George W. Bush, then-candidate for the presidency, gave a speech on August 25, 2000 in which he described his future foreign policy for Latin America. Bush stated, “Our future cannot stand apart from the future Latin America.” “Should i become president, I will not look south as an afterthought but as a fundamental obligation.”
“Those who ignore Latin America don’t fully understand America.” And those who ignore America’s hemisphere don’t fully understand American interests. While this country had a right to be concerned about Kosovo, there are more Colombian refugees fleeing conflict. America has a right to be concerned about Kuwait. However, more of our oil comes out of Venezuela. America welcomes trade with China. However, we export almost as much to Brazil.
Naturally, 9/11 occurred. Bush’s words were not translated into actions. After a decade of Clinton’s administration setting up the first steps towards a single market for the region, which was controversial on its own but showed some interest in engaging with Latin America, the region became the second most neglected in U.S. foreign policies after Africa.
China filled the gap left by American indifference. The U.S. was focusing on wars thousands miles away from its shores while the Eastern giant gradually but surely expanded its influence throughout the region. China is today a more important trading partner than the U.S. in trade with Argentina, Brazil and Peru. These are some of the most important economies within the region.
What is the cause of this? What can we do to reverse it?
Although Latin America is not the primary focus of American leadership in the 20 th century it was a significant part of America’s foreign policy during and immediately after the Cold War. While some of the policy was questionable (e.g. Condor Operation), there was an effort to engage with Latin America. This cannot be said today.
Check out the Summit of the Americas 2018! It was the first time that it had been held in America since 1994’s first summit in Miami. It was a great opportunity to demonstrate that the U.S. cares about the region, and that it wants to strengthen cultural, security and commercial ties. The Summit produced a vague Declaration on Migration and Protection.
The U.S. attempted to spread a woke ideology throughout the region, but without a specific Latin American foreign strategy. The U.S. is losing key allies who could help it solve domestic problems. Let’s take Guatemala as an example.
Guatemala, a small country in Central America that borders Mexico, is Guatemala. It’s also an important stop for migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. With a good relationship with Guatemala, the U.S. could reduce the flow of illegal migrants to its southern border. Guatemala is not a perfect country. It is, like most of the region’s other countries, terribly corrupted and poor. Guatemala, however, seems to be a stable ally in a subregion that includes a socialist dictatorship of Nicaragua, a quasi narco state in Honduras and an arguable autocracy at El Salvador.
Biden has approached Guatemala in a different way. It slapped its face mostly. Alejandro Giammattei, Guatemala’s president, stated in a 2021 interview that if American companies moved some of their Chinese operations to the region or to countries with a workforce affordable like Guatemala, it would help solve the problem of migration. He also discussed how the U.S. is causing problems in Latin America and helping them to shift to China.
Kamala Harris said to me: We need more trade. Trade, not aid. What happens to the avocados we export? Our avocados are subject to tariffs in the United States. We could produce and sell five-fold more avocados if the U.S. market were open to them. This would create thousands of new jobs. He said that we are selling it to Korea and Taiwan and Europe (which is more costly), but not to the U.S. because it is closer.
Giammattei spoke of what seems to be conditions foreign powers (like the U.S.A. and the E.U.) have placed on economic cooperation. He stated that he could not allow foreign countries to violate our beliefs or our constitution. “Abortion in Guatemala is not legal according to the Constitution. To change that, you would need to amend the Constitution ….. As long as the Constitution protects human life from conception, it’s impossible for any country to tell us to make laws which violate our Constitution.”
Guatemala is one of a few countries that recognize Taiwan over China. However, with the unneeded souring of relations between Guatemalan and the U.S.A, this could change very soon. China is actually the country’s second largest trading partner.
This trend is common in Latin America.
