Elections will be crucial, however, on some important issues, there is not much difference between the candidates for Latin America.
The US election result on November 3 will be of vital importance for the Latin American region and the world. For Latin America, it’s not difficult to remember the shockwaves that Donald Trump’s victory caused, particularly in Mexico, that was used as a campaign punching bag.
A close result could cause great tension, particularly if President Trump does not acknowledge the results. However, eventually, there will be a winner and therefore, it is important to be clear about the campaign priorities of both candidates to see how they could affect the Latin American region. The five issues that concern us are: energy and environment; security; economy; migration and health.
The first thing that stands out is that both candidates have a Spanish section on their campaign platforms. They are certainly courting Spanish-speaking voters whose vote can be decisive in several key states.
It is important to mention that ideological differences in the region mean that relations with the United States are homogeneous. For example, the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has boasted his closeness to President Trump; It can also be said that Trump’s relationship with President López Obrador is also functional and productive. However, at least on electoral platforms, US candidates conceptualize the region as a whole.
Regardless of whoever wins will have a crisis of enormous magnitude on their hands. The continent is still struggling to contain the pandemic and very difficult times lie ahead for the region’s different economies. ECLAC and other organizations have stated that there will be important setbacks in the reduction of poverty and the quality of life of Latin Americans, particularly women. The United States could face large waves of migration if it does not work with the region to mitigate the effects of the COVID19 pandemic and the economic recession.
So far, the foreign policy approaches of President Donald Trump and the Democratic candidate Joe Biden reflect that Latin America is secondary in the priorities of both candidates. However, as we already mentioned, the containment of COVID-19 and the worrying economic situation will force whoever wins the next elections to pay greater attention to the region’s development on many issues.
Energy and Environment
President Trump’s stance on energy and environmental issues has been clear. He left the Paris Agreement, gave free rein to energy producing companies, relaxed environmental requirements, encouraged fracking, and authorized large projects such as the Keystone XL Pipeline. It’s a classic conservative stance against regulations and downplaying Climate Change.
On the other hand, candidate Biden has promised to return to the Paris Agreement from his mandate’s first day. He has said that his government will pressure other governments to make the necessary efforts to meet its goals, including through a certification similar to the one the State Department does on human rights, democracy, and human trafficking.
Another campaign promise from Biden is that he would work to establish a global ban on subsidies for products made from fossil fuels. Such a measure would target many Latin American governments.
Finally, Biden has said that he would implement a compensatory tariff on fossil fuel products, stating that: «We can no longer separate trade policy from our climate goals.» Although these types of tariffs’ legality are questionable, Trump opened a pandora’s box for these measures based on National Security considerations and Biden could do the same.
Mexico’s energy policy could be questioned by the United States in two ways. First, if Biden wins, there could be more pressure to favor the development of renewable resources. But also, the current government’s intention to strengthen State-Owned Enterprises might be in violation of the USMCA as was recently expressed by US congressmen.
On the issue of security, the Trump’s campaign platform states that his main achievements include: giving the armed forces a larger budget, greater pressure on North Korea on disarmament and the abandonment of the pact with Iran.
The geopolitical struggle and the hardening of the US vs. China is one of Trump’s possible successes with his own electorate. Trump’s campaign also claims that they are supporting democracy in Venezuela, backing the efforts of Juan Guaidó, and putting pressure on the Nicolás Maduro regime. Despite the rocky relationship with Venezuela, with the departure of John Bolton from Trump’s close circle, any real possibility of trying to overthrow the Venezuelan regime was deflated.
Policies against Cuba and more recently Venezuela are issues of internal relevance in the United States, since they entail electoral support from those countries’ diasporas in key electoral districts to win the presidency. Consequently, the Trump administration has had a heavy-handed policy with Cuba, but without many confrontations.
For his part, if Joe Biden were to win the electoral contest, he has announced a change of tone in the relationship with Latin America. Latin Americans can expect less aggressive rhetoric that allows them to work with the US through official diplomatic channels on common concern issues.
There is a good chance that Biden will revert to a policy of rapprochement with Cuba, as happened with the Obama administration. Biden may have to acknowledge that the world is heading into a new bipolar era between the US and China, however, the relationship could return to less public diplomacy (Twitter diplomacy) leading to better results.
The complicated thing would be to evaluate how much the US requests Latin American countries’ support for its main geostrategic battle with China, considering that there are more and more commercial relations between LATAM and China.
In terms of security, a turn in the personal relations policy that Trump established with some tough men from different countries, including Vladimir Putin in Russia and other quasi-authoritarian regimes, can also be foreseen.
The US economy under President Trump grew strongly until COVID19 caused the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression. As we have seen, Trump blamed China for the health and economic catastrophe we are witnessing.
If Trump wins the election, it is foreseeable that the trade war against China will continue in force and his America First policy will continue on several fronts. The trade conflict between the US and China may have important consequences for Latin America.
First, a protracted conflict can benefit countries like Mexico and Colombia that could position themselves as an option for US companies that have settled in China and need to rethink their investments. On the other hand, it could harm commodity-exporting countries such as Chile and Brazil and more generally, it could harm the chances of world economic recovery.
