Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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The Democratic Platform on Latin America

by Shannon K. O'Neil
September 5, 2012

A convention-goer stands on the convention floor on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte A convention-goer stands on the convention floor on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters).

This week it is the Democrats who are putting forth their platform, which can be found in its entirety here. Like its Republican counterpart, the platform is heavily focused on domestic issues (most significantly on the middle class and job creation), leaving little ink for the United States’ relationship with Latin America. When the Democratic platform does address its southern neighbors, the emphasis is two pronged: security and economics.

On security the Democratic Party platform for Latin America doesn’t look so different from the Republican one. The Democrats outline their goal of disrupting transnational crime, and their continued support for (the same) allies throughout the region. They also expound on border security, calling the southern U.S. border “more secure than at any time in the past twenty years,” and emphasizing that there are now more border patrol agents “than at any time in history.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the Republican and Democratic Party platforms diverge on international trade, with the Democrats far more engaged. Their agenda promises to push the economic frontiers to the south and to “expand free and fair trade in the Americas.” They tout the fact that the United States exports “more than three times as much to Latin America as [it does] to China,” and highlight the passage of the Panamanian and Colombian free trade agreements during Obama’s first term. They also endorse an expansive free trade future, promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP, which envisions a free-trade community encompassing the United States, Mexico, Canada, Chile, and Peru in this hemisphere, along with six Pacific nations (Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam).

The other area of interest and great difference between the Democrats and Republicans is immigration. The Democratic platform lays out its strong support for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path toward citizenship. It also supports the Dream Act, which would allow college age undocumented youths to become legal residents and eventually citizens (upon completion of several requirements), in stark contrast to the Republican position, which not only is opposed, but also supports revoking federal funds for colleges offering in-state tuition to these same youths.

While the political climate, current events, and likely congressional gridlock will constrain the next administration’s policies regardless of party, the platforms provide a sense of where the parties’ cores would like to move the country. With respect to foreign policy toward Latin America (as well as domestic policy toward the region’s descendants), overall the Democrats are more focused on the opportunities that the region provides, rather than its potential threats.

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