More on Romney’s Proposed Latin America Policy

Having looked at Romney’s proposed Latin American policy myself, I wanted to add some further thoughts to what Greg said. Suffice to say, it’s a bizarre (if unsurprising) mix of extremely-outdated Cold War mentalities toward the region with post-9/11 concern over “terrorism.” from countries that have had nothing to do with terrorist acts in the United States since 1976 (and that terrorist act came from a U.S.-sponsored right-wing dictatorship, not leftists). Venezuela and Cuba are typical boogeymen in his vision of Latin America, and for whatever reason, he even mentions president Manuel Zelaya – the Honduran president removed in a coup in 2009 – twice in an attempt to criticize Obama’s foreign policy. He even mentions Iran twice – in the Latin American section.

All of these issues and characterizations of the region make his portrayal seem completely out of touch with reality. It’s not just that it’s antiquated. It’s not just that the association of Latin America with terrorist threats to the United States is baseless.

It’s that it doesn’t mention Brazil. At all.

If I were running to be president of a country that was facing serious long-term unemployment, troubled markets, and a recession, I don’t think I’d want to ignore a country that is currently the seventh largest economy in the world. And diplomatically, I don’t think I’d want to overlook a country that has taken an increasing role in international politics and economics. In fact, I’d probably want to address that country’s potential, perhaps look at its booming market to see if there are answers for the U.S.’s economic woes, and work towards improving relations with a country that has shown remarkable sustained growth and a growing importance in international politics and diplomacy over the past decade. I definitely wouldn’t want to completely ignore it even while fearing the unsubstantiated specter of Hezbollah in a continent that has fewer Muslims in its entirety than the United States alone has.

Continuing to see Latin America through Cold War-tinted glasses, where all countries are the same and only exist as existential threats to the United States, is not only antiquated; it’s foolish and ignorant. Romney’s failure to consider the potential that strengthening economic and political ties with Latin America would have for the U.S. economy reveals not only how unserious his foreign policy is; it shows that he’s not really ready to seriously deal with the economic woes facing the United States, either.

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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.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Latin America, Latin American Economic Relations, Latin American-U.S. Relations. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to More on Romney’s Proposed Latin America Policy

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I can agree that Romney’s foreign policy is far from perfect and certainly demonstrates some oversights, such as leaving Brazil out of the picture.

    However, Colin’s severely myopic rant about Romney’s obsession with terror and his vintage “Cold War” view was painful for me to read. It was obvious that the major focal point of the treatise was the security of the U.S.; the first words of the introduction were, “We live in a dangerous world.” The primary question which the whole policy answers is, “How should we act to keep our country secure?” Thus, the focus is on the threats that we face and from whence they come. It would be foolish for anyone to expect a candidate to publish every aspect of foreign policy pertaining to every country and concern in the world.

    With that in mind, he DID mention his goals to strengthen economic relations with Latin America. Colin’s “smash-bang” and absurd finish was, “Romney’s failure to consider the potential that strengthening economic and political ties with Latin America would have for the U.S. economy reveals not only how unserious his foreign policy is; it shows that he’s not really ready to seriously deal with the economic woes facing the United States, either.”

    He couldn’t have been more wrong.

    Colin’s attention span must have been too short, since he failed to read Romney’s very first specific policy commitment: “In his first 100 days in office, Romney will launch a vigorous public diplomacy and trade promotion effort in the region… to extol the virtues of democracy and free trade and build on the benefits conferred by the free trade agreements…” He speaks about involving the US and Latin American private sector to “expand trade” and help American companies do business in Latin America as well as help Latin American companies invest in the U.S. He states that the goal of these initiatives will be to make Latin American countries members of an economic alliance with the U.S. to create strong and mutually beneficial ties with the U.S. and throughout the region.

    Only after addressing his plans to promote economic ties and expansion in the region does he state his action plan to counter terrorism in Latin America. It should also be noted that Romney’s primary security concern in Latin America is not just with terrorism, but also with drugs.

    Also, denying the presence or possibility for terrorist groups to organize in Latin America is obscene. Especially disconcerting was Colins inference of a correlation between the propensity for terrorist attacks and a country’s muslim population. Islam does not teach terrorism and the number of its adherents in a country has nothing to do with the possibility that terrorist organizations could be using that country as a strategic outpost or center of operation.

    After reading Colin’s blog, I was sure that he set out to prove that he was exponentially more ignorant than he claims Romney is.

  4. I’ll deal with the issue of security first, because it’s the briefest. Regarding terrorism, I never said all terrorism is Islamic, and both you and I know it’s not. However, that’s not the language of the Republican party to which Romney is appealing. When you’re mentioning the threat of Iran twice when discussing Latin America (again, without even mentioning the largest military/economic power in the region, but I’ll return to that in a minute), you’re making the issue implicitly about an Islamic nation and the United States while appealing to a party where much of the base still openly and directly associates Islam with terrorism. In effect, he’s pointing to a non-issue in Latin America in an attempt to appeal to the basest anti-Islamic fears/tendencies of the party that he’s trying to drum up support from. And seeing specters of threats for which there’s no historical threat simply because Latin American countries establish foreign relations with countries the U.S. doesn’t like is a relic of the Cold War.

