U.S. presidential election presents contrasting approaches to Latin Amerca: Wall it off or continue limited engagement

Jul 31, 2016 | 0 comments

When it comes to Cuba, Venezuela and the rest of Latin America, the Democrats see Hillary Clinton mostly continuing the policies of engagement pressed forward by President Barack Obama, but not much else.chl opinion logo

Republicans, on the other hand, largely want to wall off Mexico, as Donald Trump has proposed, but also cut off other parts of the region that, they say, have been overtaken by “tyrants” and Islamist militants.

The contrasting positions, as defined by their party platforms, reflect the gap between conservative and liberal views about our southern neighbors – major economic partners – but also incorporate few concrete initiatives they want the next president to pursue in the region.

Ecuador often butts heads with U.S. policy.

Ecuador often butts heads with U.S. policy.

“The Republican proposal remains deeply rooted in the Cold War,” said Gregory Weeks, editor of the academic journal The Latin Americanist. “The Democratic policies really don’t have much vision. It’s just basically: Keep doing what Obama is doing without really paying much attention, at all, to some of the bigger things that he was actually trying to accomplish in Latin America.”

While immigration has been a central theme at this week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the parties’ foreign policy platforms have drawn little attention. That’s mainly because they’re written by party loyalists, not the campaigns, and the nominees are not bound by anything they say.

Cuba has been a political

Cuba remains a political hot potato in the U.S.

But the platforms are important. They represent the parties’ directions and the issues that rank-and-file members will pressure candidates to pursue.

From a comprehensive standpoint, the Democrats’ platform appears to tack more closely to the positions Clinton has staked out on Cuba, Venezuela and immigration. The Republican platform backed Trump’s key promise to build a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

On Cuba, Democrats have called for expanding bilateral relations, which Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro restored in late 2014. The Republicans say Obama is accommodating tyrants in Cuba.

On Venezuela, Democrats demanded that the Nicolás Maduro administration respect human rights. The Republicans have accused the Obama administration of embracing a “Marxist dictator” in Venezuela

In short, the Democrats see opportunities and the Republicans see dangers, said Francisco Mora, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere from 2009 to 2013.

The party platforms are not supposed to outline concrete policy ideas for the next president but general approaches for the party, said Mora, who is the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University.

What’s unclear is how closely the candidates will follow their parties’ recommendations.

Clinton has given two policy speeches on Latin America that support and go farther on the Democrats’ main priorities. It’s less clear what Trump thinks about Latin America.

Clinton supports and has spoken out publicly on Cuba and Venezuela. She has criticized the Venezuelan government for rigging elections and “jailing political opponents.” She has called for an end to the trade embargo on Cuba.

“We can’t go back to a failed policy that limits Cuban-Americans’ ability to travel and support family and friends,” Clinton said in a speech at Florida International University in Miami a year ago this week. “We can’t block American businesses that could help free enterprise take root in Cuban soil.”

Trump has not given any major speeches about the region and his cursory comments have been limited to ramping up border enforcement and renegotiating trade deals.

On Cuba, he has spoken in support of the capitalism benefits of restoring ties. But he’s also said he’d slow down the courtship “until he could get a better deal.”

The first section of the Republican platform is titled “A Dangerous World,” and the policies recommended reflect that viewpoint.

“We stand with the Women in White and all the victims of the loathsome regime that clings to power in Havana,” the GOP platform says of Cuba. “We do not say this lightly: They have been betrayed by those who are currently in control of U.S. foreign policy.”

While praising Mexico for partnering with the U.S. in the fight against illegal drugs, the GOP also backed the controversial building of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, one of Trump’s most prominent presidential proposals. Democrats rejected the idea, saying it will alienate an important regional partner.

On Colombia, the Republicans oppose negotiations between the government and leftist guerrillas to end a five-decade civil war. Democrats don’t even acknowledge the historic peace deal, though Clinton supported it as secretary of state.

For editor Weeks, the Republican plan suggests not only that the Cold War is relevant but also that the United States is still fighting it. But Weeks, who is also the chair of the political science department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, also is unimpressed with the Democratic plan, which he said lacked a coherent set of policies and was weighed down by “an overabundance of platitudes.”


Credit: McClatchy DC, www.mcclatchydc.com


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