Since the time of Joe Biden’s vice presidency, the United States has changed its approach toward Latin America. The mutual relationship between the U.S. and Latin America has remained further damaged after four years of President Donald Trump’s complicated politics and stances toward the region: complete reluctance to consider the region as a part of its agenda resulted in a region full of dispersion. Government changes, immigration problems, and the consequences of a pandemic have worsened the socio-economic situation in most countries (Asmann and Robbins 2020).
From north to south, the Latin American region is experiencing different crises. Argentina’s economy is collapsing; Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador experience political turmoil; Colombia’s local violence has risen once again after the signing of the peace agreement and the subsequent denouncement of President Duque’s agreement. Moreover, despite useless sanctions and threats, Venezuela has not recovered stability, and Central American countries’ initiatives to control and overcome corruption and drug-trafficking have been blocked.
With consideration of these events, President Biden proposes to bring back multilateralism and diplomacy as crucial strategies to oversee the region. By relying upon old-school institutions created for this exact purpose, such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (Osborn 2021) President Biden believes that these goals can be achieved. Nevertheless, President Biden will need to dedicate much effort to repair the US-LATAM relation which was weakened by shifts in U.S. domestic politics (C. Paz 2020).
Following his campaign, President Biden has focused on the topic he was most invested in during Barack Obama’s presidency: Central America’s immigration. Specifically strengthening cooperation directed to tackle root causes of immigration and working on the subregion’s development for a more sustainable solution for migrants. While focusing on immigration and security, especially on the border, President Biden is also creating a link between foreign and domestic policy.
President Biden has proposed a $4 billion aid package for Central America to address the causes of unauthorized migration and help fund jobs-creation (Londoño 2020). However, the region needs to consider that President Biden might follow President Obama’s “deport-er in chief” style politics by expelling more people than President Trump did during his time in office or pressure Central American governments to tighten security response to migrants in their territory (Asmann and Robbins 2020). The latter was one of President Trump’s tactics while dealing with events such as the Migrant Caravan. As challenging as it was during President Trump’s term, President Biden’s administration faces the same struggle with the complication of a pandemic (Jervis and Villagran 2021). Furthermore, the immigration-related executive orders and memoranda signed by President Biden to reverse some of President Trump’s restrictive policies are a response more to the domestic lobby work of a more humane migration policy, than to the actual migrants on the border.
President Biden made clear that his climate change policies focus on domestic and foreign policy, proposing net zero emissions by 2050, a goal loftier than any other U.S. president’s (Viscidi 2021). Following this line, as president-elect, Joe Biden named former Secretary of State John Kerry as a cabinet-level official to manage climate change.
As the COVID-19 pandemic and competition with China over trade increases, it is less likely that the new administration will negotiate new trade agreements with Latin American countries (Vinjamuri et al. 2020). Thus, climate change cooperation with LATAM is going to be strengthened by President Biden’s team. The latter can be observed in the first presidential debate, where now-President Biden proposed the creation of a $20 billion international fund to preserve the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil (Londoño 2020). So far, in his letter contradicting President Biden for his sworn-ceremony, Brazil’s President Bolsonaro responded positively with a call for a “partnership in the protection of the environment” (Della Coletta 2021).
Additionally, President Biden has implied that energy cooperation needs to be pursued once again in the Latin American region, which could follow the format initiative introduced by Joe Biden during his vice-presidential years with Caribbean countries (Viscidi 2021).
Crime and Security
Regarding crime-related cooperation, it is expected that the new administration will focus on anti-corruption measures by applying broad diplomacy. Meaning, implementation of influence in different mechanisms and different agreements with regional countries to lessen corruption and various traditional forms of drug interdiction to attack drug-trafficking; while at the same time preventing damaging any diplomatic channels.
It is essential to mention that regarding the latter, the U.S. and Mexico fractured after U.S. federal prosecutors charged Mexico former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda with drug trafficking and corruption (Asmann and Robbins 2020). Independent from the U.S. cooperation, it has been observed that criminal acts and illicit drug-trafficking have risen during the pandemic due to the lack of employment and the measures taken to lessen the pandemic effects, which disturbed informal jobs (Ellis 2020).
Overall, the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) can expect much attention from the new administration. On the contrary, policies towards Cuba may continue without change (Arnold-Parra 2020). Regarding Venezuela, President Biden’s administration may adopt the new European strategy of decreasing the role of Guaido and naming him as a leader in the opposition movement than as the “Interim President”, or even relax sanctions, as a means to open negotiations with Venezuelan government (Crescente 2021).
Based on the aforementioned information, it appears that president Biden might approach Latin America from a multilateral front, encouraging international cooperation and indirect control over regional events, thus mastering soft power at its best. Nevertheless, the Latin American region seems open to President Biden’s efforts, and the connections made during his 16 visits to the region are proof that he might bring an increased focus to Latin America (Vinjamuri et al., 2020).
Written by Davitza Rodriguez
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Picture Source: The Economist. (2021, January 16). “Joe Biden will shift gears in Latin America”. Retrieved from :https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2021/01/14/joe-biden-will-shift-gears-in-latin-america