Things That Matter

As The Votes Are Counted, Latin America Wonders What A Biden Administration Would Mean For The Region

Apart from his hateful and racist rhetoric, Donald Trump has paid very little attention to Latin America. Since taking office in 2017, he’s made only a single visit there, to the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires. A region so used to U.S. leadership and/or interventionism has tried to adapt to this new arrangement with so little U.S. engagement.

Unlike in the past, when Latin American presidents were often vocal in their support for particular U.S. candidates, leaders are remaining silent. The presidents of Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Colombia spoke out in favor of Hilary Clinton in the last election—but there’s been far less vocal support for Joe Biden this time from the leadership.

That can largely be attributed to the harsh lessons of 2016 thanks to the Electoral College – a system much less democratic than the electoral system in Latin America. On top of that, nobody wants to risk dealing with an enraged Trump—even if only for the lame duck period until January. So, while citizens demonstrate in the streets against Trump, governments are remaining quiet.

A Biden Administration would likely focus a lot more on Latin America than the current administration.

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It’s obvious that Biden would approach the region very differently than Trump. The former vice president made more trips just to Guatemala—hardly a behemoth such as Mexico or Brazil, or a strategic interest such as Colombia—in his two terms than Trump has made to all of Latin America as president. 

Biden, who knows the region well from his time as vice president, has promised to end many of Mr. Trump’s immigration policies. He would stop building a wall along the Mexican border and offer a US $4-billion aid plan to boost prosperity in Central America, the origin of much of the migration.

However, some things are not likely to change. Latin America isn’t likely to become a major priority as the U.S. continues to face a dire public health and economic emergency. Within the region, Mexico would remain the focus because of its long land border — a major source of immigration and smuggled drugs — and its status as a top trade and investment partner.

Biden could help lead a major shift in human rights protections for the region.

Credit: Gerardo Vieyra / Getty Images

With Venezuela, as with Cuba, a Biden administration is unlikely to turn the clock straight back to Obama-era detente; the clout of anti-communist Latino voters in the key state of Florida will see to that. Cautious steps to build confidence are more likely.

With leaders in the Andean nations of Chile, Peru and Ecuador all due to step down following elections in the first year of a new U.S. president, Mr. Fernández of Argentina, a pragmatic leftist, stands out as one of the Latin American leaders who may benefit from a President Biden.

Climate change, energy, and environmental rules in the region will likely grow in importance.

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In a region so reliant on fossil fuels, climate change may prove to be an area of friction between Biden and local leaders. As president, Biden has outlined plans for a clean energy revolution and if he wins, he will face renewed pressure to confront Mexico’s AMLO, who has focused his entire economic vision on boosting oil and coal.

“Energy policy will be a key point on Biden’s domestic agenda and his domestic economic agenda as well as his foreign policy agenda. That will pose a challenge to the current Mexican government,” said Antonio Ortiz-Mena at Albright Stonebridge group, a consultancy.

Meanwhile, in the Amazon, Biden’s views on deforestation have already upset hard-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who is an ally to Trump. “Climate is a big one for Biden and … he will isolate Bolsonaro and his associates,” said a senior diplomat who follows Brazil closely. “For them, losing their big friend up north could be quite a problem. They have put all their eggs in that basket.”

Despite his racist attacks, there are pockets of support for Trump across Latin America.

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Although Biden would bring stability to the region, it’s true that Trump does still have pockets of support across Latin America. In fact, Mexico’s AMLO has proven to know how to effectively work alongside Trump to get what he wants.

Just last year, after the election of a leftist leader in Argentina, AMLO told Alberto Fernández – Argentina’s new leader – how to deal with the U.S. president: “With Trump you can do anything you want, just don’t say anything, don’t get into a confrontation with him and you’ll be fine.”

The advice was sound. While Trump likes to issue ultimatums to Latin American presidents, his bark is often worse than his bite. Threats to close the Mexican border, impose punitive tariffs on Brazil or to invade Venezuela all proved empty.

However, a Biden presidency could bring much needed stability and consistency to a region that is currently undergoing a major flux in politics. Across Latin America, the region is suffering from acute crises (immigration, economic, health, environmental) and having a Biden Administration as a partner could help deliver much needed results to governments currently struggling.

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