Trump II or Obama 2.0 – what can the region expect?

Latin America has become more important for the USA. Washington is therefore adapting its policy toward the region. This process will continue – regardless of whether the next president is called Biden or Trump. But some governments in Latin America will also have to change when the change comes.

by Alexander Busch, Latin America correspondent for Handelsblatt and Neue Zürcher Zeitung


Elections in the United States have not yet been a major issue in Latin America. The pandemic and the economic crisis are too dominating for most people. Nevertheless, governments and politicians are beginning to concern themselves more and more with the political scenarios following the elections in the North. It is interesting to note how much the relationship between the USA and Latin America has changed in recent years. And that is for both sides.

For many years, “Cuba, Cocaine and Chavez” were the only topics that the United States followed closely in Latin America – this is how U.S. diplomats explained Washington’s longstanding rather weak interest in the region. That has changed: It is true that Venezuela and Cuba are still crisis hotspots with geopolitical conflict potential on their doorstep. But China and immigration have become more important issues in U.S. domestic policy – and have much to do with Latin America, both directly and indirectly.

Most experts expect the greatest continuity with China even after a change of power in Washington. The USA has recently been closely observing its offensive as a trading partner and investor in Latin America. Under Trump they have brought guns into position: they now also control the Inter-American Development Bank in terms of personnel as one of the important financiers in the region. The newly named International Development Finance Corporation is also likely to become more important in the granting of loans.

It is unclear how the US will deal with states that continue to be financed by China or allow Huawei to equip the telecom network. Under Trump, punitive measures (such as customs duties) could probably be more likely to be imposed than under Biden.

Under both Biden and Trump, Mexico and the Caribbean will benefit from the relocation of supply chains from China as new locations for US suppliers. This also applies to a lesser extent to the South American Pacific Alliance countries such as Chile, Peru and Colombia.

On the subject of immigration, however, a Biden government is expected to set new accents, for example by making immigration rules less strict or by introducing deportation practices. This would benefit Mexico and the Caribbean. High or growing remittances from the United States through emigration would reduce domestic political pressure in these countries.

The Latin American governments under Biden would have to rethink the issues of environment, climate and human rights. These would again be the guidelines of foreign policy. On the one hand, this applies to states such as Mexico, where the democrats under Biden could insist more strongly on equal working conditions and standards, for example the USMCA, the NAFTA follow-up agreement that has been in force since July this year.

But Brazil will be particularly affected if Biden follows the course of the EU and demands standards for the environment and protection of the Amazon, but also for issues such as gender policy. Brazil would then soon be quite isolated in the world.

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