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The End of U.S. hegemony in Latin America

The loss of Latin America is a much bigger deal. The penchant of the State Dept. of attacking conservative allies of the U.S. for their presumed failures, while ignoring the much greater faults of the alternatives simply will not work anymore.

U.S. hegemony in Latin America
Nicholas Virzi |
02 de noviembre, 2022

Famed socialist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated Jair Bolsonaro on October 30th in the second round runoff of the presidential elections in Brazil. Allegations of massive fraud in regions favoring Lula, who won by a slim margin of 1.8 percentage points, have already surfaced. Working class protests in favor of Bolsonaro have erupted. Bolsonaro appeared publicly on November 1st to appeal to the protesters to use peaceful means of political expression, while an investigation into the matter apparently is underway.   

Lula is known for his affinities for dictatorships in Russia, China, Venezuela, and Iran. Lula has long been accused of having an anti-American bias. Lula´s having obtained more ballots counted in his favor is surely no great news for U.S. foreign policy interests in the region, despite Biden´s celebratory comments upon hearing the media reports of Lula´s political victory.

With Lula at the helm in Brazil, the largest economy in South America, only four countries in the region would be governed by administrations not generally classified as leftwing. These would be Suriname, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay. Although the United States has at its own helm the most radically progressive presidential administration in its history, the advance of leftwing governments in South America, and, more broadly, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), represents serious challenges to traditional and current U.S. foreign policy in the region. Given his track record, there can be no question that a Lula victory represents a serious setback to America´s foreign policy interests. This applies not just to the region, but the global stage. Although Lula´s political power to remake Brazil will be limited by republican checks and balances in the Brazilian congress, and dispersed power among the governorships where he will face serious opposition, he will still have a strong hand to play in the conduct of Brazilian foreign policy. This is will not align with US foreign policy.

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First and foremost, the U.S. wants to blunt China´s economic and political advance in LAC, a region that America has regarded as her exclusive sphere of influence since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. The policy of confronting China was begun under the Trump administration, and has been adopted by the Biden administration. This policy faces an uphill climb for acceptance in the region. Latin America´s political, economic and intellectual elites are quite aware that China is the main trading partner for the U.S. China represents 16.9% of all U.S. commerce with the world. Again and again, while the U.S. waxes eloquent on matters of corruption, human rights and democracy, it does what it wants, and expects other nations to comply. The world is tired of it.

China´s commercial clout with the U.S. being well known, México, also under a leftwing government, is not far behind at 14.2%. Mexico is the 15th largest economy in the world. Together, Brazil (12th largest economy) and Mexico account for almost as much U.S. commerce as China, falling short by about one percentage point of total U.S. commerce.

The change in trade relations between the U.S. and China with respect to South America has been alarming. In 1999, the U.S. was the main trading partner for every single country in South America. Twenty years later, South American trade with China surpassed trade with the U.S. in almost every country, except for Paraguay, Ecuador and Colombia.

Colombia, of course, just recently elected a radical socialist, Gustavo Petro, as its president. In a shot across the bow meant to signal differences with the United States on security issues, Petro named Ivan Velasquez, a renown leftwing prosecutor with no military experience, as Minister of Defense. The chickens come home to roost, as Velasquez was a favorite of the U.S. State Dept. in Guatemala, a useful stooge of the woke segment of the State Dept. in its politically motivated campaign against the business elites in Guatemala from 2014-2019. Colombia is now questioning the U.S. war on drugs, after the U.S. government has dedicated more than $10 billion in counter-narcotics assistance.

Simply put, the largest economies of South America are under leftwing control. These would be, in order of size, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Peru, totaling $3,419 billion dollars in G.D.P. With economic power, comes political power, as America herself knows.

By contrast, the countries outside the leftwing sphere in South America only total a comprised G.D.P. of $231.5 billion, a scant 6.8% of the G.D.P. of their largest neighbors. If one adds Mexico (another $1,425 billion), a country outside of South America but within the LAC region, that figure falls to 4.8%.  Without economic clout to pressure other countries, the U.S. is left with few avenues of influence in the region. America will have to come off her moral high horse and deal with the realities of geoeconomics and geopolitics in the region, as they both feed off each other.

The U.S. will have to use the carrot more than the stick to align the countries of Latin America. In order to do that, it will have to come to terms with the reality of its grand failures in the region. During the Truman Administration, the debate was “who lost China?” The loss of Latin America is a much bigger deal. The penchant of the State Dept. of attacking conservative allies of the U.S. for their presumed failures, while ignoring the much greater faults of the alternatives simply will not work anymore.

This is a matter for the next Republican Congress to take up with urgency. American interests can no longer be subordinated to the particular political preferences of State Dept. officials. America needs to change course in the region.

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