White House Names New Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs

February 6, 2018
Interested Parties
From:   Giancarlo Sopo

Re:        White House Names New Head of Western Hemisphere Affairs

The following memo is an initial summary of today’s news regarding the Trump administration nominating Kimberly Breier to lead the State Department’s office for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and its significance to Latin America.  It’s subject to be updated as this news evolves.

Background Information

  • The White House announced today that it will name Kimberly Breier as the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
  • This position is highly influential in shaping U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America.
  • Breier is known to be a subject matter expert on Mexico and intelligence issues.
  • She is well-respected in Washington policy circles and her public and private sector careers have largely focused on Latin America.
  • She previously served in the National Security Council of the George W. Bush White House (2005-2006) focusing on Brazil and the Southern Cone and subsequently as interim director of the Andean region.
  • Prior to government service, Breier served as a senior fellow and director of the National Policy Association’s North American Committee, a trilateral business and labor committee involving senior officials from the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
  • She received a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College and an MA in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University.

On Mexico

  • Overall: Breier favors a comprehensive approach to the U.S. relationship with Mexico across immigration, trade, security, and economic matters.
  • Favors a Cohesive Strategy: In September 2016, Breier wrote an article for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a moderate Washington, D.C. think tank where she worked, that then-candidate Trump’s visit to Mexico presented an opportunity “to reframe the bilateral relationship in a new light, with a new strategy.” She argued that “U.S. policy toward Mexico very often lacks a coherent strategy that recognizes the breadth and depth of issues that matter greatly to the United States and to the American population”
  • On Trade: Breier has stated: “We can discuss the net effects of trade policy and the costs and benefits for Americans, and we should, but in the context of the broader bilateral relationship with all of its assets and flaws, and in an environment of realistic policy options.”
  • On Immigration: Breier has emphasized the role of trade policies and the need for greater cooperation, arguing “No serious answer to the challenges that illegal immigration poses can be found without looking at the drivers of immigration from Mexico, and the role that trade policy and the broader economic relationship play in influencing migratory flows.” In addition, Breier said that border security “can be part of the answer […] something that can be done cooperatively, and not just unilaterally.” Adding, “improved border security addresses a symptom of the problem and not the cause.”
  • On Security: Breier has recognized the importance of Mexico as a U.S. partner on security matters: “Cooperation with Mexico on [national security] issues puts the United States on the offense, helping us catch threats early, before they reach the border.”
  • New Special Envoy? In 2016, Breier introduced the concept of creating a high-level position to deal with the U.S.-Mexico relationship: “The idea has been to create a structure within each government with an institutional memory that would transcend changes in leadership and political party in each country and keep the bilateral relationship on course.”

On Venezuela and Cuba

  • Considered a Pragmatist: At least one former adviser to the Obama administration is praising Trump’s selection of Breier.
    • The Miami Herald reports: “She’s highly qualified,” said Mark Feierstein, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs under President Barack Obama. “She’s a pragmatic Republican. She fits squarely within the bipartisan traditions of U.S. foreign policy overall and U.S. foreign policy toward the region.”
  • Not Top Priorities: The nomination of an expert on Mexico, rather than hardline Cuba policy figures, could be a sign that the administration’s focus in Latin America will be the bilateral relationship with Mexico, specifically on trade and security matters, rather than making signficiant changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba and Venezuela.
    • According to the Miami Herald: Breier “is not expected to push the administration to turn up the pressure on Venezuela and Cuba. But […] she could play a role [in] helping Trump pressure other Latin American governments to take stronger positions on the Caracas regime.”