Due to Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential election this November North American foreign policy will experience radical changes. The new government creates hopes and fears. On the one hand, there is hope cooperation with Russia will be improved. On the other hand, peace dialogues with Iran are expected to worsen. However, international geopolitical equilibrium will have a different settlement.
The US has always influenced South American political history due to its geographical proximity and its economic interests. So how will Latin America be affected by Trump’s foreign policy? Hilary Clinton was supposed to continue Obama’s political strategy in the continent. But which heritage did Obama leave in South America?
During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama became famous worldwide because of his charm and great oratory skills. In his electoral platform there was a message of cooperation and peace to all Latin American governments. Obama’s victory thus was celebrated by leftist Presidents in the entire continent. Lula – the former Brazilian President from 2002 to 2011 – said that Barack’s election was a historical moment for the world, “In the same way that Brazil elected a metalworker (Lula himself), Bolivia an aboriginal (Evo Morales), Venezuela a (Hugo) Chavez and Paraguay a bishop (Fernando Lugo), I believe it will be an extraordinary thing if in the biggest economy in the world a black person (Barack Obama) is elected president.” Also Chavez was optimistic about improving Venezuelan cooperation with the US.
Obama promised to improve North American partnership with South America based on multilateralism. But the opportunity to repair the relationship between Latin American countries and the US was already lost in 2009. In June 2009, the elected President of Honduras Manuel Zaleya was overthrown by a military coup. The US foreign office considered Zaleya as a dangerous leftist leader. Even though the OAS (Organization of American States) expelled Honduras after their break of constitutional order, Hilary Clinton, secretary state at the time, and President Obama pushed for new elections rather than asking for the return of Zaleya, the democratically elected President. US government immediately recognized the legitimacy of the new Lobio government in Honduras and it pressured other Latin countries to do the same. Clinton, when talking about Honduras coup, said “Now I didn’t like the way it looked or the way they did it, but they had a strong argument that they had followed the constitution and the legal precedents.” However, Hugo Llorens, the US ambassador in Honduras stated “Zelaya may have committed illegalities but there is no doubt that the military, supreme court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the executive branch.”
Obama’s strategy in Honduras thus worsened the US relationship with Brazil and with all leftist parties in South America. Furthermore, the Colombian and US government signed an agreement on military cooperation in 2009 without consulting any other Latin American countries. American and Colombian economic and military alliance finds its roots since the 1990 with Plan for Colombia establishment. Former President Bill Clinton approved a massive military and economic aid initiative to fund Colombian struggle against drug cartels and left-wing insurgent groups. The aim of the plan was to supply Colombia with military training and military technologies to contrast violence in the country. The flow of money from the US government to Colombia has not stopped since then. Former President G.W. Bush and Obama maintained Plan for Colombia. According to the US Foreign Office, in 2012 the US allocated 644.304.766$ in Colombia. Breaking down the aid, we discover that 446.552.148$ were funds for military and security help. The tight relationship between the two countries is confirmed by the trade deal signed in 2011.
Obama was a strong sponsor of the peace dialogue between the FARC and Santos government. He even promised to increase American economic aid in Colombia of 450 million of dollars. Even though Obama was not personally involved in the discussion of the peace agreement in Colombia, he has started a process of normalization with Cuba. The US and Cuba has not had diplomatic relations since the 1960s. After the communist revolution in the country, the US imposed a trade embargo against Cuba. Obama’s plan was to improve Cuban and American relations by reviewing Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism and by ending the economic embargo. After formal talks, American Congress will be called to vote for the official revocation of the embargo. The new course, however, was not just due to Obama’s effort. The role of the former Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis was fundamental to foster peace between the two countries. Regardless the fact that it was a multilateral effort, the improvement of Cuban and American relations has been the most considerable heritage of Obama’s presidency in South America.
Obama has not been able to improve the precarious diplomatic relationship whit Venezuela and Ecuador. Even if the US is the largest trading partner of Venezuela, US governments have not sent Ambassadors in the Latin country since 2006. Their diplomatic relations are now extremely tense. Maduro accused US governments of imperialism and of trying to defeat his government in Venezuela, while American diplomacy denounced human rights violations against Maduro’s adversaries. The latter, instead, declared US Ambassador Persona non-grata in 2011 in response to the release of secret documents in which US diplomatists accused Ecuadorian President Correa to be corrupted. In the last months of 2015 Ecuador and the US re-established diplomatic relations. However, there is still a considerable tension between them. Guillaume Long, Ecuadorian foreign minister, said that he wanted to cooperate with the US but American governments needed to not interfere with internal political decisions in South America.
