Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney believes that Latin America is a region under threat, and that Cuba and Venezuela are leading an anti-North American group that "seeks to undermine institutions of democratic governance" and the free market.
"Chavez's days are numbered. If his subsidies to Cuba and Nicaragua are cut, those regimes will be in trouble," affirms Robert Zoellick, new director of the national security transition team for Republican candidate Mitt Romney, and Romney’s number one candidate for secretary of state.
"There will be an opportunity to make the Western Hemisphere the first democratic hemisphere. Not a place of coups, caudillos and cocaine — but of democracy, development and dignity. This transformation will not be achieved by the Calvo doctrine — by divisive populists, by corruption, by acquiescence, by silence," added Zoellick, who was president of the World Bank until July.
Zoellick's politically charged declarations contrast starkly with the diplomatic rhetoric of the current staff dealing with Latin America in the Obama administration. However, more important than the rhetoric is the question: If Romney is president, will there be changes in policy toward Latin America? Yes. There will be changes.
"Nothing could be worse for the region than the Obama administration," Otto Reich, former assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere for George H.W. Bush, told Clarín. “Obama does not know anything about Latin America. Romney has experience because he has done business in the region,” he added.
“Unlike Obama, Romney understands the threat that the alliance between Chavez and the countries that follow him, such as Iran, pose to the United States," Norman Bailey, a former staff member for Ronald Regan and George Bush, said to Clarín. “Romney is not going to shake hands with Chávez, like Obama did at the Summit of the Americas. However, his policy will not be as tough as Roger Noriega's, the assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, or as bland as Tom Shannon's," maintained Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, while speaking with Clarín. Manuel Rocha, former interim U.S. ambassador to Argentina, said Romney’s policy will obtain "continuity."
In the guidelines for Latin American policy that Romney distributed to his advisors, he says that Latin America is a region under threat. “Venezuela and Cuba are leading a virulently anti-American ‘Bolivarian’ movement across Latin America that seeks to undermine institutions of democratic governance and economic opportunity,” says Romney, accusing Obama of not having done enough to reverse “these disturbing trends” by supporting Honduran President Manuel Zalaya, one of Chavez's allies, as well as easing the embargo against Cuba.
Romney promises change. The United States, under Romney, will support “democratic allies and market-based economic relationships [and contain] destabilizing internal forces such as criminal gangs and terrorists, and [will oppose] destabilizing outside influences such as Iran.” Romney also proposes the creation of “a unified Hemispheric Joint Task Force on Crime and Terrorism,” promising to “complete an impermeable border fence protecting the [United States’] southern frontier.”
Emphasizing economic matters, Romney states that in his first 100 days in office he will launch the “Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America,” which will distinguish between the “free enterprise and the ills of the authoritarian socialist model offered by Cuba and Venezuela.” Additionally he says he will “seek to involve both the U.S. and Latin American private sectors in efforts to expand trade throughout the region with initiatives that not only help American companies do business in Latin America, but also help Latin American companies invest and create jobs in the American market” in order to strengthen economic ties between the member countries.
In line with Romney's plan, Zoellick proposed "a new diplomacy infused with private sector pragmatism to solve public problems" during a speech he gave in June at the Inter-American Dialogue 30th Anniversary Dinner. Otto Reich, however, believes that much will depend on who is appointed after the election.
Zoellick is one of the strongest candidates for secretary of state, especially since he was named Romney’s director of the national security transition team, though he is not the only candidate. Another is John Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations for the United States during the George W. Bush administration. While Zoellick is a realist, Bolton is a tough neoconservative. However, on the subject of Latin American policy, no one expects there to be many differences between the two. Although Zoellick has a more pragmatic profile, this does not mean that, for example, relationships with Argentina would not continue to deteriorate.
First on the list of candidates for positions in the State Department and the National Security Council dealing with Latin America is Ray Walser of the Heritage Foundation. Walser is already advising Romney, specializing in strengthening democratic institutions and, with respect to the law, the promotion of free trade and the market economy. He is also deeply concerned about growing anti-American sentiments in Latin America. Another candidate is Adolfo Franco, former assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), during George W. Bush’s administration. And finally, there is the ex-ambassador to Brazil, Clifford Sobel. Although it is difficult to predict what will happen, a general outline of Romney’s Latin American policy is already on the table.