The new administration displays a multilateral diary , but on crucial issues maintains Trump-era measures
With domestic affairs a priority due to Covid, the new Biden administration's attention to Latin America has generally been relegated to a very low priority. Abroad, negotiations with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been the focus of US diplomacy, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken taking centre stage. But some regional issues have domestic repercussions in the US, such as migration and drug trafficking, and Biden has put his Vice President, Kamala Harris, at the forefront of these problems management . With Biden's direct dialogue with his hemispheric counterparts hampered by the pandemic, it is Harris who is leading the meetings with the Mexican and Central American authorities, as in the trip she will make in June.
article / Miguel García-Miguel
Once in office, Joe Biden found a very different landscape from the one he had left behind after serving as Barack Obama's vice-president. Donald Trump pursued an isolationist and certainly not paternalistic policy compared to what has often been the character of the US relationship with its Western Hemisphere neighbours. Trump had a dominant and imposing tone at times core topic, such as during the T-MEC negotiations or in the application of sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela, but the rest of the time he disengaged from the region. This lack of involvement was to the liking of populist leaders of different persuasions, such as Mexico's Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro.
In the next four years, the Biden-Harris administration can be expected to return to multilateralism, action on climate change and the promotion of democracy and human rights, issues that are at the heart of the current US diary . These issues, as well as those related to migratory pressure and the desirability of countering China and Russia in the region with a "vaccine diplomacy" of their own, will shape relations with neighbouring countries. For the moment, however, Biden has maintained Trump's signature measures and is taking his time to detail what his Latin America policy should be.
NORTHERN TRIANGLE: Aid and growing tension with Bukele
During his election campaign, Joe Biden promised that if he became president he would carry out an aid plan for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that would amount to 4 billion dollars over four years and that would aim to promote the region's development in order to prevent the massive flow of migrants to the United States. Previously, as vice-president, Biden was directly involved in the Alliance for Prosperity that Obama launched in 2014 in the wake of a previous migration crisis, which sought to provide more than 750 million dollars a year to the Northern Triangle; the programme, which Trump reduced budget , did not prevent the new migration boom seen in recent years.
Undoubtedly, the region, one of the poorest in the world, needs incentives for its development development, but it also continues to face serious problems such as its propensity for natural disasters, dependence on foreign companies to exploit its resources, and the poor governance of its politicians. Thus, Washington has included among its priorities the denunciation of corruption in the Northern Triangle countries, publishing lists of corrupt politicians, already begun with Trump and now expanded with Biden. Precisely these denunciations and the anti-democratic drift of El Salvador's president, Nayib Bukele, are turning a relationship that Bukele had cultivated during the Trump era into a hostile one.
MEXICO: Migration and environment
Mexico, as a country with which it shares an extensive border, has always been a point core topic in US foreign policy and one of its priorities. With the arrival of the Biden Administration, more friction with López Obrador is expected than during Trump's presidency. Increased migratory pressure on the US-Mexico border is complicating Biden's presidency and risks damaging the electoral prospects of Vice President Kamala Harris, whom Biden has directly tasked with managing the migration crisis, which this year is breaking a new record. In addition, Mexico's limitations on the presence of the DEA, the US counter-narcotics agency, have strained relations. Biden has not yet travelled to Mexico, despite the fact that visit is one of the first visits made by US presidents.
Biden's environmentalist policy clashes directly with the interests of the Mexican president, who is focused on building a new large refinery instead of promote renewable energies. Precisely one of the points of tension will be the electricity reform that López Obrador plans to carry out, which will further limit the participation of private companies in the electricity sector and promote the use of non-renewable energies, which are in the hands of the state. The reform was recently suspended by a federal judge, but the government is expected to appeal the blockage. The obstacles to liberalisation fit poorly with the renewed agreement Free Trade Agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada (T-MEC).
COLOMBIA: Protests, peace accords and Venezuelan refugees
With Colombia, the Biden administration is in a period of trial and error. Following President Iván Duque's rapprochement with Trump, despite the latter's initial rebuffs, the Colombian government was praised by Biden for having decided to grant temporary protection status to the almost two million Venezuelan refugees living in the country. Biden congratulated Duque in February by letter, but so far there has been no interview between the two, not even by telephone.
