climate change exposes that this also undermines any efforts to mitigate the long-term threat posed by sea level rise. When US adults were asked about their views on climate change, 60% of 18-29 year-olds replied that the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity compared to only 48% of 50-64 years and 31% of 65+ years. This poll demonstrates the serious generational divide on climate change. While younger generations feel that climate change will directly impact their lives, older generations do not share the same feelings.

Moreover, the number of vacation rentals and second homes paints a picture that a large number of homeowners have their roots planted elsewhere. While these homeowners may share the same concerns about sea level rise as permanent residents, they are not similarly invested in the long-term future of the community. The same goes for family households without children under the age of eighteen. These households are not similarly invested in the long-term future of the community as those with children under the age of eighteen. And, it will be difficult to change these dynamics. With a large percentage of gated communities combined with a median age above 50, Hilton Head Island simply is not in a good place to attract young families who want to become permanent residents.

Local Consequences

While the Town Council’s efforts to push for a new identity should be considered a step in the right direction, simply saying that the local community needs a new identity is not enough. We need to completely revamp the Hilton Head Island Vision 2030 so that its focus is on the long-term future of our community. That means that we need to attract young families as permanent residents. And, that in turn means that we need to get serious about tackling complex issues that require long-term solutions. Sea-level rise is just one of these issues. Others might include discrimination and income inequity. Right now. the community is not positioned to tackle these issues. And so, the community cannot attract young families. That needs to change. And, it needs to change quickly. If not, the local community will suffer in the long-term.

Author: James Carroll is a local resident of Charleston, South Carolina. He is also a graduate of the College of Charleston and a former Peace Corps volunteer.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors and not their respective organizations. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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Consolidated Appropriations Act Puts the Northern Triangle in Focus – Margaret D. Hayes

Over the last several years, the United States has seen an influx of migration from Central America, including a high number of unaccompanied children. The majority of these migrants come from the ‘northern triangle’ (i.e., El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). There, they face a range of issues including lack of economic opportunities, poverty, high levels of crime, drug trafficking and corruption. Some argue that the 750 million that has been appropriated to Central America in the recently passed federal budget will counter the underlying factors that have led to this surge in migration. James Carroll, Managing Director of the Inland Islands Society, therefore sat down with Margaret D. Hayes, Adjunct Professor at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, to discuss how these and other developments will shape American foreign policy in Latin America.

The 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act (HR 2029) appropriates $750 million to the countries El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala due to the recent spike of migration to the United States. And, the Obama Administration’s strategy in Central America appears to have shifted towards addressing border security and the reintegration of migrants, as well as the causes of migration through various social programs. How has foreign policy in Central America evolved over Obama’s presidency?

The United States (US) has been honing its foreign policy instruments since the mid 2000s. Today’s policies toward Central America reflect that fine tuning.  They are more multidimensional and focused on coordination among donors, local ownership of projects and results, and emphasis on regional collaboration,and coordination among donors, — all of which are seen in recent programs for Central America.  The US  encouraged development of the collaborative Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle and US support to the Plan will reflect greater focus on development than security with emphasis on job creation, education, governance and anti-corruption, and regional integration. US will coordinate its contributions with those of the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, Organization of American States, other international donors (e.g., European Union) and contributing countries like Colombia and Chile.

Outmigration from Central America continues to be high and will be so until job opportunities are created, corruption is controlled and citizen security is improved in the region.  The recent upsurge of child migrants may have occurred because of misleading information about legislation regarding child migrants that was believed to allow children easy access to family reunion and, if unaccompanied, to status in the US.  An effort is being made to clarify US immigration laws and numbers have declined somewhat. At home in the US authorities struggle to deal with existing  undocumented migrants from the region. Deportations are controversial and immigration has become deeply politicized in the context of the 2016 Presidential race, as well as the massive exodus from Syria. The Supreme Court will now decide the legality of President Obama’s efforts to deal with long term undocumented residents and their children. Continuing migration makes the development goals all the more important, but results will take time. Patience is thin.

The Act stipulates that seventy-five percent of the funds are conditional based on if the countries meet certain requirements related to governance, corruption and human rights. Will this incentive work in improving those areas highlighted by the bill?

Conditionality can be a powerful incentive to implement and follow through on policy changes. Under the Alliance for Prosperity, the Central American countries have adopted the framework of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which identifies country recipients based on a performance indicators in three areas of commitment: rule of law and governance, investment in people, and economic freedom and openness. Emphasis is placed on local government ownership and commitment to implementing necessary reforms. El Salvador became a recipient of an MCC Threshold grant in 2006, Honduras in 2013 and Guatemala in  2015. Results to date suggest that conditionality.

Does The Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle prepared by El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras represent a realistic plan to address the underlying causes that currently plague countries in the Northern Triangle?

The Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity is ambitious and focuses on what needs to be done in order to realize future economic growth, more even income distribution, security and governance. Among the key areas of collaborative effort that have been identified are the creation of government audit mechanisms to counter corruption, energy diversification and integration, primary, secondary and vocational education efforts, promotion of private investment and a “single window” for foreign investors, anti-money-laundering mechanism and others. The Inter-American Development bank will monitor and advise the countries.  All of this is ambitious, but donors – the US, the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank, and World Bank are in agreement with the goals and will tailor their financial assistance to support programs to achieve them. The real challenge will fall with the individual countries that must pass laws to facilitate some of the changes and then implement those laws. They may not succeed in addressing all of the goals set out in the Plan, but if they can make substantial progress on some, they will have changed future prospects for growth dramatically.

Honduras and the Organization of American States are close to agreeing to an international anti-corruption team to train Honduran officials to better prosecute public corruption cases. Although skepticism toward the administration remains high within Honduras, do you believe this partnership could result in a similar impact as seen in Guatemala?

The partnership  could  lead to the kind of results seen in Guatemala, though the OAS doesn’t have the direct experience of implementing Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG) in Guatemala, and so will have to learn its way. The anti-corruption theme is one of the key dimensions of the Alliance plan, and the OAS has been active in Honduras  in advising on improving procedures for implementing its own OAS Anti-Corruption Convention. The success of the cooperation will depend on Honduras’ willingness and ability to implement and institutionalize best practices introduced by an OAS team.

Jimmy Morales, newly elected president of Guatemala, rode a wave of anti-corruption and transparency to president. He lacks political experience and his party, National Convergence Front, holds a minority of seats in congress. Does Mr. Morales represent a new era of politics in Guatemala or will the traditional elite continue to dominate politics?

As US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, remarked at a public forum dealing with corruption in the region, Latin American voters are “mad as hell” about corruption among government officials. Jimmy Morales’ election is a consequence of that anger. He will have significant challenges to implement reforms given his minimal support in the Parliament, lack of experience in governing and the very high expectations for change among the populace. Much will depend on the quality of people he names to major offices and the public’s patience and continuing support for his anti-corruption platform. The CICIG will continue to function in Guatemala which is a plus for him.  But change will be an uphill struggle.

Recently, we have witnessed some major shifts with respect to US policy towards Cuba. How has the slow process of normalizing relations with Cuba altered politics across the region?

Normalization has removed one excuse for reluctance on the part of some Latin American countries to cooperate with the US. Other changes – the election of Mauricio Macri to the Presidency in Argentina, the Venezuelan opposition’s win in Parliamentary elections, and the pending end of the civil war in Colombia also contribute importantly to change. The end of the commodity boom means that all countries need to look to their economic interests more than political posturing.

In response to the recent surge of Cuban nationals traversing through Central America, several Central American governments prohibited them from crossing their borders. Ultimately they have come to an agreement that will allow the Cubans to be flown to El Salvador and then proceed through Guatemala and Mexico towards the United States border. Is it in your opinion that the current US immigration policy towards Cuban nationals needs to be changed?

The Wet foot-Dry foot policy should be revised to reflect both the evolving normalization of relations and the potential for a changing environment in Cuba. Countries of the region should not be facilitators of massive migration out of Cuba as Ecuador has recognized. The Cuban government must also recognize that its current policies are not encouraging growth and prosperity on the island and need to change.  Cubans will seek to leave as long as there is no opportunity to prosper and to speak out on the island.

In your opinion, will this agreement set a precedent that will undermine border security and regional cooperation?

I do not believe the agreement to allow the Cuban migrants to leave Costa Rica and continue on their journey will undermine either border security or regional cooperation – unless it happens repeatedly. As noted above, Ecuador has ended its policy of visa-free travel between Cuba and that country. This will make the trick much more difficult in the future. Nevertheless, outmigration will continue unless there is opportunity in Cuba.

Finally, Roberta Jacobson’s nomination as ambassador to Mexico has been widely supported by Congress as well as Mexico, but her appointment has been in limbo. Has a lack of an ambassador to Mexico put border security at a risk?

The Congressional hold on the Senate Floor confirmation vote on Roberta Jacobson’s nomination as ambassador to Mexico has not put relations with Mexico or border security at risk, but does reflect how politicized the Obama administration’s initiative to dramatically revise the US posture toward the Castro regime in Cuba is for some Americans. The capture of El Chapo Guzman on January 8 reflects in part the cooperation that has been built over time between US and Mexican agencies.  The absence of an Ambassador in Mexico City does frustrate the further deepening and widening of that cooperation.  The vote should be held.

Margaret D. Hayes is an adjunct professor in the Center for Security Studies and Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University.

