When it comes to Latin America, the United States and its citizens do not need a full history lesson. It might be easier to skip over the history of US military interventionism and economic imperialism, and focus on more recent events. Rather, I believe, the United States needs to take a good long look at the multi-polar world in which its influence has waned, and look to forge truly meaningful relationships with its neighbors to the south. I have held this belief for some time, and yesterday I came across a CNN article by Antonia Hernandez and Solomon Trujillo that not only addresses the subject, but also explains the pivotal role that the US Latino population could play in developing better relations with Latin America.
To me the connection between the US Latino population and improved relations with Latin American countries seems obvious, but it seems to be something the US government has yet to realize. The United States shares many political and cultural similarities with its southern neighbors, but it often appears as if they are from two different planets when they interact. Unfortunately, such interactions have been limited in recent history because the United States has focused on other regions of the world. US President Barack Obama promised a fresh start for the relationships between Latin American countries and the United States, but recently admitted he would “pivot” toward Asia and be the first “Pacific” President. Prior to Obama, George W. Bush also claimed he was committed to improving relations with Latin America, but then the events of September 11, 2001 shifted his focus to the Middle East and he never bothered to turn his focus back to this hemisphere. Needless to say, current events still do not paint a pretty picture of US-Latin American relations. Recent history has led me to agree with Hernandez and Trujillo’s assessment that the United States needs the help of its Latino population.
Some analysts and pundits would have you believe we live in a unipolar world where the United States is still the sole superpower. Nothing could be further from the truth (just take a look at the current state of the global system), and the United States will need allies as it begins to navigate the new world order. Hernandez and Trujillo mention Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico as potential options. I would add Colombia to that list and also advise the United States to keep a close eye on developments in Venezuela. Oil-rich Venezuela could become a key ally in the future if there is a regime change. A coalition of the aforementioned nations would be formidable in the global arena. But how would one create such a(n) (in)formal bloc?
Hernandez and Trujillo astutely note that the United States has a great resource at its fingertips: its Latino population. The linguistic capabilities of this population would be the most obvious benefit. This demographic can also draw upon its personal and family experiences and histories to inform decision- and policy-makers. Furthermore, it could potentially provide a different perspective on the importance of certain regional issues. In my opinion, the Americas have similar political and cultural values and the US Latino population might be able to fill-in the gaps that currently exist in hemispheric politics and policy-making.
It stands to reason that a growing US Latino population will increasingly have more influence on the US government, but so far US politicians (on both sides of the aisle) have treated the Latino population as nothing more than an electoral group. As this demographic grows it will undoubtedly have more of an influence on US foreign policy, and, therefore, I advocate getting the US Latino population involved in the foreign policy discussion as quickly as possible to ease the transition toward its influence on policy-making.
It is in this area that I think the United States and Latin American countries can find the most common ground, provided there is a responsible discussion with respect given to all of those involved. Hernandez and Trujillo noted, “A Latino-influenced foreign policy would likely reaffirm traditional pillars of US hemispheric policy – namely, the promotion of democratic political development and trade expansion via [Free Trade Agreements.]” The resulting economic development of the countries involved would be a shared goal, and could lead to further collaboration on issues like social development, citizen security, migration, illicit drug trafficking, corruption, and crime. These are major hemispheric issues, and if the United States can build a consensus with its neighbors then maybe they can reach a consensus on larger global issues. The involvement of the US Latino population could be the step in the right direction for the United States to reaffirm its status in the hemisphere and the global arena, perhaps as a champion of coalition building.
As positive as involving the US Latino population in foreign policy discussions could prove to be, choosing to ignore this resource might prove disastrous for the United States. Hernandez and Trujillo warn, “US leaders will wake up a decade from now in a hemisphere that is crisscrossed with Chinese investments in oil, copper, iron ore and soy beans, a weak dollar competing against Reals and Rupees, and a new generation of consumers filling up with Iranian oil.” Although I consider this assessment to be an over-exaggeration of potentially negative consequences, it merits attention. Other countries (China, et al) are making in-roads into Latin America. This is not a bad thing; in fact it is a good thing for Latin America. However, it could pose a threat to the United States’ economy and national security. In order to avoid this doomsday scenario, the United States should start improving its relationships with its neighbors.
The first step to navigating our new world is to recognize that it is multipolar and I am hopeful that the next US President will, but this, alone, will not be enough. In a multipolar world, a country needs (good) friends and what better place to find them than next door? And there is no excuse for not strengthening these relationships when you have an invaluable resource that could make the process easier. Hopefully, this message will not be lost on the next Administration after the election year is over.
– Max Rava
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