Like a Joe Biden government
can change policy
from United States
to Latin America
Four years after being shaken by the arrival of Donald Trump to power, the policy of the United States towards Latin America will once again take a sharp turn with the triumph of the opponent Joe Biden.
Indeed, the profound differences between Biden and Trump on how to conduct the foreign relations of the greatest global power emerge clearly in their approaches to the region. While Trump prioritized almost exclusively cutting migration from Latin America to the US, Biden proposes increasing continental cooperation on problems that cause this exodus in the region, such as violence and poverty.
The president-elect has also proposed raising the importance of other issues on the hemispheric agenda, including human rights, the environment and corruption, which will test Washington's link with countries such as Mexico or Brazil, according to experts. And while the Venezuela crisis is expected to remain a hot topic, Biden may change Trump's strategy for winning elections in that country.
Many foresee that a Biden policy for Latin America will be more like the one that prevailed during the Barack Obama administration between 2009 and 2017, when he was vice president with a role as articulator south of the Rio Grande. But some warn that even that antecedent is relative.
"2020 is not 2008 or 2012: the region has changed ... Going back to Obama is not possible, because the conditions are not the same," says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a center for regional analysis in Washington.
In his government's relationship with Latin America, Trump highlighted as great achievements his agreements with Mexico and Central American countries to contain migrants in their territories. "We forged historic alliances with Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to stop human trafficking," Trump told the United Nations General Assembly in September. But the pacts affect, among others, asylum seekers in the United States and Trump reached those agreements based on threats of economic or commercial punishment to the countries involved.
Instead, Biden opposes continuing the construction of the wall that Trump has promoted but failed to achieve along the border with Mexico and promises to restore the US role "as a safe place for refugees and asylum seekers." . But some warn that a Biden administration will have to be cautious to prevent migrants from the region from interpreting that the US borders are opening.
"That would be a disaster, both political and humanitarian," says Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center, a forum for global issues in Washington.
Biden, who has sought to distance himself from the high number of deportations by the Obama administration, promoted as vice president in 2015 an assistance plan for Central America after the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors to the US-Mexico border.
"The emphasis on addressing the causes (of emigration from Latin America, like) poverty, youth unemployment, lack of education, those things fell by the wayside with Trump. And it is logical to assume that they would again be a high priority in a Biden government, "says Arnson.
But a question now is how Latin American governments would receive a Biden agenda that will put more emphasis on domestic problems in their countries, issues that Trump left in the background. For example, Trump managed to improve his relationship with the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, after agreeing on a new trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada (T-MEC) and lowering the tenor of his criticism of his southern neighbor on issues such as security.
As president, Biden will seek to maintain a good relationship with Mexico given the need for bilateral cooperation in various areas, experts anticipate.
"What I do think we are going to see and can complicate the relationship is that the issues of human rights, democracy and corruption are also going to be part of a very broad agenda" under the Biden government, says Shifter.
"Maybe AMLO is not going to be happy with that agenda, but it is a much more traditional agenda and does not depend on Trump's erratic form," he adds.
In the case of Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has sought to cultivate a close relationship with Trump based on his ideological affinity and political alignment. Instead, Biden's plan to put environmental issues on the table may generate tensions with the South American giant. Bolsonaro recently dismissed as "cowardly threats" a recent idea by Biden to offer Brazil a US $ 20 billion international fund to halt Amazon deforestation or face "economic consequences."
Other important differences between Biden and Trump emerge in their plans for Venezuela and Cuba. With regard to the island, Biden proposes "a new policy" that reverses limitations on travel and remittances imposed by Trump and promotes Cuban-Americans as "ambassadors for freedom." But Arnson argues that "it would be a mistake to think that a Biden policy would return to the Obama administration's policy in terms of normalization" of relations with Cuba without political changes on the island.
In Venezuela, Biden sees economic sanctions as "one of the tools" of a strategy that includes more humanitarian assistance, coordinated international pressure on the government of Nicolás Maduro and support for democratic actors to hold free elections in the country. The president-elect has also planned to give the Temporary Protection Statute (TPS, for its acronym in English) to Venezuelan immigrants so that they can legally reside in the US and avoid returning to their country in crisis.
Experts believe that Biden will thus depart from Trump's policy focused on the imposition of unilateral sanctions that have failed to remove Maduro from power. "It's another approach, another style, but it's not being a pigeon," says Shifter. "I think Biden is very clear that Maduro is a dictator who so far has not negotiated in good faith."