January 27, 2017

The Meaning of a Trump Government for Latin America

MABB ©

On November 12, 2016 I wrote about what a #Trump government would mean for the Latin American region and Bolivia. In that post, I highlighted the many measures affecting the region that Mr. Trump wanted to implement in the first 100 days after he took office. I also mentioned that it was important to know who his collaborators in the cabinet would be, and in the government positions below the cabinet level. Some days after Mr. Trump's inauguration as @POTUS and some weeks after the beginning of the confirmation process of Mr. Trump's cabinet, we have more facts on which to rely on, to be able to look ahead on the shape of the #US-Latin American relationship.

For instance, we can look at Rex Tillerson's (former CEO of Exxon Mobile) confirmation process for Secretary of State. Mr. Tillerson's confirmation vote is scheduled to happen next week, but his ongoing testimony and prior record has opened a window on his beliefs and, perhaps, on his future behavior. One emerging fact is that such scrutiny on Mr. Tillerson's views is revealing important differences with Mr. Trump's views. Examples are, his views on Putin's oppressive or totalitarian tendencies or views on the existence of climate change.

As far as Latin America is concerned, Mr. Tillerson's experience with the region can be characterized as direct. In fact, as Exxon-Mobile's CEO, he has had the necessity, if not the obligation, to think about the relationship of that company with many governments of that region.

One such government has been that of Mexico. In contrast to Mr. Trump's words about reconsidering NAFTA and Mexican immigrants being "rapist" and "criminals", Mr. Tillerson once said that the economies of US, Mexico and Canada were interwoven because of the NAFTA deal. It is understandable, that he would want more cooperation between the two nations and, specially, between two of the largest oil companies in the world, namely Exxon and Pemex. Further, he considered the trade deal a productive, job-creating, mutually-beneficial deal for the US and Mexico. In fact, in his confirmation hearings, Mr. Tiller described Mexicans as trusting friends, on whom the US could rely on.

In contrast, his relationship with Venezuela could not be considered as positive. First of all, as Mr. Hugo Chavez nationalized Exxon's assets in 2007, as part of his "Bolivarian Revolution", he had no choice as to take the Venezuelan government to court. However, the result of that process was a $ 1.6 billion award in favor of Exxon Mobile, when the estimated cost should have been $ 15 Billion. In conclusion, Mr. Tiller could not have been happy with this outcome. In similar manner, in 2015/2016, Exxon made a discovery of oil reserves on the Essequibo river, which lies in a disputed border area between Guyana and Venezuela. That has also become a disputed issue between the Venezuelan government and the Exxon Mobile company. The larger interpretation of these issues is, that Mr. Tiller has already plenty of experience with dealing with Latino caudillos such as Mr. Chavez.

Finally, Mr. Tiller's words concerning Colombian and Cuba were also interpreted having a certain distance with what Mr. Trump said. According to his comments, for Mr. Tiller, Colombia is a successful partner in the war against drugs and deserves continued aid support. Especially on the plan Peace Colombian, which is yet to pass in Congress and aims at continuing supporting the peace efforts the current government is engaged in. As for Cuba, he recently mentioned that if he were to appointed, he would take a careful look at the current policies towards Cuba.

Another figure is Ret. Gen. John F. Kelly, newly appointed head of Home Land Security. Gen. Kelly (a.k.a. mad dog Kelly) has been the head of the US Southern Command between 2012 and 2015. In such as post, he was intimately linked with, at least, the military side of the North American policy towards the Latin American region. As such, he oversaw the all important war on drugs, and other measures to deal with illegal migration, crime an, to a larger extent, security.

For instance, he repeatedly highlighted the activities of Hezbollah terrorist cells within Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, as well as Venezuela. He also mentioned the possible threat it would mean for the US of increasing the Chinese military in the region. At the same time, he highlighted the importance of continued support of the Colombian peace process and fight against drug trafficking. Furthermore, he argued for a continued support of those efforts beyond Colombia, highlighting the willingness of Peru to work with the US against such a threat. According to the New York Times, he has supported for: "He has supported increased aid for economic development, education and a focus on human rights to combat unauthorized immigration and drug trafficking."

Another important figure should be Robert Lighthizer, nominated for heading the US Trade Representative Office. Mr. Lighthizer, however, has been a known figure in Wasington, DC and therefore his tendencies are more or less easy to discern. His tendency to protectionism and his criticism towards NAFTA and other free trade agreements are well documented in the public record. His approach can be summarized as blaming the free trade agreements sought by the US government so far as being too generous to outside partners and not careful enough to keep benefits for the US. He has been know to criticize, among others, Latin American nations as not holding up to the standards of trade agreed upon and unfairly benefiting from the agreements in place. He is widely expected to carry out Mr. Trump's policies towards the region without hesitance.

Lastly, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, suggested by Mr. Trump to head the Energy Department. This is the same department which Mr. Perry said he wanted to eliminate during his candidacy campaign during the republican primaries in 2011. Mr. Perry, as Texas governor is intimately familiar with the immigration issues with Mexico. Moreover, since a large part of those people who enter illegally the US through the Mexico border are not Mexicans, but Latin Americans and even Africans, he should have a highly differentiated knowledge of the problem. However, his comments tend to confirm that he will pursue Mr. Trump's policy without any criticism. That is, if he does not reveal any new views on the matter on the remaining confirmation session.










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