Nine Months In, How Has Trump Fared with Latin America?

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By Blake Burdge

Argentina

The relationship between the United States and Argentina has remained strong under President Trump. It is likely that Trump views the country favorably due to the close relationship that he shared with Argentine President Mauricio Macri when the two were businessmen. Trump and Macri met at the White House in late April to discuss bilateral cybersecurity and to show joint support for the restoration of democracy and respect for human rights in Venezuela.

The United States and Argentina have strengthened economic ties since Trump entered office, as both countries have lifted bans on the other for certain goods. For the first time since 1992, U.S. farmers will be able to export pork to Argentina, with a potential market of up to USD $10 million. Additionally, President Trump followed through on the Obama administration’s proposal to relinquish a ban on lemons from Argentina, which is the fourth-largest producer of the fruit in the world.

Colombia

Colombia has proven to be the litmus test of President Trump’s relationship with Latin America. President Trump and his administration promptly alienated the one of the United States’ closest hemispheric allies, as Trump proposed a 36 percent cut in foreign aid to Colombia in his first budget request, which amounts to approximately USD $140 million. The GOP-controlled Senate did, however, save the Obama-era program that was created to successfully implement the Colombian peace process and to combat transnational epidemics like Zika. The success of this program, titled Paz Colombia (Peace Colombia), would benefit both countries immensely.

In May, President Trump invited Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to the White House to discuss the peace accords between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which was the largest paramilitary group in the country before disarmament. The genuineness of President Trump’s praise was questioned, however, as reports were released nearly a month earlier about a meeting between former Colombian presidents Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Úribe, both of whom oppose Santos’ peace efforts, at Trump’s private residence in Mar-a-Lago. While the White House has maintained that the meeting was devoid of any substance, Pastrana tweeted that it was “cordial and very frank.”

President Trump has continued to challenge the countries’ relationship by including Colombia in a list of major illicit drug-producing countries, indicating that Trump believes that the Colombian government has not put enough effort toward combatting the drug trade.

Cuba

Perhaps the biggest changes in Latin American policy from the Trump administration have been directed at Cuba. After insisting that President Obama’s executive action on Cuba encouraged dictators throughout the entirety of his campaign, Trump made smaller policy changes than expected. Individuals can no longer travel to Cuba under the broad “people to people” category and any American traveling to the island cannot make transactions with any Cuban businesses included in a list that have links to the Cuban military. Not only do these actions fail to repeal the majority of Obama’s Cuba policy, but they also will do more damage than good to the Cuban people, as discouraging American tourism to the island will cut many Cubans off of their private source of income.

Mexico

Trump’s attitude toward Mexico has been the most contentious thus far. After beginning his 2015 campaign by claiming that Mexico is sending rapists and drugs across the border, Trump has continued his alienation of the once-strong ally. Repeatedly, Trump has vowed to build a wall in order to stop the flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, and he argues that Mexico will pay for it. Trump has further strained relations with Mexico and Mexican-Americans with his announcement that he will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This move has the potential to leave the fate of 800,000 undocumented youth, 66 percent of whom arrived from Mexico, at the whim of politicians in Congress.

Mexico is the United States’ third-largest trading partner, yet President Trump has threatened this valuable relationship by attacking trade policies between the two countries; he has proposed removing the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an agreement which many economists believe has created jobs in the United States that would not otherwise have been created, among other benefits.

Northern Triangle

Since Trump has entered office, crossings along the southern U.S. border have decreased by 60 percent.  This will prove to be harmful to the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), particularly to individuals from these countries, as approximately 70 percent of annual southern border crossings are people fleeing violence from these countries. Individuals from Northern Triangle countries are increasingly making the choice to either stay in their home countries despite enduring heavy violence, or travel to Mexico, as the perception that the U.S. border is easy to successfully cross has  diminished over the last nine months.

In June, the United States and Mexico co-hosted the “Conference on Prosperity and Security” to discuss economic development, drug trafficking, and immigration in these countries. This came, however, about a month after the United States announced a 40 percent cut in aid to the region.

Peru

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was the first Latin American to visit the White House and, during his February meeting with President Trump, he voiced his opposition to the U.S. southern border wall. This did not, however, strain the relationship between the two countries. Just over a month following the meeting, President Kuczynski thanked Trump for his commitment of funds to assist flood recovery in Peru. The two leaders have also seen eye-to-eye on confronting the Venezuelan regime, with the two being perhaps the most outspoken hemispheric leaders against Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuela

Trump has taken an expected hardline with Venezuela. He has applied sanctions, intended to diminish the Maduro regime’s financial power, numerous times. Sanctions were initially targeted at officials within the administration, but have since become more widely-cast and sweeping, targeting large organizations like the state-run oil company PDVSA.

Trump has taken a less-than-diplomatic approach to solve the economic and political crises in Venezuela by refusing to rule out military intervention and continuing threats of “strong and swift” actions.

Image from Wikimedia

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