    Regarding the economic policies that Romney mentions and that you emphasize, I’d start by pointing out that platitudes to free trade are useless and meaningless for a number of reasons. Beyond not even really being “free” either historically or presently in countries like Chile (which has an FTA with the U.S.), there are several other problems with Romney’s appeals to free trade that point to why (as I originally said) they should not be taken seriously. First, it’s not the 1990s any longer, and many people and politicians from a variety of political backgrounds (right and left) both in the U.S. and in Latin America oppose free trade agreements for any number of reasons, with NAFTA providing very real evidence of the long-term negative impacts of free-trade agreements both in the U.S. and in Latin America.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, free trade agreements are actually treaties, thus requiring both/all parties to sign on to them, and quite frankly, it’s “myopic” (as you say) of Romney to presume that’s going to happen in a region that is A) doing very well economically without free trade agreements (and indeed, has weathered the global fiscal crises much better than either the U.S. or Europe); B) that was ravaged by the free-market policies of the World Bank/IMF (and which the U.S. itself advocates) throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s; and C) has shown a leftward shift in politics, in no small part because of the neoliberal policies of Latin American politicians in the 1990s. On the latter point, the first decade of the 2000s witnessed electoral majorities throughout the region who were fed-up with the economic stagnation and growing inequalities that resulted from right-wing politicians who adopted neoliberalism and free trade in the 1990s; in response, they voted in a wave of center-left politicians willing to find alternative and more equitable economic policies that did not necessarily abandon market-friendly practices but also did not embrace the neoliberalism of free trade agreements with the U.S. As a result of these elections and policies, the willingness for free trade just isn’t there among other countries outside of Chile, Panama, and Colombia, and no matter how badly Romney wants these agreements, the Rousseffs, Kirchners, Mujicas, Lugos, Correas, Moraleses, and Chavezes of the world are not going to accept them; to appeal to policies for a region that has vociferously rejected those policies and succeeded without them is, as you say, “ignorant” at best.

    While we’re on the topic of free trade treaties….it’s all well and good for Romney to promise that he’ll extol free trade, but extolling won’t make it happen in the U.S., either. Given that Congress that has to sign off on those treaties, and given how obdurate both Democrats and Republicans have become against such treaties (with Colombia and Panama languishing in the U.S. Congress for five years before finally gaining approval in 2011) it’s not exactly like this one rests all on Romney. While all candidates make numerous claims of all the things they will do in office, even though most of those pledges are actually dependent on Congressional approval constitutionally, Romney has been particularly bombastic about all of the accomplishments he’ll complete in his first 100 days; I get the function of such claims to drum up support for election, contrast yourself to other candidates, etc. But without congressional approval, the promises for free trade agreements (and many of his other stated goals) are meaningless (again, to say nothing of the fact that there just aren’t many countries left in the region that are willing to enter into free-trade agreements with a shaky U.S. economy that haven’t done so already).

    As for the economic policies, yes, Romney comments that he will work with “the region”. And what was one of my biggest problems? That his policy was one which drew on a perspective “where all countries are the same.” It’s one thing if we’re talking about Micronesia here, but we’re not; we’re talking about a region that is increasingly strong and diversified in economic power/interests, to say nothing of politics and social change; acknowledging that diversity would probably be a good thing, which was my point. If you actually pay attention to what I wrote, my central complaint with the policy overall was that, in a policy designed to outline his economic vision for the hemisphere, he didn’t mention Brazil once. Given that Brazil is the strongest economic and political power in the region, and that it has done better than any other country in the region in establishing a strong role in the international economy (since I originally wrote the post, Brazil has surpassed England to become the sixth-largest economy in the world), and given that Brazil has weathered the global economic crises better than the United States or Europe, he might want to pay a little more attention to Brazil in his plans, treating it more like an economic partner in the hemispher. Instead, he deals with the region in broad strokes without providing any specific referneces to the particularities of the area or of lessons that can be learned from neighbors to the south. One might call that “myopic.”

    And that was the main argument of the whole post. As I originally stated, any policy on the region that focuses on economic relations without mentioning the country that has shown the most remarkable growth, diversity, and stability is a policy that cannot be taken seriously. For somebody who lobs accusations of not paying attention to the substance of something, you ironically seem to have completely ignored the exact, main, and clear point of my original post.

    Certainly there may be any number of reasons individuals find Romney (or any other candidate) appealing; rarely does “policy on Latin America” become the one. But regarding the region, his hollow rhetoric that appeals to platitudes that are either meaningless or presume unquestioning quiescence from the region (thus arrogating the U.S. back to the role it tried to assume during Cold War), and the latter is not going to happen. Put simply, his policy on the region is not the sole determinant of his ability or worthiness as a candidate; however, for anybody interested in the region itself at anything beyond the most superficial of levels, there is plenty that is worrisome for its economic, political, and social ignorance on the region; instead of making hollow promises of pacts that the region spurned years ago and calling on empty symbols like “development,” it would have been far more encouraging if he had actually pointed to genuinely constructive and detailed discussion of the region. He failed to do so, and for that, I stand by my critiques of the policy proposals.

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