In anticipation of his May 2-4 trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out his perspectives on how regional cooperation can help to advance growth and prosperity in the Americas. In an exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly, Obama said that his sixth trip to the region will be an opportunity to consolidate joint efforts on citizen security, increase trade and investment, launch clean energy partnerships, and expand exchanges between citizens across the hemisphere.
On Thursday, Obama will travel to Mexico, where he will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. “Building on Mexico’s presidency of the G20 last year, we’ll continue working to sustain the global economic recovery, promote global development and address climate change,” Obama told AQ. The president also highlighted Mexico’s “growing leadership in the region and on the world stage," and praised Mexico’s role in the negotiations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he expects to be completed by the end of this year. He emphasized that TPP would bring “rewards [that] would be substantial for all our countries.”
On Friday, Obama will travel to Costa Rica, where he will meet President Laura Chinchilla and other Centro American leaders at the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana—SICA) summit in San José. During this meeting, Obama will draw attention to the importance of finding new ways to involve governments, the private sector and civil society in reducing crime and violence, as well as encourage regional partners to address citizen security from a more holistic perspective. Energy security and cooperation to provide clean and affordable energy also will be on the agenda.
Immigration will be a backdrop to the president’s discussions given the large number of Central American and Mexican migrants in the United States. Here, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible to take advantage of the significant contributions that immigrants make to the U.S. economy. “We need to fix our broken immigration system to make sure that every business and every worker in the United States is playing by the same set of rules,” he said.
Read President Obama’s exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly here.
Pope Benedict’s resignation on Monday took the world by surprise, and brought hope to Latin America—home of 42 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics—that the next leader of the Catholic Church could be the first to come from outside of Europe.
According to two senior Vatican officials, Latin America’s time has come. Archbishop Gerhard Muellet told Düsseldorf’s Rheinische Post newspaper that ”Christianity isn't centered on Europe,” and on a similar statement, Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch stated that the Church's future is no longer in Europe. For others, however, the higher number of European Cardinals may shift the odds against a Latin American Pope.
All Cardinals less than 80 years old are candidates and can vote to choose the new Pope at a conclave, a closed-door election process that takes place in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The leading Latin American candidates in the next conclave are Odilo Scherer, 63, archbishop of Sao Paolo, and the Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, 69, who announced to the world the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2005.
Despite Latin America’s long Catholic tradition, a pontiff’s first visit to the region didn’t take place until 1968 when Pope Paul VI visited Bogota, Colombia. The most recent visit was in 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI visited Mexico and made a historic appearance in Cuba, at a time when, according to Cuba Study Group’s Tomas Bilbao, the country “has openly recognized the failure of its current economic model, has encouraged its citizens to openly debate the need for change, and has even recognized the legitimate role of Cubans living abroad in Cuba’s future.”
Pope Benedict XVI, 85, will step down for health reasons on February 28, becoming the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to give up his post. The new pontiff’s first visit to the region could take place in July 2013 during World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil.
This is a rush, unedited transcript of the presidential debate on foreign policy at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida on October 22, 2012:
Welcome and thanks, 50 years after the Cuban missile crisis and as a segue I want to ask about...Libya...talking point...Afghanistan in 2014, maybe, maybe not...talking point...Iraq!...horses and bayonets...Iran will never get nukes...talking point...the 1980s called and they want their foreign policy back...talking point...you want to cut defense...do not...do too...sequestration will NOT happen...liar, liar, pants on fire...talking point...Iran will NOT get nukes...the U.S. economy is bad...it’s better...it’s worse...I know how to fix it...you have never done foreign policy...Iran!...China is a big country far away, they do bad things to their money, it hurts us...it helps your off-shored investments...yours too...talking point...we are the world’s beacon of hope...did I mention Iran?...please vote for me...please vote for me.
This is only an approximation of how the “foreign policy” debate went. Still, the evening was a play for undecided voters in swing states—with the economy as the hook. An outside observer would be hard-pressed to believe that U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century had to do with anything beyond the Middle East; Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Iran, Iraq, and Syria were all discussed at some length over the course of 90 minutes. What about Europe? China was debated briefly at the end, and received what seemed like cursory attention especially since much of the viewing audience had long gone over to watch baseball and football games. Governor Mitt Romney purposefully brought Latin America into the mix on the trade and economic front, but the issues were not pursued and were quickly dropped.
Nuclear proliferation? Global climate change? The South China Sea? Japan? The use of force? Nothing.