In the last eight years Brazilian and American relations have been problematic. After the disclosure of NSA secret reports on Brazil, former Brazilian President Dilma cancelled her official state visit in 2014. NSA was spying the conversations of top Brazilian managers and politics, even Dilma was recorded during her private calls. It appears, at least, unusual that US secret services were spying the establishment of a country which is a stable democracy and an American ally for the last thirty years. Obama’s presidency had tense diplomatic relations also with Argentina and her former President Kirchner. Specifically, their conflict was about Argentinian default in 2014. American hedge funds, which bought cheap Argentinian bonds in 2001, were asking for a full pay out that Kirchner refused to provide.
Interestingly, both, Dilma and Kirchner, found themselves at the centre of scandals the last year. The former was indirectly involved in Petrobas investigation, the latter was accused to have covered Iranian responsibility on the terroristic attack which killed 84 people in Buenos Aires in 1994. With their defeat, Latin America is going through the end of the leftist season. The new Argentinian President, Mauricio Macri, has already endorsed his priority to mend relations with investors and big foreign groups. The new Brazilian President, Michel Temer, has already approved liberalizations on natural resources exploitation which will attract foreign investors in Brazil. The new courses in Brazil and Argentina seem to find North American support. Actually, Macri and Temer will be aiming to improve Argentinian and Brazilian economic and diplomatic cooperation with the US.
Eight years of Obama’s presidency has left lights and shadows. On the one hand, he fostered normalization with Cuba and he played an important role in FARC’s and the Colombian government’s peace agreement. On the other hand, he was not able to radically change American relations with Latin countries. Obama promised to establish multilateral relations with South American countries failed. It cannot be identified a turning point in how Obama’s governments interfere with internal political affairs of Latin countries.
Trump, uncertainty of US future
Trump has promised to radically change US foreign policy. However, it is unclear how he will do so. During his presidential campaign, he contradicted himself several times. Trump said that he would reduce America’s intervention in the world. First of all, Trump’s disengagement will alter US commitment to international organizations. NATO and the defence agreements with Japan and South Korea could experience a decrease of US military and financial dedication. In addition, the relationships with China and Iran seem to be critical factors in the international equilibrium. Trump criticized Obama’s the Nuclear Deal with Iran, he could run away from the agreement and re-impose sanctions. His proposal to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese import would start an economic conflict with the Chinese government.
The South American continent does not seem to be a priority in the new President’s agenda. Three main topics on Latin America dominated his electoral campaign:
(i) According to Pew Hispanic Center, in 2014 there were 11. 7 million Mexican immigrants residing in the US and 6.5 million of them would be illegally living in the country. So when he promised that 11 million illegal immigrants would be deported, it was clear whom he was referring to. Trump even claimed that he would force the Mexican government to build a wall on the border between the US and Mexico. His economic plan for “making America great again” claimed to bring back manufacturing factories to the US. Trump said he would overtax North American companies which produce in Mexico. After having described Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals and rapists, in August 2016 Trump officially met Mexican President Nieto. But there were no significant results from their conversation. Actually, while Trump said Niento agreed to pay for a wall on the border, the Mexican President posted a tweet to contradict Trump’s claim.
(ii) Trump is one of the few Republican leaders that support the process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the US. The President-elected is said to agree with the “Cuban Thaw”, however, he argues that the US could have made a better deal. In this case, uncertainty about the future of Cuba-US relations is driven by the fact that the majority of the Republic party does not support the normalization of Cuban and North American relations.
(iii) Even thought Nicholas Maduro, President of Venezuela, recently stated to hope for improving his relations with the US in Trump presidency, few days ago he called Trump a bandit. During his campaign, Trump was not friendly to Maduro, he said that “Venezuelans are good people, but they have been horribly damaged by the socialists in Venezuela and the next president of the United States must show solidarity with all the oppressed people in the hemisphere.” Even if Trump does not believe in “exporting democracy”, it is unclear how he will work to improve US relations with Venezuela.
