This early it’s difficult to predict the full extent of Latin America’s reaction to President Donald J. Trump’s restrictions on immigration, threats to withhold or tax Mexican immigrants’ remittances and plans to renegotiate free trade in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and their implications for U.S security.
But here is what we do know thanks to thorough, original quantitative research: positive attitudes toward the United States are strongly correlated with free trade with and immigration to the north.
The likely inverse of those findings by researchers Andy Baker and David Cupery—originally published in Latin America Research Review and Americas Quarterly—is that if you want to undermine positive perceptions south of the U.S. then mess with the U.S.’s positive trade, remittance and immigration policies.
The Baker and Cupery study poked a series of holes in the leftist canards that say Latin Americans hate the United States and that that antipathy is the result of age-old resentments over U.S. intervention and imperialism. (Yes, “alternative” unsubstantiated facts exist on both sides of the aisle. In this case, Baker and Cupery were taking on scholars like George Yudice, Alan McPherson, and Julia Swieg’s surprisingly fact-free claims—such as in Swieg’s book “Friendly Fire”—when it came to measuring and evaluating anti-U.S. sentiment.) Averaging survey data collected by Latinonbarometer, the authors conclude that ”[m]ore than 75 percent of those surveyed expressed favorable opinions of the U.S. in 10 of the 18 countries” included in the survey and in no country were negative perceptions of the United States greater than positive opinions. (See Figure 1 below.)
More surprising than the levels of support for the U.S. in a region that has been victimized by intervention, land grabs, and proxy wars by the Colossus to the North is that the countries with the most positive attitudes are those that have been the most frequent victims of U.S. hegemony and intervention.
Baker and Cupery set out to explain this, testing a series of possible explanations through multivariate regression analyses. Their conclusion? Higher levels of immigration and trade integration with the U.S. correlate strongly with positive attitudes to the U.S. even in countries that have legitimate historic grievances. To put it sharply, international economic exchange and immigration breed goodwill. (The only exception is Mexico which the authors explain.)
Don’t take our words for it. Please see below the scatterplot the authors created that originally appeared in the Americas Quarterly article (Figure 2) and the comparison by country (Figure 3).
To extrapolate from Baker and Cupery’s study: more open and humane U.S. policies regarding trade, immigration and remittances can trump the ugly history of U.S. imperialism. At the same time, the authors used their conclusions to argue for closer trade relations and improved immigration policies.
What then does it mean when trade relations become attenuated and immigration policies become more harsh? We can assume that it would reduce those positive impressions and reduce our influence in the region.
We may be about to find out.