Latin America and the Caribbean’s regional economy will grow by 3.2 percent over the rest of 2012 and will improve to 4.0 percent growth in 2013, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The 2012 Economic Survey of Latin America and the Caribbean, which forecasts macroeconomic conditions in the region, was released this morning at ECLAC headquarters in Santiago, Chile.
This edition of the survey focuses on the external difficulties that caused the recent economic slowdown in the region, such as the continued crisis in Europe and the decrease in prices for the region's main export commodities. The report also highlights the varying responses to the global financial crisis and provides growth rate estimates by country.
Chile and Peru are among Latin America's fastest-growing economies through 2012, with 5.5 and 4.3 percent growth, respectively. Conversely, Brazil's economy, the largest in the region, decelerated 0.8 percent, with the country growing at just 3.0 percent.
ECLAC's June Macroeconomic Report on Latin America and the Caribbean had forecasted a 0.6 percent drop in regional growth, from 4.3 percent in 2011 to in 3.7 percent 2012.
We are still wondering just what happened in Benghazi, Libya, with the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the State Department’s Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
That this tragedy happened on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans makes it all the more difficult. Eleven years later, we have another September 11 to grieve. What have we learned? What lesson should we glean from such calamity?
At best, the tragedy reminds us to honor the dedication, sacrifices and service of our personnel—and not just those serving in the military. All those who knew him say that Stevens represented the very best of our foreign service.
At this point, it is not clear how and why critical warning signs were overlooked. Hopefully we will get good information about what happened—before the U.S. elections in November. As a first step, the U.S. is reevaluating the safety of our diplomatic personnel around the world including in our own hemisphere. One thing is clear, however: No matter our best intentions, people will want to do us harm. That is a safe assumption.
Where does Latin America stand when it comes to contributing peacekeepers to United Nations (UN) missions?
In general, there is a large presence of Latin American peacekeepers in Haiti, which is the only mission in the Western Hemisphere. However, Latin American countries send their troops to many other missions around the world. Their contributions are not highlighted as much as the large presence of Latin American peacekeepers in Haiti. In terms of numbers, Brazil and Argentina send the most troops and police to missions around the world. At the same time, there is a general push to try to get more countries in the region to send peacekeepers through organizations such the Latin American Association of Training Centers for Peace (ALCOPAZ – Asociación Latinoamericana de Centros de Entrenamientos para Operaciones de Paz), based in Rio de Janeiro.
Since 2009, the following countries from the Americas have contributed to UN peacekeeping missions including:
Argentina: Liberia, Ivory Coast, Middle East, South Sudan, Cyprus, East Timor, Haiti, and the Western Sahara.
Bolivia: Haiti, the DRC, Darfur, Afghanistan, Liberia, South Sudan, and the Ivory Coast.
A couple of weeks ago, a small but evocative display of 30 abstract sculptures, paintings and engravings by artist Manuel Felguérez opened in the stunning boomerang-shaped museum designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki for Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts. The exhibition of recent works by Felguérez, one of the most prominent members of the generation that helped pave a new way in Mexican art beyond the aesthetic ideas of Diego Rivera and the Mexican muralists, was quite an event. And indeed it was intended to mark a special occasion: the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mexico and China.
Despite the quality of the exhibition and the presence of the sculptor and painter himself, in reality this is not a common event. Not only is a Latin American art exhibition in China a rare occurrence but, sadly, this cultural exchange mirrors how little importance nations in the region give to a country that has already become their first or second trade partner.
Over the past couple of years only a few major exhibitions have been organized by Latin American countries in China: Colombia brought a large sample of Pre-Hispanic gold objects to the Shanghai Museum and Peru exhibited a range of objects made by Pre-Incan civilizations at the National Museum in Beijing last year. Very little modern art has been displayed, with the possible exceptions of Felguérez and the kinetic works of Venezuela's Carlos Cruz Díez in Ningbo.
But it's not just art. The presence of prominent Latin American intellectuals has generally been scarce. Last year's only high profile visit was that of Mexican writer Sergio Pitol, probably the Latin American intellectual with the closest ties to China, after having lived here for almost a year just before the Cultural Revolution. Argentine poet Juan Gelman and Peruvian novelist—and Nobel laureate—Mario Vargas Llosa have both visited China, albeit on invitations from Spain's Instituto Cervantes. The only important author to visit during this first half of 2012 has been Peruvian writer Fernando Iwasaki, who spoke in the Chinese capital last week.
The UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) released a report yesterday in Santiago which detailed the marked decline in poverty rates across Latin America since 1990. According to the report, “Social Panorama of Latin America 2011,” the region’s poverty rate fell from 48.4 percent in 1990 to 31.4 percent in 2010. Similarly, the indigence rate decreased in the same time period from 22.6 percent to 12.3 percent.
Despite these encouraging signs of growth, there were still 177 million poor people in Latin America at the end of 2010, 70 million of whom were living in extreme poverty. Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of ECLAC, commented, “This progress is threatened by the yawning gaps in the productive structure in the region and by the labor markets which generate employment in low-productivity sectors.”
The report noted that poverty increased during the 20-year span in Honduras and Mexico, at 1.7 percent and 1.5 percent respectively. The biggest declines were in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay.
In ECLAC’s announcement of the report, the economic body projected that the region’s poverty rate would close at 30.4 percent at the end of 2011—meaning 3 million less people will be living in poverty at the start of 2012 than at the end of 2010. However, due to the increase in food prices, ECLAC expects the indigence rate will rise to 12.8 percent by year’s end.
Latin America is changing. Do we have the tools and intellectual framework to deal with it?
From Brazil to Mexico, Latin America has found new diplomatic muscle, asserting itself into international issues and all the while deepening ties with new trade partners from China to Russia. At the same time, despite increased rhetoric of regional solidarity and independence from the U.S., the region is at its most divided, ideologically and in its economic trajectories.
All this presents a challenge, not just to U.S. policymakers, but to policy analysts and scholars alike. For the first time, Latin America is becoming a complex international relations topic.
In the past, Latin Americanists (a term I apply loosely to people who work in or on the region) have tended to focus on domestic and development issues. Discussions of U.S. policy, by policymakers and analysts alike, have followed a different path for Latin America than for other regions.
In the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries Latin America was largely seen as the backyard of the United States. During the Cold War, the region was the staging ground for proxy wars between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, in which broader ideological battles were projected onto (and inflamed) internal social, political struggles. With the third wave of democratization and the fall of the Berlin Wall came the heady days of collective action for democracy and the promise of economic integration.
That ended. And with the rise of the anti-globalization governments aspiring to build a multipolar world by cozying up to rogue regimes (read: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez), the rise of China and India with their voracious appetites for natural resources, and Brazil’s aspirations to find a political role commensurate with its size, economic potential and independent world view, we’re no longer dealing with your grandfather or even father’s region.
Latin America has entered the realm of foreign policy in which the U.S. is not the primary axis around which countries define their economic and political interests or defend themselves. That’s not to say that, as one unfortunately titled article in Foreign Affairs said, the U.S. is “losing Latin America.” Yes, U.S. influence has waned in the region, giving political and economic space for these diverse relations in the region. But despite all the talk of other countries eclipsing it in the region, it remains a powerful force in defining the agenda, both positive and negative, for the region.
What is significantly different is that the U.S. now has to grapple with multiple, competing issues, a far more diverse region (in terms of orientation and interests), greater potential for intra-regional friction, and more contrarian countries—even when they may agree on broad points of principle.
Well, it was fun while it lasted. What was shaping up to be the year of Latin America in the early rounds of this year’s World Cup will see two European teams fighting for the championship on July 11. The best that Latin America can now hope for is a 3rd place finish for Uruguay. That'd be a terrific result for Uruguay, of course, the best finish for that nation since they last won it all in 1950. But for Latin America as a whole, the result is underwhelming.
Brazil’s surprising defeat at the hands of the Flying Dutchmen, Germany’s wipeout of Argentina and Spain’s close call with Paraguay ensured that Uruguay, which defeated Ghana in penalty kicks, would be the regional standard bearer in the final four. Tiny Uruguay outlasted the region’s soccer giants, and started off well in its semi-final match, tied 1-1 with the Netherlands at half time. Alas, their luck ran out with two superb quick strikes from the Dutch in the second half that put the game out of reach, despite an injury time goal that closed the gap to 3-2 and a furious final rush from Uruguay at the end. Throughout the tournament, Uruguay proved to be a highly skilled and creative team, particularly effective on dead balls in the final third of the field. For their part, Holland has tied its best previous finishes, in 1974 and 1978, when it lost championship games to West Germany and Argentina, respectively. Will they finally be successful in 2010?