It is not clear what Trump’s presidency will mean for American and Latin countries relations, Trump is still a mystery. Obama’s presidency instead was an unsuccessful hope that the US would have been able to establish multilateral forms of cooperation with Latin American countries.
Delusions of U.S. Hegemony In A Multi-Polar World: Trump Visits Europe
To say that US foreign policy is delusional is not an exaggeration. It seeks political hegemony and a relationship with China and Russia akin to what it has had with Japan and Germany, that is, go ahead and develop in the economic sphere but don’t try to flex political or military muscle.
There are at least two problems with this scenario: China is now the world’s largest economy on a purchasing power parity basis, and the Russians have the nuclear capacity to make a wasteland out of the US. Russian weapons systems can also be superior.
Take the S-400 in comparison with the US Patriot missile defense system — the purpose of these surface-to-air systems is to shoot down incoming missiles or aircraft. The S-400 has a more powerful radar, double the range, is faster (Mach 6 vs Mach 5), takes five minutes to set up against one hour for the Patriot, and is cheaper. China has just bought 32 launchers and is expected to buy more, thereby challenging Japan, Taiwan (which it claims) and other neighbors for control of the skies, as it is doing over the seas bordering itself. NATO member Turkey has recently signed a purchase deal, and Iran wants to, as does Qatar after its recent spat with Saudi Arabia. If Russia supplies Iran, any attack planned by the US or Israel would prove to be very costly and politically infeasible.
In our world of instant and continuous news feeds, one can imagine a bemused Vladimir Putin listening to Trump exhorting NATO members to increase contributions to NATO — an organization designed to counter the Russian threat — specifically castigating Germany’s Angela Merkel for being beholden to Russia with her country’s reliance on Russian natural gas.
Early next week he meets Mr. Putin in Helsinki, fresh from his soft power World Cup triumph as the world beat a path to Russia. What does Mr. Trump tell the leader of the world’s largest country covering eleven time zones? US political hegemony is a non-starter.
Europeans clearly want access to China, its labor, its markets, even finance, and with it comes Russia and their numerous initiatives together including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIE) their answer to the US-sponsored World Bank. That Britain joined AIIB contrary to US wishes is a clear sign of China rising as the US declines comparatively; Britain, having faced up to the US, was followed by a rush of European countries.
Russia wants sanctions lifted. What does the US want? Crimea is a non-starter. Help with Iran? For the Russians, it has become an important ally both with regard to Syria and as a Mideast power in its own right. Mr. Trump’s instincts are right. But what he achieves is another matter. Childish petulance accompanied by a different story for different leaders would leave an observer with little optimism.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump manufactures and markets his own reality; this time on his popularity (‘I think they like me a lot in the UK’) despite avoiding roads and traveling by helicopter when possible during his pared down UK visit. Hordes of demonstrators undeterred have a giant parade balloon several stories high of a bloated child with the trademark blonde hair. It is one the largest demonstrations ever outside the US against a sitting president.
This 70-year-old program prepares young women for leadership
A record number of women are running for public office this year. In the near future, we can expect more female public servants representing the American people — from local chambers to Capitol Hill. In light of this exciting trend, it is important to highlight programs that help develop young women to become the next generation of female leaders. One such program? American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Girls Nation.
ALA Girls Nation is a weeklong mock experiential learning program, one that positions high-potential teens for a lifetime of public service to our country. This summer, 100 female high school seniors — two from each of our 50 states — will convene in Washington, D.C., for the 72nd Annual ALA Girls Nation. Each teenage girl represents her state as a “senator” — mirroring the structure of government at the federal level. During this transformative weeklong program, these senators form a fictitious nation, become “Nationalists” and “Federalists,” enthusiastically campaign to hold office, and — perhaps most important — accept and celebrate the outcome of these elections and come together to serve for the good of the nation.
ALA is a nonpartisan organization committed to advocating for veterans’ issues, promoting patriotism, mentoring America’s youth and proudly presenting ALA Girls Nation for over 70 years. The ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation are privately-funded and presented by members of the organization. The world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, ALA was chartered in 1919 to support the mission of The American Legion.
