With President Obama attending this weekend’s Summit of the Americas, it begs the question: What do the major candidates think about Latin America?
Since the region’s emergence as an up-and-coming economic player, Latin America has growing global influence, says Christopher Sabatini (HuffPost) at the Council of the Americas. “Latin America has entered the realm of foreign policy in which the [United States] is not the primary axis around which countries define their economic and political interests or defend themselves,” he said.
Regional issues the winner of the 2012 U.S. election will face include security and drug violence, emerging economies, and immigration, says CFR’s Shannon K. O’Neil, who along with CFR’s Julia Sweig, takes an in-depth look at the upcoming summit in a CFR conference call last week.
President Obama has worked to strengthen U.S. economic ties in the region over the past year. He already discussed trade with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff this week as well as meeting last week with Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon on the same issue.
“We now export more than three times as much to Latin America as we do to China, and our exports to the region will soon support more than two million jobs here in the United States,” he said on the region last year. He also looked at how the emerging regional economic powerhouses, with U.S. help, can “break the grip of the cartels and the gangs” by beating back poverty.
FP’s Jose Cardenas says the Obama administration has been “missing in action” in the region (FP), but the Wall Street Journal‘s Nicholas Casey blames Senate Republicans for blocking nominations that have “left many countries without a U.S. ambassador and weakened American clout.”
Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney’s first 100-day-plan as president includes launching “a vigorous public diplomacy and trade promotion effort” that he calls the Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America. Romney also plans on using economic opportunities to beat back “authoritarian” political systems such as in Venezuela and Cuba and “a ‘Reagan Economic Zone’ in the Americas” (CSMonitor).
Despite focus on the economic potential of the region, the drugs issue will likely hamper future ties. Latin American leaders, whose countries bear the brunt of violence from drug gangs importing into the United States, are likely to tell Obama this weekend that the “war on drugs” has failed and new tactics need to be considered (WashPost). An estimated 50,000 people alone have been killed in Mexico because of drug-related violence.
Guatemala president Otto Perez Molina says the drug war has transcended the region and become a global issue (Guardian). “Our proposal as the Guatemalan government is to abandon any ideological consideration regarding drug policy (whether prohibition or liberalization) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach to drug regulation,” Molina said recently.
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A CFR Task Force found Brazil is a significant international actor whose influence on global issues is likely to increase and recommends that U.S. policymakers and others recognize its global standing and work with Brazil to develop complementary policies.
An earlier CFR Task Force report says “Latin America has never mattered more for the United States” and that the status quo “focus on trade, democracy, and drugs, while still relevant, is inadequate,” and recommends a shift to energy security, public security, poverty, and migration.
– Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor