Antony Blinken

Biden needs to change his strategy towards Latin America

The Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, will find allies of his country frustrated in his visits to Ecuador and Colombia.
The Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, will find allies of his country frustrated in his visits to Ecuador and Colombia.

Most Latin American officials were excited to see Donald Trump out of the presidency. The region is rarely a priority for US leaders, but outside of his crusade to topple dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela, Trump was exceptionally uncomplaining .

Expectations were high for President Joe Biden, a familiar face who oversaw the Western Hemisphere for the Barack Obama White House . Yet while Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Ecuador and is in Colombia, he will find that our neighbors are frustrated by an American foreign policy that is widely viewed as crisis-focused and China-obsessed.

On the trip to South America, Blinken has the opportunity to change this situation. Ambitious trade and investment promises could restore America’s siege and lessen dependence on China.

Blinken started in Quito. The president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, has called for a free trade agreement . We should accept that suggestion and announce similar plans for Uruguay, whose leader, Luis Lacalle Pou, is also eager to strengthen commercial ties .

The visit to Ecuador is also an opportunity to get serious about America’s infrastructure finances. The region is battered: the pandemic drove 22 million people into poverty , while many companies went bankrupt. Latin America’s gross domestic product contracted 7 percent in 2020, the worst of any region.

To drive the recovery, Blinken should demonstrate that the Build Back Better World project – a fledgling competitor to the China Belt and Road Initiative, backed by the Group of 7 Richest Countries – is serious enough. like to invest in broadband and bridges, trains, ports and highways. Multi-million dollar investments would restore competitiveness , reduce dependence on commodities by making manufacturing more profitable, and increase the ability to take advantage of nearshoring opportunities , or close relocation , by creating a more attractive region for companies relocating from China. . Latin America has spent little on infrastructure for a long time, and the post-pandemic debt hangover will make it impossible to finance improvements without the help of the United States.

The secretary’s second assignment is Colombia, where Biden has kept President Iván Duque at arm’s length, apparently out of frustration with his ambiguous record in executing the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a treaty signed by his predecessor, the Prize. Nobel Peace Prize Juan Manuel Santos.

The White House is also displeased with Duque’s inability to protect social leaders: this month alone, six leaders have died, bringing the total for the year to 137. Victims include environmental defenders and Colombia has not ratified the Escazú Agreement, a new regional treaty designed to protect those activists. Even so, Colombia is a fundamental partner of the United States; your leadership probably deserves something somewhere between indifference and a warm hug. In any case, Duque’s term is about to end, and the United States and Colombia share a variety of interests.

To recalibrate, Blinken should announce considerably more support for the millions of Venezuelan refugees in South America, many of whom have arrived in Colombia. Duque has earned international recognition for his policies toward those displaced by the repression and hardships in Venezuela. But the United States has not contributed enough or helped to enlist the support of other wealthy nations.

Beyond Bogotá, many Latin American countries need help with migration: Tens of thousands of Haitians are entering Panama through the Darien Gap jungle, and Costa Rica has been a haven for Nicaraguans fleeing the dictatorship. The United States should design better coordination, burden-sharing, and integration of migrants into the communities, schools, and industries of their new homes.

Colombia is also the right place to promise financing to transition to renewable energy. Latin American leaders such as Duque, Alberto Fernández from Argentina and Sebastián Piñera from Chile, who have made ambitious commitments to reduce carbon emissions, do not need applause from the Biden government but rather heavy investments in renewable energy and energy storage and transmission projects, including through the Export-Import Bank, the Development Finance Corporation and the multilateral development banks.

Argentina has the wind from Patagonia, Chile, the sun-drenched Atacama Desert, and Colombia’s green hydrogen industry offer promising opportunities for decarbonization and economic growth. That’s especially important for countries like Colombia, which rely heavily on oil and coal exports and hesitate to cut back on dirty energy industries without first building a green economy that would offset job losses and export earnings.

Finally, Blinken must understand that the pandemic is not over. Latin America is the worst hit region in the world : it is home to 8.4 percent of the global population but has recorded 20 percent of total COVID-19 cases and 30 percent of deaths globally. Despite this, less than 40 percent of the inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean have been vaccinated and in about 20 countries – most of them, those closest to the United States – less than a third of the population is fully immunized.

Blinken’s plane should be full of vaccines. The president has called the United States a ” vaccine arsenal, ” and Latin America has received roughly half of all US vaccine donations, about 38 million doses . Still, experts warn that those donations are too slow and too few.

Equally important, Blinken should promise a push for the region to become self-reliant in the fight against this and future viruses. The mRNA vaccines developed in the United States are the most effective in the world and several Latin American nations, such as Brazil , have what it takes to make this life-saving technology. Sharing knowledge would also reduce the immense pressure on the United States as the world’s vaccine factory.

Given the ideological divisions in the region, embarking on a more far-reaching US strategy for Latin America would be difficult. The thieves and inefficients who occupy some presidential palaces are another challenge that forces a constant balance between collaboration and censorship. But increasing US trade and investment, improving public health, and stimulating renewable energy production would help solve many of the region’s problems that will sooner or later land on America’s doorstep.

Fortunately, Biden recognizes that the security and prosperity of the United States depend on the success, or at least the stability, of Latin America. Undoubtedly, the president is designing ambitious commitments for the Summit of the Americas to be held next summer and which he will host. However, given the monumental challenges in the region, there is no time to lose in implementing a more generous American approach.

Ben Oakley
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