The paradoxes of the calendar: on Good Friday, Donald Trump met with former Colombian Presidents Álvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana. Little or nothing is known about their conversation there. The only thing that surfaced was a tweet from Pastrana in appreciation of the cordiality and frank conversation. The interesting thing here is that that meeting took place before any meeting with the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos himself. With respect to him, the only thing that was produced was a phone call in which the U.S. president expressed his support for peace. So we should imagine that Trump assured himself he had all the bases covered: supporting peace through Santos, and backing the war through Uribe-Pastrana.
The first Latin American president to visit the White House since Trump’s inauguration was Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. They met for only 12 minutes. Getting in to see Trump for a moment turns out to be very expensive if you have Latin American citizenship! Next on the list was Mauricio Macri. The Argentine leader was determined to have that photo of himself with Trump, whatever the cost. If the price were ceding more sovereignty, so be it. He would have gone so far as to offer Trump a military base. After what happened with the vulture funds, what could he have hoped for from this meeting, in which Macri sought to proclaim himself the true CEO of the backyard.
Trump dismissed the possibility that this visit would be considered a state visit, implying that there would not be formal meetings of the two countries’ cabinets. The subjects of discussion between the two presidents at breakfast, scheduled for 90 minutes, were probably the same as always: Macri will buy arms from the United States; he will go deeper into debt; he will follow orders with respect to Venezuela; he will promise to buy some Trump towers; and with luck, Trump will let Argentine lemons into the country with a tariff that’s not too high. An unequal exchange, this is what Macri calls getting back to the world.
After Trump’s latest actions in Syria and Afghanistan, many believe that U.S. foreign policy on Latin America will take second place in the Pentagon’s priorities. But no, not by a long shot. One need look no further than the annual report to Congress of Admiral Kurt Tidd, current commander of the Southern Command, in which he openly declared, "Simply stated, security challenges in the region (Latin America) are likely to become security challenges to the U.S. homeland." In other words, in military terms, it takes the Monroe Doctrine, which was never abandoned, and ratchets it up a notch. In accordance with a long-term geopolitical plan for Latin America, the current U.S. administration is updating the idea of the backyard.
Let there be no doubt: Although Trump may drop bombs on half the world, this doesn’t mean he is going to ignore his southern neighbors. A recent report from Security Assistance Monitor stated that reports of commercial arms sales by the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean came to more than half of the worldwide total—$351 million out of $662 million—making it the largest recipient region of all at the global level. This shows that there remains a persistent interest in recolonizing the backyard, expanding the region’s dependence in arms and military matters.
The latest foreign policy action by the United States towards the region was yet another State Department declaration against Venezuela. It keeps heating up. After the ineffectual use of the Organization of American States, the road now appears to be more clear-cut and direct. In a commanding tone, it urged immediate action that will permit a quick solution to the grave crisis that affects all Venezuelans and consequently the region. But it also speaks of criminal repression, as if the U.S. government had the integrity to provide examples of respect for human rights—we have only to look at the devastating 2014 Senate report about torture carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Trump is looking toward Latin America in a context in which he appears to have given the Pentagon a free hand to direct foreign policy. The region is part of long-standing U.S. strategic goals. Trump’s unilateralism is crashing head-on into the multipolar world we live in. We’ll see who prevails.
*The writers are investigators at CELAG, Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano de Geopolítica [Center for Latin American Strategic Geopolitics].