More than 6,500 young women have attended ALA Girls Nation since its inception in 1947. Each participant leaves the program informed about the fundamentals of U.S. government — and the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizens. It lasts for one short week. Yet the seven-day experience — one that champions the legislative process and serious collaboration — has laid the foundation for thousands of bright futures.
Many alumnae have chosen careers in public service, putting their ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation experience into action to serve the people. The lessons learned about teamwork, resilience and the democratic principles that guide the republic in which we live are applied in real life by many alums who have gone on to serve at the local, state and national level — including high-ranking members of the judiciary.
Justice Lorie S. Gildea began her tenure as chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2010. She participated in the state-level version of ALA Girls Nation, known as ALA Girls State in 1979 — and the program, Gildea said, “empowered her to embark upon a lifetime of service and leadership.”
“At ALA Girls State, we learn that every voice has value and that every woman needs to use her voice,” said Gildea. “We also learn that we need to be courageous and confident enough to take life up on the opportunities that present themselves to us.”
“An informed citizenry is essential to the success of our democracy. ALA Girls State [and ALA Girls Nation] plays a vital role in informing and educating our future leaders,” Gildea said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to learn about and see firsthand how the three branches of our government work. I am so grateful to the American Legion Auxiliary for presenting ALA Girls State and teaching me and thousands of Minnesota’s young women about the value of participation and the possibility of leadership.”
Other alumnae have gone on to hold leadership roles in industries spanning government, military, media, education and law. Notable alumnae include Jane Pauley, national media personality; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, president of Augustana University and former South Dakota U.S. representative; Susan Bysiewicz, former Connecticut Secretary of State; Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former Air Force aide to the president; Ann Richards, former governor of Texas; and Susan Porter-Rose, former chief of staff to First Lady Barbara Bush — among countless others.
For some girls, it is their first opportunity to connect with peers with common interests. For others, it is the first time they encounter students whose perspectives differ from their own. For all, it is a moment in time when a select few teenage girls from all over the country come together to discover and celebrate the honor and importance of participating in our democracy. To learn more, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.
Colombia-Venezuela: A Conflict with US Participation
The victory of right-wing candidate Ivan Duque in the Colombian presidential elections is not the best news for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The newly elected president has already refused to recognize Maduro’s victory in the recent elections in Venezuela and announced that he would not send an ambassador to Caracas.
It is believed that Ivan Duque is the successor of the political line of the Colombian ex-president Alvaro Uribe (in power from 2000 to 2008) who was notorious first of all for fighting the left radical insurgent FARC group and accusing Hugo Chavez who was the Venezuelan President at that time, of harboring the FARC rebels in Venezuelan territory.
Troubled Sister Countries
There is no need to recall that Maduro owes his entire political career to the late Chavez. Maduro was not only a long-time associate of Chavez but was perceived in society as the heir to Venezuela’s legendary leftist leader. Maduro also inherited from Chavez a course toward friendship with Russia (Russia made large investments in Venezuela), as well as a diplomatic confrontation with the USA and its main ally in northern Latin America – Colombia. At one time Chavez made a point calling Colombia, intertwined with Venezuela by a 1,300 km-long common border, “Latin American Israel, hinting at the military and economic support provided by Washington to the Colombian leadership. In 2010 Chavez broke off any of his country’s relations with Colombia.
Despite the fact that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who succeeded Uribe, signed a peace agreement with the FARC in 2016, the relationship between Caracas and Bogota during Santos’ rule has not improved. In his recent speech President Maduro accused Santos of interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs, to which Santos responded with speeches lamenting the lack of freedom in the “leftist” Venezuela.
Hatred against “Chavism”
Optimists expected relations to improve if the left candidate – Bogotá Mayor Gustav Petro would have won the elections in Colombia. In fact now Juan Manuel Santos finishes his second term as a “lame duck” after Duque’s victory, and his dislike for Maduro can no longer have a negative impact on relations. But Petro lost, although he received 42 percent of the vote. And the very course of the presidential campaign showed that this is not about personal antipathies, but about strong ideological differences between the leaders of Venezuela and Colombia. During the election campaign, Duque’s supporters declared the slogan: “Vote for our candidate, so that Colombia does not become another Venezuela.” The former Colombian President Uribe does not conceal his hatred for “Castro-Chavism,” and the victory of his candidate (Uribe created the Democratic Party that supported Duque) does not promise Maduro or any other “chavist” relations improvement.
