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    Latin America and the United States: A painful vicinity

A year after the Donald Trump came into power; the grandiloquent, ambiguous, and hostile style of the president has set the stage form the relationships between the United States and Latin America. Several matters of the new administration have collided with the interests of the government's inhabitants of the region, marking the path of the difficult vicinity.

Likewise, some of the promises of the campaign trail carried out by the then Republican candidate and that directly involved Latin America have been making their way, demonstrating the will of President Trump of “America First”.

To begin with, the purpose of reinforcing the border and preventing the arrival of illegal immigrants (or expel those already in the country) shows the extent of how some sectors of the American public opinion has reinforced the idea that a major part of their issues are due to foreign elements; thus the perseverance of President Trump in building an impenetrable wall between the US and Mexico and also toughening migratory regulations.

Although to date Congress has not approved the requested 20,000 million, what rings true is that the White House has opened a metal and emotional barrier between its citizens and its southern neighbors.

The migratory policy is also undergoing a similar fate, as the administration has decided to repeal measures which benefitted some Latin-American communities. One of these measures concerns the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) an immigration policy in which former President Barack Obama granted minors who entered the country illegally to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a renewable two-year work permit.

However, we mustn’t forget that the Obama administration broke the deportation record by deporting 2.8 million illegal aliens, of which 96% of them were of Latin origin; therefore 2 million people returned to México and more and half a million were deported to Central America.

Last September President Trump discontinued DACA but approved a six-month extension to provide Congress time to renegotiate a permanent deal.

If by March 5th of next year the funds have not been approved, approximately 800.000 youngsters will be deported. Furthermore, the administration also announced their decision to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Haiti with a delayed effective date of 18 months to allow for an orderly transition before the designation terminates on July 22, a status that protected Haitian nationals from the natural disasters of two decades prior.

If this becomes a reality, close to 57,000 Hondurans,  2,500 Nicaraguans, 50,000 Haitians, and 200,000 Salvadorians will the expelled from America during the next two years.

Termination of NAFTA will impact the region

Trade relations is another topic where interests of the US and the rest of the region collide, as President Trump insists in blaming the loss of jobs and diminishing competitiveness of the US to production offshoring and low wages in transnational enclaves.

These issues would be a hard blow to the foreign free trade agreements and particularly to NAFTA. Therefore the insistence of the administration to renegotiate the deal of the agreement established 20 years ago with Canada and Mexico.

Although a revision of the agreement had already been established before, current discussions, which are in the fifth round, are being held under an atmosphere of growing tension amid threats from Washington to definitely terminate the agreement if they do not obtain substantial benefits during the negotiations.

Their demands to NAFTA range from establishing minimum amounts of US materials in automobiles to discarding a key mechanism of dispute resolution, including a clause of automatic expiration.

If the agreement is terminated, the consequences for the Mexican economy would be devastating, given their close links with their northern neighbor. Mexico is the second most important market for US export and its third commercial partner.

Likewise, although not immediately but significantly, the renegotiation terms or its termination would affect Latin America, especially the countries which also have a free trade bilateral agreement with America (Peru, Colombia, Panamá and Central America), as Washington would most likely turn protectionist in its political economy towards these countries.

Cuban antagonism

In the same manner, some bilateral links between the White House and the region have been earmarked by discord; such as the case of the relations with Cuba, where the administration decided to revert the efforts of Obama to stabilize relations with the Cuban administration.

Past initiatives had been directed to regularize economic relations, facilitate travel to the island and reestablish diplomatic relationships, resulting in a reopening of the US embassy in Havana in 2015, after half a century of disputes.

Some US congressman including Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Mario Díaz-Balart have contributed in part to reinstate the antagonism with the Cuban regime.

However, this position seems to go against the change in mentality and needs of good part of the Cuban community. According to recent surveys carried out by Florida International University, more than 60% of Cuban-Americans in Miami support the end of the US embargo and 70% agrees with normalizing relationships between both countries.

Tensions between both countries seem to have risen, as demonstrated by recent events such as the mysterious sonic attacks against US diplomats in Havana, which led to the expulsion of Cuban diplomats in Washington and also led the White House to consider shutting down the US embassy in Havana once again.

To increase tensions, the maiden speech of President Donald Trump to the United Nations General Assembly was ill-directed towards the Cuban government, reasserting that the economic embargo would be maintained until the required reforms were in place.

Venezuela, another controversial scenario

The Trump administration has also been willing to exert greater pressure towards the government of Nicolás Maduro, by means of a financial blockage and international isolation.

Firstly the US imposed sanctions against high-ranking Venezuelan official as well as economic restrictions to the Chavista government.

These sanctions include forbidding purchasing Venezuelan and Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA, for its Spanish acronym) public debt in an effort of economically strangulating the regime, blocking the possibility of foreign investment and limiting new credits, pushing the Venezuelan economy towards a default.

Furthermore it has declared Venezuela as a “violent narco-state” in an attempt to place this Latin American country in the agenda of the U.N. Security Council seeking for it to be treated as a threat to international security. However, the Venezuelan government has successfully found the support of China and Russia in order to prevent international condemnation.

Therefore the balance of the first political year of the administration of President  Donald Trump towards Latin America is not optimistic at all and envisage that relationships with the vicinity will remain in a torturous path in the years to come.

Consejo Editorial