Foreign Policy: The US's Approach to Latin America


Many authors have engaged the title of this post mainly to analyze why is the US' policy towards Latin America not working. While critical analysis is a desirable thing to do in order to, among other things, go forward or better (say a policy), in this topic many of the analyses seem verging on the obliviousness to real events. For that reason, an equal number of scholars have proposed new ways on which the formulation of such policy should be anchored on. This post is one more attempt at revising as well as analyzing US foreign policy towards Latin America and proposing a "new" approach, which, in my opinion, is necessary already.

Scholars of foreign policy or international relations like to start revisiting the Monroe Doctrine when thinking about US policy towards its more southern neighbors. For it was in 1823, as President James Monroe gave his annual state of the union speech that he formulated what later would become a fundamental piece of US foreign policy and relations. So fundamental, that even President Reagan referred to it during his presidency and the presidents thereafter did not singnificantly change.

The doctrine, written by Quincy Adams and influenced by Hamilton and others, stated that any attempt at re-colonize the newly independent countries in the Americas by European powers would be seen as a threat to the US. At the same time, the US would seek not to interfere with the remaining European colonies.

The doctrine was so fundamental because it did not only established an approach to address issues involving the Americas but also helped establish a sphere of influence beyond the borders of the United States. It recognized that the security of the US was secured when the borders of those other countries were also secure.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US government has been applying more or less the same approach in dealing with its southern neighbors. This approach involves the promotion of liberal democracy and the establishment of benefitious routes for trade. In the 1960s and 1970s and especially the 1980s, the issue of drug trafficking became one more pillar of that policy. While later on the issues of development and military cooperation also entered the formula. One issue left outside, but which has become fundamental has been the issue of migration south to north.

So every time a new president takes the oath to office in the US, latin americanists, policy analysts and the politically interested asked themselves how will the US policy towards Latin America look like during the next four years. An important question has been: does the US have a sufficiently coherent and adequately modern policy that guides its relationship with Latin America?

The short answer can be, yes, the US has had and still has one of the most coherent approaches towards the region. In fact, it is so coherent that it has not significantly changed since many decades, if not since Monroe. What has not happened is it has not been appropriately conditioned to the most recent developments in the whole region, not only within the US but also in Latin America.

How should this new approach look like?

First, the US should realize once and for all, the Latin American region has been living democracy since at least three decades. It is not the region anymore where the specter of communism was waiting to charge and take over; nor it is the region where a regime change meant a coup d'etat and military dictators were taking the reigns of government thinking they were the most fit to lead a nation.

Second, the US should think twice about continuing treating Latin America as its sphere of influence or its back yard. It should instead think of the region as its neighborhood where many countries with different cultures, ways of life and interests live.

Third, the US should think twice about concentrating heavily on the war on drugs when it deals with Latin America. I think I do not need to remind us that concentrating on one or few issues not only reduces alternatives but tends to simplify what otherwise would be a complex matter. Instead it should approach the region on the basis of a complex relationship with many sides, one of them being the war on drugs. Other important issues of this new era would be migration, financial integration, renewable energy, traditional energy, security, environment, etc.

Fourth, the US should realize that, while the focus on trade is the right thing to do, the emphasis on getting the best deal which might largely benefit one side is not beneficial. Instead, the US should realize that it is only to its benefit that the other side also benefits, and generousely. The larger benefit for the US would be strengthening a potential market of some 500 million people which might end up consuming many US products.

Fifth, the US should stop concentrating on the largest markets such as Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. Instead, it should also work on strenthening smaller countries such as Ecuador, Peru or Uruguay or Bolivia, for that matter. In fact, it should try to bring to its side as many countries as possible.

Finally, the US should stop treating the countries in Latin America as if they were kids, even if many times they might behave like one. Instead, it should start treating these countries as partners, looking at them eye-to-eye, giving them the respect they are looking for around the world.

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