Trump’s relentless attack on the World Trade Organization has brought it to a standstill in the dispute settlement mechanism, adding to global uncertainty. Trump has also shown that he is avid in using tariffs to favor sensitive sectors like metalworkers – which have restricted exports from Brazil, Argentina and Mexico – or politically important like Florida farmers.
On the other hand, Trump has shown that he wants to reach agreements. The TMEC between Mexico, the United States and Canada is a trade agreement that, although it restricts some commercial disciplines, continues to be positive for the three countries involved.
The Secretary of the Economy of Mexico, Graciela Márquez Colín said that in case Joe Biden wins the presidential elections in the United States, the Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada (USMCA would not have important modifications.
This surely is true since the top priorities of the Democrats were incorporated into the USMCA via the demands of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
However, even if the USMCA will not be renegotiated, that does not exempt the Democrats from being more eager to use the new tools provided in the agreement. Particularly if we talk about labor and environmental issues where they consider that Mexico may be breaching and provide a systematic disadvantage for their companies.
Although Joe Biden describes himself in favor of globalization, Biden could be even more protectionist than Trump on economic issues. Biden says he will try to secure a future «Made in America by American workers» by favoring the manufacturing sector, promoting «Buy America» policies and against unfair trade deals.
Biden has also mentioned that he would link compliance with environmental commitments with access to the US market, using the same coercion tool preferred by Trump, tariffs. Biden has said that if he wins, the US will rejoin the Trans-Pacific Agreement, with some modifications. This can be beneficial for Chile, Peru, and Mexico, harmonizing trade rules between all the countries involved.
The restrictive policy of the Trump administration on immigration is well known. It has not only tried to minimize the flow of undocumented migrants, adopting inhumane measures such as the separation of families, the incarceration of children and even charges of forced sterilization.
But the restrictions are not only against the undocumented and border crossings. It has also tried to limit the migration of refugee applicants, of qualified people – reducing the number of H1-B visas available – and controlling applications for family reunification. The Trump administration has also abandoned multilateral commitments on immigration, such as the Global Compact on Migration.
Mexico has been forced to assume the role of containment in the face of migrant caravans from Central America. The goalkeeper role imposed by the United States is the price to pay for not being the target of President Trump’s attacks and his tariff threats.
However, Mexico’s government seems to partially agree on the thesis that the caravans have a political component and has chosen not to risk becoming an electoral target again. The Guatemalan government is also assuming responsibility for containing the caravans from Honduras.
The first thing that would change with the election of Joe Biden as president would be a change in rhetoric on migration. Biden has voiced his support for immigration reform, particularly one that benefits the young generation of Dreamers. The program was promoted while he was vice president. Surely, reactivating, it will be one of his priorities. However, it will have to tear down a corpus of presidential decrees that have been issued by the Trump administration. The fight will be against the current.
According to Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the US-based think tank and research center Migration Policy Institute, the two men’s political differences can be summed up like this: ‘Biden’s platform is essentially a plan to reverse everything. That has happened under President Trump.
The main contrast would come from changes in migration and asylum policies. Biden’s electoral platform affirms that his administration will be able to end Trump’s asylum policies, reaffirming that the United States must be a safe place for vulnerable groups from anywhere in the world. Biden’s platform presented a Plan to Build Prosperity with Central America. It states that it will convene the Central American countries’ leaders, Mexico and Canada to meetings to discuss the factors that are forcing migration and long-term solutions will be sought.
Health and COVID-19
The Trump administration’s handling of COVID19 has been disastrous. He has confronted the federal government with the governors and with his own health authorities. It was downplayed from the start and now that Trump appears to have recovered from COVID, the signs are even less consistent. For now, border crossings, tourism, and migration in many ways remain restricted.
Biden has said that economic recovery depends on managing the pandemic so he would focus on reducing infections at all costs. It is also foreseeable that a Democratic government would try to strengthen Obamacare, providing more tools for a more coordinated response.
Latin America has been the region most affected by COVID19 due to its institutional weakness. A stronger response from a Democratic government could provide better results in coordination with Latin American countries.
The U.S. relationship with Latin America during President Trump’s first term was marked in large part by his anti-immigrant rhetoric, his promise to build a wall on the southern border, and Trump’s attacks on Mexico on trade issues. . The most radical expressions of Trump’s anti-immigrant policy were the indefinite detention of children at the border and the policy of containing Central American migrants in Mexico. Latin America would welcome a change in rhetoric.
On the other hand, Biden, on his campaign platform mentions Latin American countries only rarely. For example, there is a mention of Mexico as the source of substances that cause the opioid crisis affecting young Americans.
Undoubtedly, a victory by Joe Biden could improve the rhetoric towards Latin America. However, there is still a long way to assume that the departure of Donald Trump from the presidency would result in a closer relationship between the US and Latin America.
In the case of Mexico, the situation is complex. Mexican analysts such as Rafael Fernandez de Castro of the University of San Diego and Ken Smith, former chief negotiator of the TMEC for the Peña Nieto administration, conclude that Biden’s victory would be positive for Mexico. Others like Carlos Loret de Mola and many more have affirmed that there is resentment in the Democrats for the visit that President López Obrador to the United States on the eve of the election.
Latin America must begin to prepare for the most likely scenario, which is Biden’s victory and a change of government. But it must also prepare itself so that the result is contested, and we see a post-electoral crisis of greater dimensions to be seen in 2000 that could destabilize the entire regional balance.