The United States’ foreign policy in Latin America over the last few decades has centered around the promotion of peace and democracy in the region; whether or not it has been effective is debatable. However, this regional strategy is quickly nearing irrelevancy with the United States’ presidential transition, as President Donald Trump and his administration hold very strong disregard for many diplomatic decisions crafted by past administrations.
Only in his term’s infancy, President Trump’s track record in Latin America and the Caribbean is already shaky. To date, he has humiliated the Mexican president and engendered animosity from the Mexican people, as well as slashed trade ties with Chile and Peru. Trump has also considered expanding his proposed travel ban to Venezuela and Colombia, needlessly alienating and criminalizing peaceful people.
While most of Trump’s foreign policy intentions regarding Latin America and the Caribbean remain unclear, there are many clues indicating that the Trump presidency will negatively impact the United States’ standing with Latin American nations. The United States has long presided over Latin America and the Caribbean as a stabilizing force, but this is no longer the case. With its newly-conceived ultra-protectionist mindset, the United States’ proposed actions of the next four years look to destabilize the Americas––not only Latin America, but also the United States.
With strong pressure for an increase in domestic jobs in the United States, President Trump commenced his term with the immediate destruction of trade deals and severing of economic ties with Latin American nations. On his first day in office, he removed the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), abandoning partners Chile and Peru in a trade deal that would have been largely beneficial for all parties involved. Under the guise of protecting American business, President Trump has not only put the United States in a tough negotiating position in Latin America in the future, but he has given significant negotiating leverage to Chile and Peru. TPP was conceived in order to not only strike a multilateral agreement with Latin American partners Chile, Peru, and Mexico, but more importantly to take advantage of Chinese growth. The United States, under President Barack Obama, realized that a deal of this magnitude was necessary for the United States to remain competitive with the market that has largely contributed to Latin American growth in the last few decades. With the United States’ withdrawal from the partnership, China has nearly free reign on trade with these nations, for the time being.
At the forefront of Trump’s assault on Latin America is his attitude toward Mexico. His rhetoric and attacks against the country and its citizens have generated unprecedented animosity between two long-time allies and trading partners. Starting with his claim that Mexican immigrants are mostly rapists and criminals, Trump then created even more unwarranted strain between the two nations with his proposal to build a border wall between the two countries. He has also gone so far as to abruptly end what was supposed to be a productive phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, after Peña Nieto had previously cancelled a bilateral meeting due to Trump’s unwillingness to negotiate regarding the wall.
Again, President Trump has underestimated the incredible economic significance that Mexico has with the United States. Aside from being our ally ideologically, Mexico is the third largest trading partner with the United States.
Despite these evident flaws in policy, President Trump has had some positive diplomatic interactions with Latin America. In a phone call with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Trump expressed his desire to continue President Obama’s pursuit of Colombian peace by ensuring Santos that he would take personal charge of passing a $450 million aid package. President Trump has also condemned Venezuela for its continuous human rights violations, including the detainment of activist Leopoldo Lopez.
Regardless of any successes, President Trump must remain cautious in his stance toward Latin America. We must respect countries like Mexico and Colombia, which are vital to the success of the United States and its economy. More than a strong symbolic ally to the United States, Mexico is one of the United States’ most important trading partners. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, Mexico is the third largest trading partner of the United States, the second largest export market for the United States, and the third largest import supplier for the United States. Relations between the two countries support five million U.S. jobs and Mexican entrepreneurs invest $50 billion in American businesses annually. In addition to Mexico, Colombia remains one of our strongest allies in Latin America and is a regional leader in development and democracy. Economically, Colombia is also very valuable to the United States economically. According to the United States Department of Commerce, Colombia imports roughly $15 billion worth of American goods annually.
Much of what Donald Trump will do in Latin America remains unclear – much of it comes to us now simply as external shock value. However, if his policy follows the indications that have recently circulated the news, the Trump administration will quickly regret any damage that it inflicts on Latin America. The Trump administration is living in the past, failing to recognize the true essence and importance of the region. Latin America and the Caribbean has had the most impressive and efficient social progress of any region in the last 100 years, doing it in a span of roughly ten years. Latin American nations have realized through this progressive period that they benefit the most through globalization, especially as it pertains to trading with countries outside of the region. They have benefitted from China in the past, and the Trump administration will deeply regret giving these nations any reason to prioritize our eastern competitor.