The violent protests in Colombia, which have been met by a police management that has been widely criticised by civil service examination, have not undermined the Biden administration's expressed support for Duque for the moment, but the status could become unstable with the prospect of the presidential elections in May 2022. Washington is uneasy about some missteps in the implementation of the 2016 peace accords, such as the assassination of former guerrillas who have laid down their arms and of social leaders. In any case, Colombia is a convenient ally in the fight against drug trafficking, a task in which the two countries have long collaborated closely since the US's push for Plan Colombia.
Finally, Bogotá can also be useful to the US government in managing the Venezuelan crisis, and not only when it comes to retaining immigrants in the Andean country. The new channels of negotiation that Biden wants to open, while maintaining pressure on Maduro, require a regional consensus of support.
CUBA: The unknown of a post-Castro openness, at least economically
The Obama administration, in which Biden was vice president, carried out a historic rapprochement with Cuba by re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries. Although Trump maintained this diplomatic recognition, he eliminated some provisions that extended the contact with the island and imposed new sanctions. After the harsh policies of his predecessor, Biden will not for the time being stage a return to Obama's policies. The Cuban government did not reciprocate with signs of openness and favouring an immobile regime may have electoral consequences in the US. The possibility of Trump running in 2024 could project a new struggle for the Latino vote in Florida, particularly the Cuban vote, in a state that Biden lost in 2020.
Even so, the Biden Administration will try to loosen some of the sanctions, as has been seen with the authorisation to send remittances to the island. For its part, Cuba will probably play quid pro quo diplomacy and wait for its neighbours to take the first steps towards open policies, basically on economic issues.
VENEZUELA: Options for a credible dialogue
In Venezuela, the recovery of democracy and free elections remain the main focus goal and Biden has maintained the sanctions against the regime of Nicolás Maduro established by Trump. The new administration has moderated its language and taken off the table the possibility of military intervention, which was more rhetoric; however, it still considers Maduro a dictator and recognises Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president.
The priority is a negotiated solution, based on upcoming electoral processes, but talks have only been tentatively opened and so far no clear interlocutors or forums have been established. The US will try to cooperate with multilateral organisations such as the OAS, the group de Lima or the European Union to try to resolve the country's political and economic crisis. Cuba also enters into the equation in some way, as a change in Venezuela would considerably harm the island if the Castro successors decide to continue with the communist model .
Moreover, as with the Cuban issue, the attitude towards Chavismo has electoral consequences in the US, especially in Florida, as seen in the 2020 presidential election, so it is difficult for Biden to ease pressure on Maduro before the mid-term elections in November 2022. Biden has granted Venezuelans in the US temporary protected status.
BRAZIL: The Amazon as a touchstone
Due to the tone of Jair Bolsonaro's presidency, Brazil is another of the countries in the region with which the new administration has worsened its relations compared to the Trump period. Biden's emphasis on the environment and combating climate change pits him against a Bolsonaro who is clearly less sensitive to these issues, and who does not seem to react sufficiently to the increasingly deforested Amazon. However, even if Biden finds the relationship uncomfortable, the US will continue to work with Latin America's leading Economics , whose role remains important in regional development issues.
The year and a half remaining until Brazil's October 2022 presidential election presents a stalemate as the two countries wait for a possible political shift to bring the two countries more in unison, although a return to power of the Workers' Party would not necessarily mean a special consonance, as there was none with either Lula da Silva or Dilma Rousseff even with the Democrats in the White House.
Human rights and vaccines
In addition to the aforementioned countries, some others are also on the US agenda, especially in relation to human rights, such as the case of the democratic regression in Nicaragua or the attention that Bolivia could give to former president Jeanine Áñez.
On the other hand, it is expected that in the coming weeks, with most of the US population already inoculated, the US will proceed to submit million doses of vaccines to Latin American countries. In addition to the real financial aid that these deliveries will represent, they will be a way of counteracting the influence that China and Russia have secured in the region by sending their respective vaccines. If the US-China tug-of-war will mark Biden's presidency, as it will undoubtedly mark this entire decade, one area of contention will be the US "backyard".