Trump and Latin America: Continuity and Change: Trump's Chaotic Foreign Policy Signals More Difficulties for the Left in Latin America

By Dominguez, Francisco | Soundings, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Trump and Latin America: Continuity and Change: Trump's Chaotic Foreign Policy Signals More Difficulties for the Left in Latin America


Dominguez, Francisco, Soundings


The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency came as a shock to progressive governments and social movements south of the Rio Grande, particularly as it took place in the wake of a number of successes by conservative forces in the region, and at a time when there had

already been a substantial strengthening of US efforts to reassert its hegemony: US-backed destabilisation plans had by then started to pay substantial dividends in a series of countries that had not long before been widely regarded as having broken from the Washington Consensus as part of an unstoppable Latin American dynamic. Thus, for example, in Brazil, President Dilma Roussef had been ousted in 2016, while in 2015 Argentina had elected as president a staunch neoliberal. All this had occurred during the presidency of a liberal Democrat (though one for most of the time battling against Republican majorities in the Congress). A Trump presidency was therefore an extremely sobering prospect, even though, during the electoral campaign itself, and as late as December 2016, Trump had portrayed himself as someone in favour of a non-interventionist US military policy, who rejected the idea of the US getting embroiled in foreign wars.

Trump's initial support for isolationism has been considerably modified since he took office, but it is ideologically linked to an 'America First' rhetoric that has been deeply problematic. It panders to the worst racist prejudices against Latinos in the US, and has meant not only support for the building of the wall along the Mexican border, but a worrying introduction of military language with regards to 'enemy' governments down South. Meanwhile the president's rather incoherent rejection of free trade agreements may well lead to the abolition, or at least a substantial review, of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would have serious consequences for the Mexican economy The overall policy looks like being one of narrow economic nationalism, backed up by destabilisation with strong military overtones.

A central plank of this policy is the renewed offensive against the Bolivarian government of Venezuela, whose overthrow would be regarded as the 'jewel in the Crown', and a prelude to the full restoration of US economic, political and military hegemony in its backyard. It is crucial for people to understand that, should the US get away with crushing Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution, no nation in Latin America would be safe: democracy, national self-determination and national sovereignty in the region would be rendered meaningless.

It is its long-term trajectory of decline, and the waning of its global hegemony, that has made the USA more aggressive in recent years, beginning with the presidency of George W Bush. By 2016 its national debt had reached nearly US$20 trillion (that is about 104 per cent of its GDP). (1) Its annual rate of growth is about 1-2 per cent, whereas that of its main global competitor, China, is 7 per cent (and the US rate's trend is downward, whilst that of China is upwards). (2) There has also been a decline in the US world share of military expenditure, from 48 per cent in 2008 to 36 per cent in 2015. (3) And this decline also has its effect on levels of poverty: according to World Hunger in 2015, 12.7 per cent of all households in the US suffered from food insecurity (4)

These facts somewhat justify Donald Trump's campaign slogan 'Make America Great Again', in the sense that his campaign did identify major structural economic problems in the US. And it also helps explain the appeal to many of his xenophobic proposals to expel millions of 'bad Latino hombres' from the US and build a wall to keep out immigrants: millions of chronically unemployed US citizens wanted to believe that this would generate the stable, long-term jobs they have needed but not had for so many years.

The (temporarily) interrupted rise of Latin America

The second period of Bush presidency began in 2005, the year in which radical governments in Latin America roundly defeated the US at the summit of Mar del Plata in Argentina, when they refused to accept its plan to economically subordinate the whole region through the creation of a US-dominated Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) (something that it had already achieved in Mexico, through NAFTA). …

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