Given the thousands of Latin Americans deported or refused entry at the Mexico – Texas border and the dozens of times the United States has sent troops into Latin America over the years, you might assume that the region is consumed with resentment against the U.S. In fact, Latin Americans are quite well-disposed towards the U.S. these days.
The most recent survey by Latinobarómetro, a Chilean polling firm, found that 65% of respondents had a good or very good opinion of the United States. By contrast, China, which has become the major trading partner with several Latin American countries in recent years, gets only a 43% positive rating.
Oddly, the countries that would seem to have the most cause for grievance against the U.S. feel the least aggrieved: the two most pro-American nations in the region are the Dominican Republic (which the United States occupied from 1916 to 1924 and invaded again in 1965) and Guatemala (whose president was toppled in a coup organised by the CIA in 1954). More than 80% of the residents of both countries have a good or very good opinion of the U.S.
Does that mean that the United States should send the Marines back as goodwill ambassadors? A closer look at the past 20 years of polling suggests not.
The region-wide view of the United States has oscillated considerably, from a low of 38% approval in 1996 to a high of 74% in 2009. Virtually all of these ups and downs seem to reflect changes in foreign direct investment (FDI) from the United States and changes in Latin American GDP per person.
The more that American firms invest in Latin America, and the wealthier its inhabitants grow, the fonder respondents become of the gringos. Although U.S. support has dropped slightly between 2009 and 2021, and many Latinos have suffered financial hardship due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they still feel kindly toward Uncle Sam.
The regional averages in sentiment conceal wide differences between individual countries. In 2021 just 44% of Bolivians liked the United States, whereas 83% of Dominicans did. The strongest predictor of these gaps is distance: South Americans in general give the U.S. lower favorable ratings, although still north of 50%, whereas residents of Central America and the Caribbean feel more warmly.
Apparently, the easier it is for Latinos to get to know the United States, the more they like it. The next most important factor, unsurprisingly, is remittances — money sent home from the U.S., which make up more than 15% of the GDP of El Salvador and Honduras, for example.
Among South Americans, Ecuadorians, whose former governments were frequent critics of the U.S., give Uncle Sam the highest approval rating, at 77%.