The Republican Front-Runners’ (Early) Positions on Latin America

LatIntelligence has a quick but useful post up summarizing the leading Republican candidates’ positions on Latin America at this point in the (painfully eternal) primary race. They focus on Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry.

Each of the candidates has some deeply troubling and/or positions lacking the nuance necessary for real-world solutions. Bachmann’s position is the most draconian:

She opposes immigration and the legalization of undocumented migrants, and calls for the deployment of troops in south Texas. The Minnesota congresswoman wants to wall the border off completely, saying “As president of the United States, every mile, every yard, every foot, every inch will be covered on that southern border.” When Bachmann felt the need to strengthen her foreign policy chops last spring, she flew to Colombia and Mexico with the House Intelligence Committee – her first trip abroad to a country other than Israel (which she has visited multiple times courtesy of pro-Israel interest groups). Upon returning, she expressed strong support for the drug war.

So much for representing the Tea Party’s alleged interest in “small government.”

Unsurprisingly, Romney’s and Perry’s positions are a little less ironclad. According to the post, Romney, who talked tough about immigration in 2008, is basically critical of Cuba and Venezuela, couching his rhetoric in terms of  praise for “business-friendly” countries.

Perry is in a unique position, as he is the one candidate who has any political experience (good or bad) dealing directly with border issues and immigration on a daily basis [I know former New Mexico governor Gary King is running, but any Republican presidential candidate who “does not attend church, is pro-choice, anti-big government, pro-immigration, an outspoken critic of the war on drugs and favors legalizing marijuana” stands about as much a chance of representing the Republican party as I do]. Yet his positions aren’t much better than Bachmann’s. Yes, he at least acknowledges the border-fence as a pipe-dream, but the idea that increased militarization of the border and even the incorporation of drone attacks isn’t much that much closer to reality than Bachmann’s positions.

Admittedly, Latin America is probably going to play a small role in the election rhetoric, and not just because it’s usually not relevant; the economic context facing the United States in the coming months will be the issue discussed. That said, as the post points out:

Latin America should  in fact matter more. The region is among the U.S. fastest growing trading partners, creating American jobs with each purchase. With over half a trillion dollars worth of goods going back and forth, Latin America is second only to Asia – and growing much faster – in terms of total trade with the United States. Its largest nations play important roles in multilateral organizations from the G20 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), helping the United States and others resolve difficult global challenges. And finally, according to the latest census 50 million Americans – 1/6 of the population – are descendants of these nations, many still with close ties to their original homes. Ignoring Latin America or alienating Latin Americans only adds up to a missed opportunity, both for the Republican Party and for the country.

I agree whole-heartedly with this, and would add another factor. While the U.S. economy continues to suffer the crippling consequences of the banking practices of the 1990s and 2000s that led to the economic collapse in 2008, Latin American countries like Brazil and Argentina (who had its own massive meltdown in 2001) are going stronger than ever. It’s not necessarily that they can provide lessons to the U.S. (though they most likely can), but that they are more important than ever to the global economy. Certainly, the number of Hispanic descendants in the U.S. makes Latin America a domestic issue as well, but the role and impact of Latin American markets on hemispheric economics is also at heart a domestic issue for the U.S. Candidates from both the Democratic and Republican party probably won’t talk about this next year. But they should.

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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