There should be a quick reaction against Trump’s offensive from a region still dominated by major ideological differences.
Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States have experienced moments of tension and estrangement throughout history. Since the Alliance for Progress in the '60s, through blatant political interventionism, which could be summed up by this phrase by Michelle Bachelet, Chilean head of state, addressing the Council on Foreign Relations during a tour of the U.S. in 2008: “The reason why in the United States there has never been a coup d'etat is because in the United States there is no United States embassy.” The years passed and the neoliberal ideology of the Washington Consensus succeeded in imposing its version of economy, democracy, order and justice, without reflecting on the consequences that would have to be paid by many people south of the U.S. border.
Months ago, no one imagined Trump’s victory; and even less that President Peña Nieto would accept a visit to the Mexican capital during the electoral campaign by the now-president of the United States. Today, it is a crushing reality, which the countries of the region should accept with intelligence, unity and caution. Trump represents a threat to worldwide geopolitical stability and a backwards step for sustainable development, but Latin Americans and those from the Caribbean should view this new context as an opportunity. Nowadays, there is no backyard, there are no alliances and ultimately, for Donald Trump, the world does not exist. Borders and walls, an international isolation that should not be taken lightly.
It seems that the axis of evil that George W. Bush talked about after Sept. 11 changed its geographical home to settle into the White House. Trump represents a backwards step in all fields, provoking rejection and commotion in the international community, but also in the hearts of the same societies that defend values of peace, democracy, rights, dignity and multiculturalism.
With regard to Latin America and the Caribbean, Donald Trump will be an impulsive man, with little knowledge and many generalizations, a real change compared to his predecessor Barack Obama. Indeed, during the eight years of his presidency, the ex-president tried to achieve a more horizontal approach to the region, from his speech in Panama City at the Summit of the Americas, through to his visit to Cuba, marking the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between both countries after 60 years. But nowadays, we know that the economic protectionism defended by Trump will have direct consequences in those countries that have embraced the free market, the large majority of which depend on the exportation of commodities. The profound rejection of migration on the part of the leader of the Unites States will generate difficulties for a region still in the process of development; for example, in the matter of remittances that, in many cases, represent a support for families and for the economies of various Central American countries. Is it realpolitik to start a trade war with Mexico because of wanting to increase customs rates, or to construct a wall on the border of an Aztec country? No, it’s madness that escapes all rationality in this second decade of the 21st century.
On the other hand, the threat by the United States to go back on the agreements achieved to combat climate change requires greater coordination from us as a region. Nowadays, we cannot deny the impact of being human on nature. Trump does and he will go against the international commitments that have cost so much in the last two decades, favoring companies that extract fossil fuels.
The Trump offensive, far from achieving unanimity in his own country, should be quickly responded to by the region, even though it’s dominated by major ideological differences. Despite future electoral processes, political leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean should make an effort to go beyond declarative political dialogue, doing everything possible to ensure that the big regional powers support Mexico in an economic restructuring with a view to the South. Furthermore, they should reinforce links with Asia, not only for members of the Pacific Alliance but also to generate a real platform for countries in the region. The last CELAC summit held in the Dominican Republic lacked a number of important leaders. We can’t afford such absenteeism. The Latin American and Caribbean chancelleries should, in support of our values and the sustainable development of our region, reinforce integration mechanisms between our countries.
Perhaps, in this, one of the worst moments, we will find a good moment to reinforce the links between Latin America and the Caribbean with the United States. The country in the north has a great opportunity to strengthen its cultural, political and social relations with the South. Now, we should not concern ourselves with the U.S.’s irrational and narcissistic president but instead focus on its intellectuals and artists, or the civil servants and diplomats that are renouncing en masse the new administration. We can write history with those who sincerely believe in the idea that the chance for a better world cannot wait and even less take a step back.
The solitary strategies will only cause Latin America and the Caribbean to lose their voice on the global stage. The greatest threat will be the absence of a regional agreement and strong political dialogue to face up to the next four years. Wise words from the Chilean Chancellor Heraldo Muñoz: “Against protectionism, more integration, against walls, bridges." Yes, we are diverse, but make no mistake. We are intelligent and not weak. Paraphrasing Mario Benedetti: “[T]hus together achieve, what was impossible, that the whole world would know, that the South also exists.”
Pierre Lebret is a political analyst.