James Carroll is the Managing Director of the Inland Islands Society.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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Tsai Ing-wen: Did You Know that Taiwan is a “Country” in South Carolina? – James Carroll

Words matter in international relations. On January 1, 1979, the United States government ended diplomatic relations with the Government of the Republic of China (ROC). Since then, the United States (U.S.) has only maintained non-diplomatic relations with the “governing authorities on Taiwan.” Of course, many experts argue that this shift on the political status of Taiwan is just a matter of semantics. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. government still maintains de facto diplomatic relations with the governing authorities on Taiwan. It does so through the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, whose representatives possess special powers that allow their offices to operate as de facto embassies. The federal government of the United States is extremely careful not refer to Taiwan as the Republic of China nowadays. That is why the recent reciprocity agreement over driver’s licenses between the State of South Carolina and “Chinese Taipei” warrants special attention.

Reciprocity Agreement

On March 26, 2015, the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV) signed a reciprocity agreement  over driver’s licenses with Taiwan to facilitate international commerce and other relations between the State of South Carolina and Taiwan. Following the conclusion of the agreement, SCDMV revised its official website to account for Taiwan’s reciprocity with the state. Those changes included listing Taiwan under a chart that states “only these countries have established a reciprocity agreements” and recognizing that Taiwan requires its citizens to obtain certification letters under the agreement from a “Consulate General of the Republic of China (Taiwan).”

Diplomatic Concerns

The actions of the State of South Carolina entail serious political and diplomatic implications for both the U.S. and Taiwan. Although some experts might claim that one should not attach too much importance to the words “country,” “consulate general,” and “Republic of China” on the SCDMV website, it is likely that the PRC would vehemently disagree. And that is why the case warrants special attention.

Soft Power

To compensate for their lack of recognition at the international level, Taipei has turned to soft power and public diplomacy to meet its foreign policy goals. Over the years, the use of soft power has been utilized by both the Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to achieve their priorities. For example, the DPP under Chen Shui-bian promoted Taiwan’s democratization as its most valuable soft power asset, while incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou and his KMT administration valued Taiwan’s traditional culture. This can be interpreted as the DPP seeing democratization as being uniquely Taiwanese to differentiate it from the PRC. On the other hand, KMT’s promotion of Taiwan’s traditional culture is in line with the idea of there being only one Chinese culture, regardless of whether one is on the mainland or the island of Taiwan.

Taiwanese Elections

The election of Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP this past month has returned the question of Taiwanese independence to center stage. During President Ma’s term, cross-strait relations improved vastly, which many contribute to his pro-PRC (People’s Republic of China) leaning. President Ma is a firm believer in the idea of “one China,” and even met with PRC president Xi Jinping this past year (the first meeting of any kind in 66 years). The United States and the People’s Republic of China both have expressed their desires that Mrs. Tsai will maintain the status quo. Chinese state-run media warned Mrs. Tsai that any deviation from the 1992 consensus would provoke turmoil. Both parties have different interpretations of the result of the meeting between the PRC and ROC in 1992. So far, Mrs. Tsai’s position on the issue remains largely unknown.

Complex Problems

Any change to the status quo would hamper regional stability and peace, something that Washington and Beijing staunchly oppose. For this reason, any U.S. state that recognizes Taiwan as a sovereign country threatens to impact where the U.S. stands with respect to China and Taiwan. The reciprocity agreement between South Carolina and Taiwan also exposes potential tension that exists in American federalism. If it is the case that South Carolina superseded U.S. foreign policy, the State Department will have to work diligently with South Carolina and other state governments to ensure that federal rights are not abdicated. Of course, this could have political blowback in the United States. Increasingly, a number of state governments are again asserting themselves as actors in international affairs. This has potential benefits and drawbacks for the State Department. There are ways that the State Department could use such initiatives to its advantage. On the other hand, the recognition of Taiwan as a country by individual states risks damaging the U.S. relationship with China. It also threatens to revise the distribution of powers between the federal government and the state governments in international affairs.

Policy Implications

As Taiwan continues to seek legitimacy, its success in South Carolina must not be overlooked by the Tsai Ing-wen administration. They could either ignore the SCDMV’s language as a poor choice of wording with no further significant consequences, or they could publicly champion it as a soft power victory for “Taiwanization.” Meanwhile, the State Department must also not overlook the long-term consequences of the reciprocity agreement. The question of whether the State Department should reign in South Carolina probably will come down to whether it is useful for South Carolina to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country for the purposes of American national security on the one hand, and American federalism on the other. If it is ultimately useful to have South Carolina referring to Taiwan as a country, then the State Department will probably continue to look the other way. If not, then the State Department will probably push for South Carolina to revise the language. Either way, there is little doubt that Beijing, Taipei, and Washington will be watching what happens next in the Palmetto State with interest.


Author: James Carroll is the Managing Director of the Sea Islands Society.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: svensin via Flickr CC

Note: Edits made to original on 3/2/16