Trump and Latin America

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Photo credit: Diario de los Andes

By: Silvina M. Romano / Source: CELAG / Resumen Latinoamericano / January 20, 2017

Latin America will continue to be at the center of the Northern country agenda (both officially and extra-officially), Mexico and Cuba being its main targets.

The days prior to Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States, the news of a meeting with “Latin American experts” began spreading and it was reported that the central theme had been Venezuela and Central America.

Experts on Latin American or Opportunistic Businessmen?

Before going deeper into the topics discussed at the meeting, it’s worth commenting about the so-called “experts” that talked with Trump, who are in fact pragmatic entrepreneurs, with long trajectories of questionable legitimacy and legality.

One of them is Julio Lagorría, Guatemala’s ambassador to the U.S.. He is a businessman in political counseling through his company “Interimage Latinoamérica”. He is also known for his involvement in a scam to the Guatemalan State together with the Magdalena corporate group owned by the Leal Pivaral family. In the last years he was noted for his lobby in favour of the Prosperity Alliance in the U.S. Congress, an alliance for the “development” and the security, organized and overviewed by the United States, signed by the countries of the Central American Nothern Triangle. Lagorría is also member of the Inter American Dialogue, a think-tank mostly known for its rhetoric and practices against progressivist Latin American governments, especially Venezuela. This organism was originally against Trump’s presidential candidature, but now that he won the elections, it’s obvious that their members have nothing against negotiating with the tycoon.

The other “expert”, is Freddy Balcera, a Cuban-American democratic consultant who advised Obama on Hispanic affairs, but who, at the same time, had business relationships with Donald Trump. During the latest elections, Balsera was a member of Correct the Record, a political action committee that raised funds for Hillary Clinton and was even a substitute orator during her campaign[1]. But his two-faced strategy was so evident, that members of the Miami Democratic Party requested Hillary to penalize Balsera for supporting a Republican congressman, Carlos Curbelo, who worked with Trump. Balsera himself also worked for Trump in the past[2].

The Meeting: 20 minutes to discuss Latin America

It is important to highlight that the meeting with Trump lasted only 20 minutes. The head of State didn’t even dedicate half an hour of his time to Latin America. The only topic of discussion that has been disclosed is that, apparently, Trump is concerned about the so-called “political prisoners” (who are actually imprisoned politicians) of Venezuela and for the migration of Central Americans to his country; issues that the Obama administration regarded as “national security problems”: Obama set the record on migrant deportations and renewed the decree that labels Venezuela as a security threat to the United States. From this perspective, Trump threats can be understood as the deepening of his predecessor’s policies.

On a subject that was (apparently) not discussed, but does matter to Trump

It seems that Mexico was off the table during the meeting. The neighboring country is at the edge of chaos after Trump´s triumph, caught between the devaluation of the Mexican peso, the inflation and the oil price rise. President Peña Nieto has made some changes in the government team: he named the former Minister of Economy Videgaray (who was fired after the controversy for the meeting he set up with Trump in Mexico in the midst of the US presidential campaign) as Exterior Relationship Minister, and appointed Gerónimo Gutiérrez Fernández as ambassador to the U.S.. Gutiérrez Fernández, former Managing Director of the North American Development Bank in the context of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is supposed to take actions against Trump’s potential protective measures[3]. Knowing the trajectory of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, currently in the government) and the National Action Party (NAP, potential successor), we can predict that the “battle” will be about negotiating a solution that minimizes the impact of Trump’s policies the Mexican business class (Mexican majorities have been off the government’s agenda for several decades).

Meanwhile, Forbes’ headlines announce that one of General Motors’ subsidiaries in Mexico has challenged Trump: “the director of General Motors rejected moving the production of small cars from Mexico to the United States”, and warns that “it is still too soon to speculate about the potential impact of the possible frontier tax mentioned by Trump[4]. Let’s just say that there’s a long distance to go from Trump’s statements to actual facts, and not just due to resistance by the Mexican government but, more importantly, due to resistance by American transnational corporations.

The other country that concerns Trump, is Cuba. Just a couple of days before ending his term, Obama cancelled the law known as “Wet Feet, Dry Feet”, which away the privileges provided to newly-arrived Cubans, who now will be treated as regular migrants. This satisfies one of the demands of the Cuban government, as Trump threatened to reverse the progress made in the US-Cuba relations. During the campaign, Trump warned that he would not allow the human rights violations on the island. However, this is doubtful, since Trump is and always will be a businessman, and he’s in the business of tourism, which is one of the sectors that pushed the most to reestablish the relationship with Cuba.

For the time being, this is what we know about Trump and his involvement in Latin America. And everything seems to indicate that his attention is mainly focused on the “new geopolitical West”: Russia and China, each in its own way, are taking up most of Trump’s foreign agenda. However, and as always since the Monroe Doctrine, Latin America will continue to be in the center of the Northern country’s agenda (officially or extra-officially), Mexico and Cuba being its main targets. It remains to be seem whether Trump will continue with Obama´s strategy of “soft” coups, like in Honduras, Paraguay and Brazil, or if he will choose (and this would be unprecedented) to respect the sovereignty of the countries the region.





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