Modern Latin America

Modern Latin America

Modern Latin America

Modern Latin America

Synopsis

Thomas E. Skidmore, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Professor of History, Brown University. Peter H. Smith, Professor of Political Science and Simon Bolivar Professor of Latin American Studies, University of California, San Diego.

Excerpt

“The U.S. will do anything for Latin America, except read about it,” according to James Reston, for many years the dean of U.S. political commentators. Is there any reason why we should try to prove him wrong? There are several. First, our nation's economic interests are deeply involved in the region. Latin America is one of our major trading partners. It is the site of much U.S. investment and a source for oil and other critical raw materials. An acceleration of growth in key countries—such as Mexico and Brazil—may soon produce significant new powers on the world scene.

We also have political links. Revolutionary upheavals and repressive responses in Latin America directly challenge U.S. foreign policy. They raise difficult questions about how to protect and promote U.S. national interests (defined as not simply economic or strategic interests). Ronald Reagan dramatized this fact shortly after his 1980 election by meeting with Mexican President José Lopéz Portillo on the U.S.-Mexican border, in what was the U.S. president's first such conference with any other head of state. President George W. Bush made a similar choice in 2001, selecting Mexican President Vicente Fox as his first contact with a foreign head of state. President George Bush (senior) sought a special relationship with Mexico and proposed a free-trade agreement that would tighten economic bonds between all of Latin America and the United States. His successor and political rival, President Bill Clinton, followed up the free-trade initiative by hosting a hemispheric “Summit of the Americas” in Miami in December 1994. Bush (junior) continued the initiative by pressing for the approval of a so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas by 2005.

There is another important consideration closer to home. Large sections of our country have become Latinized by the influence of migrants from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Central America, the Caribbean, and even Brazil. This is in addition to the Hispanic descendants of the original Spanishspeaking population of the formerly Mexican Southwest. Migration, both historical and recent, then brought peoples and customs from Latin America to the American Southwest (from Texas to California), Florida, and New York. Many major U.S. cities now have more children from Spanish-

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