Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Is U.S. Influence in Latin America on the Decline?

By now it has become a familiar and widely accepted narrative: whether it is evidenced by increasing Chinese investment, the inability to isolate Cuba or growing opposition to U.S. drug policy, the United States’ influence on governments in the hemisphere is on the decline. But as senior policy advisor to the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs William McIlhenny argues in Americas Quarterly, there is reason to question these claims. 

According to McIlhenny, rather than becoming weaker, U.S. foreign policy towards the region has simply adjusted to trends of the past several decades, namely the end of the Cold War and increased democratization. He writes: 
“Today, U.S. diplomacy in Latin America and the Caribbean is focused on being relevant to practical needs widely felt by other peoples—the way it should be. (The reverse is also true: governments should expect their influence in Washington to be in some proportion to their relevance to priorities we share.)  Decades of   domestic reforms, development, and diplomacy—and a particularly favorable external environment—have sparked socioeconomic and political changes that have transformed Latin America for the better.”
As a result, he claims that the U.S. has seen the rise of capable regional partners like Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, which serve U.S. interests far better than the “string of weak client states” that Washington previously supported in the Americas. While McIlhenny acknowledges “a divide down the hemisphere,” as illustrated by countries like Argentina and the ALBA bloc increasingly rejecting trade deals with the United States, he sees this as an unfortunate minority position.

Ultimately -- and rather optimistically -- McIlhenny argues that the U.S. has embraced a new, more equal relationship with Latin America, and that this is beneficial to all parties involved:
“Some will always prefer to wax nostalgic for an era of nominal influence on elites and dysfunctional relationships with undeveloped societies.  But that time is gone for good, to our resounding advantage.”
The full piece can be read over at the Americas Quarterly website.

News Briefs

  • Argentine media giant Grupo Clarin is under criticism in the country for allegedly filing a lawsuit against three journalists it accuses of “inciting violence and aggravated coercion," Pagina 12 reports. According to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, the journalists had reported on links between Clarin and the recent anti-government protests that took place in late September. AFP notes that various civil society organizations in the country have denounced the lawsuit as political maneuvering and a violation of the freedom of the press. The lawsuit coincides with an ongoing battle between Grupo Clarin and the Argentine government, which has given the media conglomerate until December 7th to sell of some of its assets in accordance with a2009 anti-media monopoly law.
  • Some 200,000 demonstrators mobilized in Rio de Janeiro on Monday to protest against a bill which aims to share oil revenue more equally between oil-producing states like Rio and other states. The protesters are calling on President Dilma Rousseff to veto the bill, which has already passed Congress. According to the New York Times, officials and residents in Rio argue that if it is signed into law, the bill could drastically cut much needed funds in the state, potentially putting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics at risk.
  • O Globo reports that Brazilian Defense Ministry has for the first time promoted a woman to Rear Admiral, one of the highest ranks in the navy and the highest military rank ever obtained by a woman in the country. 
  • For the first time in history, Paraguay has discovered untapped oil in its territory. According to ABC Digital, the oil field was discovered near the Argentine border. While no details of the size of the find have been released, President Federico Franco claimed that it is of “the best quality,” and will fund economic development in the country. 
  • Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington today in order to lay out a blueprint for bilateral relations between the two countries in the coming years. While addressing organized crime and drug policy are doubtlessly on the agenda, the two will likely talk immigration and trade as well.  In an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Friday, Peña Nieto writes that "It is a mistake to limit our bilateral relationship to drugs and security concerns. Our mutual interests are too vast and complex to be restricted in this short-sighted way."
  • El Universal reports that officials in Mexico have uncovered yet another mass grave along the border, about 40 kilometers south of Ciudad Juarez. Authorities have unearthed 20  bodies at the site, all of which appear to have been buried around two years ago, at the height of drug-related violence in the city.
  • Despite the fact that Colombia’s FARC rebels have consistently called for the release of imprisoned FARC commander Simon Trinidad (who is currently held in the U.S.) as a condition in peace negotiations with the Colombian government, U.S. officials have officially rejected this demand. The AP reports that Ricardo Zuniga, the head of Latin America policy on the National Security Council, said on Monday that releasing Trinidad is not an option. “This person is in prison for very serious crimes and is going to remain imprisoned,” Zuniga said.
  • The New York Times profiles new claims made by Maria Lourdes Afiuni, a former Venezuelan judge who is facing corruption charges after freeing a businessman from prison because he had awaited trial for more than three years.  Aifuni, who was imprisoned in December 2009, claims that she was tortured and raped while in prison, eventually having an abortion after becoming pregnant.

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