In the past two decades Latin America and the Caribbean have become more closely integrated into global markets, more tightly linked to multilateral institutions (new and old) and more of a player in international diplomatic forums. This newfound space outside the U.S.’s long shadow will remain, even with the weakening of the left in places like Brazil and Argentina—though it will likely become less pointedly anti-gringo. At the same time, in the U.S. presidential campaign, the rhetoric from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and (earlier) Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders indicates that there is a strong current in the U.S. that wants to return inward and even close off its borders, to trade and to immigrants.
The combination of these two things could leave the impression that the time has come for the U.S. and Latin America to go their separate ways, or at least to cool their historic commercial, diplomatic, personal, and political—though often fraught—relations. That would be wrong.
While it is true that there is a need for a re-balancing of relations in the hemisphere within a broader global context, at no point have the countries from the north to the south of the Western Hemisphere mattered more to each other. In fact, in a world that has grown more chaotic, Latin America and the Caribbean is a region where a little effort can go a long way, both in rebuilding regional norms and institutions weakened by the rise of countries like Venezuela and Ecuador, but also in strengthening relations within the region for broader global goals or interests in other regions, including balancing China’s rise and Russia’s economically hobbled but still active geopolitical designs, and containing and ultimately ending ISIS and cooling the upheaval in the Middle East. In many of those areas, Latin American governments can serve as important global partners.
Over the past five months, our research institute, Global Americans, has convened more than 20 U.S. experts and scholars on what the policies toward Latin America should be for the next president, whoever that may be. (Yes we realize there is a joke here: how many policy experts does it take to develop a policy paper for Latin America. Answer: one to write it 19 to opine.)
One of the most central and critical recommendations is the need for the next administration to selectively work with friendly groups of nations such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico on targeted issues such as: supporting Caribbean countries after the expected collapse of Venezuela’s subsidized oil giveaway program Petro Caribe; promoting the rebuilding of regional norms and institutions to promote and protect human rights and democracy—on the OAS and in the UN; assisting in the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; and sharing policies to promote social inclusion in areas such as gender, race/ethnicity and sexual orientation.
But not all of these topics will involve cooperation over shared interests. One of the greatest challenges the region and the U.S. will face in the near future is the potential popular and economic fallout from declining economies and states that have failed to seriously improve accountability and the delivery of key social services such as education and health care. For the first time in history, after adding a whopping 55 million people to a fragile middle class, Latin America faces the prospect of many falling back into poverty.
That likelihood will bring a number of effects, from political upheaval and polarization to greater pressures for immigration. In the extreme, the next U.S. president may confront state collapse in Venezuela that will go beyond a democracy and human rights issue. In others, such as Brazil, the U.S. will need to open up opportunities for greater economic cooperation through trade and investment. This will also require creating a positive pole of economic markets in the region; for that the pending 12-member Trans Pacific Partnership remains a strong policy tool once concerns are addressed. All of these will require greater cooperation and we would like to believe, a strengthened and deeply reformed Organization of American States.
But it will also require a rational and humane immigration policy. Of course, U.S. policies toward undocumented immigrants and its visa policies are domestic issues, but they are also regional issues. How we treat and talk about the people from our neighbors to the south deeply affects our relations in the region. And as the economic fallout of bad governance and policy continues, pressures to admit talented, hardworking people who can contribute to U.S. economic growth—not to mention social security coffers—will only grow.
The U.S. can’t wall itself off from the global economy or its interests south of the border. A sensible, reasoned discussion of immigration policy within the U.S. and relations with its southern neighbors will bring rewards to our domestic needs and our national interests in the region and globally. We need to act on them because Latin America isn’t waiting around any more.
To read the full report, please visit: https://theglobalamericans.org/reports/global-americans-consensus-campaign-execsum/
To read a summary in Spanish, please visit: https://theglobalamericans.org/reports/global-americans-consensus-campaign-resumen-ejecutivo/