Type: Public event

Ambassador's forum: Opportunities and challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean

American Academy of Diplomacy


Ambassadors John Feeley, Liliana Ayalde, P. Michael McKinley, and Ronald Neumann

Date & time

Sep 25, 2023, 4:00-5:30 pm EDT


Weill Hall, Annenberg Auditorium (1120)
735 S. State St., Ann Arbor

The Weiser Diplomacy Center at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and the American Academy of Diplomacy will co-host a discussion with four former senior diplomats with deep experience in Latin America to explore opportunities and challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean. The conversation will be moderated by Ambassador Ronald Neumann.


Presentation abstracts

The tide of democracy has ebbed and flowed in South America and Central America. A few years ago, it appeared that more and more countries were becoming democracies. Now that seems less certain. Some of the new authoritarian leaders have harnessed widespread social discontent to fuel populist agendas and connect with other authoritarian regimes, such as Russia and China, which are increasing their engagement in the region. Former Ambassador John Feeley will reflect on the ebb and flow of democracy and consider how much US diplomacy can make a difference.  

Mexico alone is the U.S.'s largest trading partner in the region, but even beyond that, Latin America as a whole is a major source of U.S. jobs and commerce. However, in the past few years, the region experienced extreme economic challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the deepening global inflation is threatening to complicate its economic recovery going forward. Retired Ambassador P. Michael McKinley will focus on some key issues for consideration in this critical area.

Drugs, crime, violence, and economic conditions are driving increasing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers toward America’s borders. With the expiration of Title 42 expulsions, the problem may substantially increase. Migration is particularly acute from Venezuela through Central America. Former Ambassador and senior USAID official Liliana Ayalde will consider what America is, might be, and should be doing about these intertwined issues.

Career roundtable for students interested in diplomacy and international affairs

Ford School students are invited to join us for Career Roundtables with the four ambassadors on Monday, September 25 from 9:30 to 11:00 am in the Meijer Lounge, 4th floor Weill Hall. 

From the speakers' bios

John Feeley is the Executive Director for the Center for Media Integrity of the Americas (CMIA) and a former U.S. ambassador dedicated to promoting greater mutual understanding between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean. The CMIA is an independent entity affiliated with the Organization of American States (OAS) that fosters and incentivizes high quality journalism and public interest media in the Western Hemisphere.

A skilled negotiator, organizational leader and cross-cultural communicator, Ambassador Feeley collaborates with private sector, media, and not-for-profit partners who seek to understand and solve problems found at the intersection of government, business, and culture. His military and diplomatic experience afford insight into U.S security and rule of law policy implementation, the resolution of commercial disputes, and human rights, media, and democracy issues.

During a 28-year State Department career, he served as Ambassador to Panama, Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires in Mexico City, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. As a Deputy Executive Secretary, he worked on the staffs of Secretaries of State, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, in addition to serving in other Latin American assignments both in Washington and at embassies throughout the region.

He was formerly a principal at Gotham Lights LLC, and a political consultant for the Spanish-language media, Univision, providing on-air analysis and publishing opinion columns. He has appeared on CNN, BBC, CBC, NPR, PBS, MSNBC and in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, among other Spanish and English-language media, as a forceful advocate for a respectful, alliance-based approach to U.S. relationships with Latin American governments and societies.

John serves on the Board of Directors of EnvoyGlobal (https://www.envoyglobal.com ), a technology enabled immigration services company. He also works with ANDE Rapid DNA (https://www.ande.com), an emerging technology firm that seeks to harness the power of expedited DNA testing for law enforcement, forensic, and humanitarian purposes. Prior to his Foreign Service career, he served as a United States Marine officer and helicopter pilot.  He is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a Distinguished Graduate of the
National War College.

Ambassador P. Michael McKinley (ret.) led some of the largest embassies in the world Over the course of a 37-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service as the US Ambassador to Peru (2007-2010), Colombia (2010-2013), Afghanistan (2014-2016), and Brazil (2017-2018). His last posting was as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State until his resignation in October 2019. He worked on development, trade, and investment issues across his career and had extensive experience with regional conflicts and peace negotiations across three decades on three continents.

