Is U.S. Influence Waning in Latin America?

The first Summit of the Americas convened in Miami, Florida (Dec 1994).  Imagined by Bill Clinton, it increased trade and commerce and brought greater prosperity and improved quality of life.

It has also become another instrument of US hegemony:  those who do not toe the line pay a price.  So it is that Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba were not invited … ostensibly over their human rights records.  Some have taken exception to this high-handedness notably Mexican President Manuel Lopez Obrador, who will not attend although he will send a delegation.

Is American influence waning in the presence of a China with an abundance of capital and an open checkbook.  According to the Congressional Research Service, it has invested more than $138 billion in the region including the Caribbean since 2005.

Moreover, the pandemic has made matters worse and if Latin America is crying out for help, Biden’s hearing aid has been turned off.

So there we were at the Summit of the Americas.  The US had zero concrete proposals:  nothing on immigration, a pressing problem; nothing on trade and nothing on  infrastructure.  So tweeted Richard Haass, former adviser to Colin Powell at the State Department and currently president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Instead, the president gave a speech outlining vaguely what was labeled as America’s Partnership for Economic Prosperity.  Don’t ask for details.  All that has to be hammered out at future meetings.  More blah! blah!  blah!  No wonder many leaders did not bother to show up.   

Chinese plans in Latin America range from the grand — a railroad crossing the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific across Brazil to Peru — to the local.  Although its investment in Brazil of $4 billion in 2021 was double from the earlier year, it still remains a far cry from the $13 billion in 2010 and some projects have stalled in the face of a strong environmental lobby and greater awareness of their impact.   

Taking South America as a whole, it is a different story.  China has built one of Latin America’s largest solar plants in Jujuy, Argentina — a remote province that borders Bolivia and Chile.  Yet buried below in this barren, craggy land lie lithium, zinc and copper, the necessities of the rechargeable batteries used in the electric cars becoming increasingly popular.

The Chinese technique already successful in Africa and Asia is to build from the ground up.  No big deals at inter-governmental levels, just contacts between local leaders and Chinese investors and entrepreneurs.  To this one can add China’s technological expertise.

Prised from its perch as Latin America’s major partner, the US has to wake up from its slumber and learn to compete in a new world.  That slogans alone simply will not do has become fairly obvious. 

Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.