Russia takes an emphatically distant position in relation to the political standoff of the two neighboring Latin American countries, and this approach seems reasonable in this situation. Russia does not make a secret of the fact that Venezuela is experiencing enormous economic difficulties. The Institute of Latin American Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences acknowledged that there is hyperinflation in the country and that its GDP reduced by 12 % in 2017.
Russian political analysts are aware of the US interest in the “early collapse of the Chavist regime”, but nevertheless, they do not veil the fact that Venezuela’s leadership is primarily to blame for the country’s economic problems. Experts of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP) also came to this conclusion, pointing out the inability of the Venezuelan leadership to convert petrodollars of 2000s into diversification of domestic economy. So the Russian approach to both Venezuelan and Colombian issues can be seen as lacking ideology: Russian companies responded to Venezuela’s business proposals, but this response was based on mutually beneficial cooperation, not on a desire to support a left or right ideology.
Violence as Tradition
As for the continuing ideological struggle between the “left” Venezuela and the “right” Colombia, its result is far from a foregone conclusion. The success or failure of the ruling elites in Venezuela, and especially in Colombia, people estimate not only by economic indicators, but also by the safety of life. And in Colombia, this is even worse than in Venezuela: the leftist insurgent movement FARC (the “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia”) has waged a civil war in Colombia since 1964. And FARC seized the baton of violence from the so-called liberals: the conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC grew out of the war between supporters of the Liberal and Conservative parties of Colombia that continued for a decade (!) in 1948-1958, (it is this violence, which claimed about 200,000 lives, was reflected in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”).
In 2016, the outgoing President Juan Manuel signed a peace agreement with the FARC, but the majority of the country’s population refused to approve the agreement in a referendum. Violence and fear did not stop although the FARC became a formally legal political party and changed the meaning of the abbreviation of its name (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionariadel Comun – The Common Alternative Revolutionary Force).
The fact is that the violence in Colombia in recent decades has come not so much from the left, but from the right side of the political spectrum. Even the traditionally anti-communist British BBC reports that in the political sector Colombia has a radical, sometimes violent, right-wing tradition.
The BBC admits that this tradition in Colombia is linked, among other things, to the murders of leftist politicians and cultural figures. The members of the so-called “The United Self-Defenders of Colombia” (Autodefensas Unidas de Columbia – AUC) especially often resorted to violence. For many years they proclaimed their task to wage armed struggle against the FARC rebels. But in 1997-2006. under the pretext of fighting the Colombian “chavistas,” the AUC forces killed thousands of people; in 2006 the AUC was officially declared a terrorist organization and dissolved. Before that, this ultra-right group was reported to be involved in drug trafficking as well as in hostage-taking for ransom – the two types of criminal activity traditionally associated with the FARC. As for the level of violence, the AUC and their successors leave far behind Venezuela’s government forces who have killed several dozen protesters in recent months.
In his propaganda war with President Santos, which is likely to soon turn into a propaganda war with the new Colombian President – Duque, Maduro and his supporters emphasize the ties between the Colombian government and the USA and the US intelligence services. There is nothing unexpected in this accusation: Uribe as well as Santos closely collaborated with the “advisers” from Washington and even invited the American armed forces into the country.
But now, when the chair beneath him staggers, Maduro considers Colombia as a “strike force” of US intervention directed at him. Recently Maduro directly accused Colombia of trying to provoke an armed conflict with Venezuela and overthrow the “chavist” authority.
This Maduro’s accusation against Bogota is worth listening to. In this situation Russia will have many allies among Latin American countries: after all, even cautious Brazil and Argentina turned against the Colombian President Santos, when in early 2010s Colombia started talking about deploying American bases on its territory. However, later the same countries which are part of the Organization of American States excluded Venezuela from their ranks for the deficit of democracy. Somewhat strange contradiction. From this one can assume that the countries of the southern continent want democracy, but without American “supervision”.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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