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Trump's first anniversary: A bewildered Latin America

The neighbors of the United States in the Western Hemisphere find it difficult to interpret the first year of the new administration

Donald Trump reaches his first anniversary as president of the United States having caused some recent fires in Latin America. His rude disregard for El Salvador and Haiti, due to the high figures of refugees sheltered in the U.S., and his harsh treatment of Colombia, for the increase in cocaine production, had damaged the relations. Although they were already complicated in the case of Mexico, throughout the year they had some good times, such as the presidents' dinner that Trump summoned in September in New York in which a united action was drawn on Venezuela.

▲Trump in his first 100 days as president [White House]

ARTICLEGarhem O. Padilla [Spanish version]

One year after the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald John Trump (the ceremony was on January 20), the controversy dominates the balance of the new administration, both in his domestic as well as international performance. The continental neighbors of the United States, in particular, show bewilderment about Trump's policies towards the hemisphere. On the one hand, they regret the American disinterest in commitments of economic development and multilateral integration; on the other hand, they note some activity in relation to some regional problems, such as the Venezuelan one. The actual balance is mixed, although there is unanimity that the language and many of Trump's forms threaten relationships.

From the TPP to NAFTA

In the economic field, the Trump era started with the definitive withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP), on January 23, 2017. This made it impossible to enter into force since the United States is the market through which above all, this agreement emerged. The U.S. withdrawal affected the perspectives of the Latin American countries participating in the initiative.

Then, the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), demanded by Trump, was opened. The doubts about the future of the NAFTA, signed in 1994 and that Trump has described as "disaster", have stood out in what is going of the administration. Some of its demands, which Mexico and Canada oppose, are to increase the share of products manufactured in the United States, and the "sunset" clause, which would force the treaty to be reviewed methodically every five years and suspend it if any of its three members did not agree. All this, arises from the idea of ​​the U.S. president to suspend the treaty if it is not favorable for his country.

Cuba and Venezuela

If the quarrels with Mexico have not yet reached to an end, in the case of Cuba, Trump has already retaliated against the Castro regime, with the expulsion in October of 15 Cuban diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in Washington in response to "the sonic attacks" that affected 24 U.S. diplomats on the island. The White House, in addition, has revoked some conciliatory measures of the Obama administration because the Castro regime is not responding with open-ended concessions.

As far as Venezuela is concerned, Trump has made strong efforts in terms of introducing measures and sanctions against corrupt officials, in addition to addressing the political situation with other countries, so that they support those efforts aimed at eradicating the Venezuelan crisis, thus generating multilateralism between American countries. However, this policy has detractors, who believe that the sanctions are not intended to achieve a long-term objective, and it is not clear how they would promote Venezuelan stability.

Although in those actions on Cuba and Venezuela Trump has alluded to the democratic principles violated by the governors of Havana and Caracas, his administration has not insisted especially on the commitment to human rights, democracy and moral values, as being usual in the argumentation of the U.S. foreign policy. Some critics point out that the Trump administration is willing to promote human rights only when they meet its political objectives.

This could explain the worsening of the opinion that exists in Latin America about the United States and about the relations with that country. According to the Latinobarómetro survey 2017, the favorable opinion has fallen to 67%, seven points below that at the end of the Obama administration, which was 74%. This survey shows a significant difference for Mexico, one of the countries that, without a doubt, has the worst levels of favorable opinion towards the Trump administration: in 2017 it was 48%, which means a fall of 29 points in comparison with 2016, in which it was 77%.

 

 

Immigration, withdrawal, decline

The restrictive immigration policies applied would also explain that rejection of the Trump administration by Latin American public opinion. In the immigration section the most recent is the decision not to renew the authorization to stay in the United States of thousands of Salvadorans and Haitians, who once entered the U.S. fleeing calamities in their countries.

We must also allude to Trump's efforts to achieve one of its main objectives since the beginning of his political campaign: to build a border wall with Mexico. The U.S. president has not had much success at this time, since although he has looked for ways to finance it, what he has managed to introduce in the budgets is very insignificant in relation to the estimated costs.

Trump's protectionism entails a withdrawal that may be accentuating the decline of the U.S. leadership in Latin America, especially against other powers. China has been increasing its economic and political performance in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Venezuela. Russia, for its part, has strengthened diplomatic and security relations with Cuba. It could be said that, taking advantage of the conflicts between Cuba and the United States, Moscow has tried to keep the island in its orbit through a series of investments.

Threats to security

This leads us to mention the new National Security Strategy of the United States, announced in December. The document presented by Trump addresses the rivalry with China and Russia, and also refers to the challenge posed by the regimes of Cuba and Venezuela, by the supposed threats to security they represent and the support of Russia they receive. Trump expressed great desire to see Cuba and Venezuela join "shared freedom and prosperity" and called for "isolating governments that refuse to act as responsible partners in advancing hemispheric peace and prosperity."

Similarly, the new U.S. Security Strategy refers to other challenges in the region, such as transnational criminal organizations, which impede the stability of Central American countries, especially Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. All in all, the document only dedicates one page to Latin America, in line with Washington's traditional attention given to the areas of the world that most affect their interests and security.

An opportunity for the United States to approach the Latin American countries will be the Summit of the Americas, which will be held next March in Lima. However, nothing is predictable given the characteristic attitude of the president, which leaves a large open space for possible surprises.

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