Ambassador McKinley joined the US Foreign Service in 1982. Earlier assignments included Bolivia, the United Kingdom, and postings as deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires in Mozambique, Uganda, Belgium, and at the U.S. Mission to the European Union. He served as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Migration, and Refugees from 2001-2004 in the aftermath of 9/11.

Ambassador McKinley graduated from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom and earned a Ph.D. from Oxford University. He is the author of an acclaimed study of colonial Venezuelan history which was published by Cambridge University Press. His articles on foreign policy and U.S. politics have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, the Financial Times, and other publications.

Ambassador Liliana Ayalde retired from the U.S. Foreign Service following a distinguished 38-year career. She held senior positions in the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), dedicating her diplomatic service to foreign affairs, development, defense, and security in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Ambassador Ayalde served as the Civilian Deputy to the Commander and Foreign Policy Advisor at the United States Southern Command in Miami until September 2019 and was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil between 2013-2016. Prior to this appointment she served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the Department of State. She was also the Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Latin American and Caribbean Bureau for USAID. Following her assignment as USAID Mission Director in Colombia, where she had responsibility for the development assistance portfolio under Plan Colombia, she was confirmed as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Paraguay. She also held assignments in Bangladesh, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.

Ambassador Ayalde is currently a senior advisor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and serves on several boards such as the Wilson Center’s Latin American Program, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and IREX, a non-profit organization focused on development, governance and education. She is a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy and serves on the International Advisory Group of Global Americans. She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including USAID’s Distinguished Career Award, the Department of State’s Distinguished Service Honor Award, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Joint Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the highest award given to a civilian by the Department of Defense. She was also honored with recognitions by governments in countries she served, including the Order of San Carlos by the Government of Colombia, the Order for Gran Cruz by the Government of Paraguay, and received several recognitions by the Government of Brazil. Ambassador Ayalde earned her B.A. from the School of International Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. and a M.P.H. from Tulane University in Louisiana. She is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and has a working knowledge of French.

Ronald E. Neumann is the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. Formerly a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Ronald E. Neumann served three times as Ambassador: to Algeria, Bahrain and finally to Afghanistan from July 2005 to April 2007. Before Afghanistan, Mr. Neumann, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, served in Baghdad from February 2004 with the Coalition Provisional Authority and then as Embassy Baghdad’s liaison with the Multinational Command, where he was deeply involved in coordinating the political part of military actions.

Prior to working in Iraq, he was Ambassador in Manama, Bahrain (2001-2004), Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near East Affairs (1997-2000) with responsibility for North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and Ambassador to Algeria (1994 to 1997). He was Director of the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs (Iran and Iraq; 1991 to 1994). Earlier in his career, he was Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and in Sanaa in Yemen, Principal Officer in Tabriz, Iran and Economic/Commercial Officer in Dakar, Senegal. His previous Washington assignments include service as Jordan Desk officer, Staff Assistant in the Middle East (NEA) Bureau, and Political Officer in the Office of Southern European Affairs.

Ambassador Neumann is the author of a memoir, Three Embassies, Four Wars: a personal memoir (2017) and The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan (Potomac Press, 2009), a book on his time in Afghanistan. He has returned to Afghanistan repeatedly and is the author of a number of monographs, articles, and editorials. His writings have focused most heavily on Afghanistan, stabilization, and Bahrain. At the Academy he has focused particularly on efforts to maintain adequate State and USAID budgets and staffing and upgrade professional formation to enable these institutions to carry out their responsibilities. Ambassador Neumann is on the Advisory Board of a non-profit girls’ school in Afghanistan, the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) and the Advisory Board of Spirit of America. He is on the board of the Middle East Policy Council and the Advisory Council of the World Affairs Councils of America.

Ambassador Neumann speaks some Arabic and Dari as well as French. He received State Department Superior Honor Awards in 1993 and 1990. He was an Army infantry officer in Viet Nam and holds a Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantry Badge. In Baghdad, he was awarded the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. He earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in political science from the University of California at Riverside and is a graduate of the National War College. He is married to the former M. Elaine Grimm. They have two children.

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