China fills the gap left by the U.S., investing in infrastructure and the industry across the region. In 2017, $21 billion was invested by Chinese companies in Brazil. This included power plants, a distributor of electricity, and ports. Governors from all political parties regularly visit China to draw more investment. It would be difficult to determine who the last American governor visited with the same goal. Chinese companies are modernizing Argentina’s northwest railroad. One of the most important solar energy projects in Jujuy in northwest Argentina was built by a Chinese company. There are many other Chinese companies that exploit the large lithium mines. In 2022, Chinese companies will invest $22 billion in various infrastructure and industrial projects in Argentina. Bogota’s subway is being built by a Chinese company. Chinese loans to Latin America exceed $10 Billion per year. China’s massive purchases of soy, pork and minerals have made it the biggest trading partner in South America.
China has been so successful because of its simplicity. Their pitches are simple: We’re here for business, we don’t care about your local politics and we’ll offer deals no one else will. American deals generally include conditions that protect the rule of law as well as human rights. It is not necessarily bad; Latin America would benefit from less corruption. It seems that the U.S. isn’t concerned about the rule of law and human right in the Middle East, while Latin America is losing because of its moral impulses.
Almost 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries now have signed the Belt and Road Initiative. Six are currently part of the Belt and Road Initiative and two are potential members of the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank. This is China’s response the IMF.
However, not everything is perfect with the new masters.
Many of the Chinese-led projects on the continent have failed. After a conflict of interests was discovered in the feasibility projections for a $1.5 billion project to build an oil refinery in Costa Rica, it was cancelled. This highlighted its environmental impact. The dam was built by a Chinese company in Ecuador using a $1.7billion loan. It quickly became a disaster because of upstream erosion. A former vice president of Ecuador has been convicted of corruption in the case. The “arco minero”, a large area of mining in south Venezuela, was also sold to Chinese companies. These companies have almost destroyed the Amazon’s northern edge, as well as other countries and groups. Illegality, and even murders are commonplaces with little or no benefit to the Venezuelan economy.
Despite this, Chinese companies can offer low-cost credit and infrastructure that the U.S. is not ready to provide. These include subways, ports and railroads as well as 5G networks and dams. But do Latin American countries want to avoid China?
Although China may present its ties as being purely commercial, they are rarely that. Since 2010, China has provided predatory loans to Venezuela’s regime. Venezuela has essentially repaid them with oil and the presence of the Chinese in the “arco minero”; eight of Taiwan’s remaining 13 partners are located in Latin America. China has also used the Belt and Road Initiative and low-interest credit to isolate Taiwan. Since 2017, the Dominican Republic and Panama, El Salvador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, have switched their diplomatic recognition to Taiwan.
The China-CELAC Joint Action Plan 2022-2024 (CELAC is Chavez’s response on the OAS) calls for greater political and security cooperation between Latin America, China and other countries. It also encourages science and technology collaboration.
China has already sold its surveillance equipment to law enforcement agencies in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and sent agents to train them. China also owns a satellite base in Argentina, covering 200 hectares for free for 50 years. All South American countries, except Paraguay (the only country in the region that recognizes Taiwan), can purchase all types of weapons from China.
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Some worry that China’s relations could influence U.N. voting in some of these countries. Americans tend to believe that U.N. organizations are irrelevant and ineffective. But, consider the harm the WHO did with Tedros Adhanom, a Chinese puppet at the helm.
Ecuador, one of the few right-wing countries in the region, has been loaned $3.5 billion by the U.S. to pay off Chinese debt. However, it must not buy technology from China. The U.S. placed Panama on its grey list of countries that are not doing enough to combat money laundering after Panama established diplomatic relations with China in 2017. In 2017, Chinese companies started building a deepwater port near Panama’s Canal Zone. Five of the 16 China-backed infrastructure projects have been cancelled since.
The U.S. will not win the long-term by using only the “stick” approach. To compete with Belt and Road’s America Crece initiative, the Trump administration invested $1 billion in Guatemala and an equal amount in Paraguay. Since then, not much has been said. This is precisely what the U.S. approach towards Latin America has been doing wrong. China has had a 20-year-old foreign policy towards the region. The U.S. believes that a reactive approach where it punishes its “backyard”, for not being awake enough, or allows Chinese investment, is sufficient. Is there an American Belt and Road in Western Hemisphere? Is there technology cooperation? China funds the ports of the region, while the U.S. funds its drag show and its education.