After a decade where many Latin American countries have experienced economic growth and social gains, the region has now entered a period of transition with the end of the commodities boom and uncertain economic futures. Several reports explore how China, the U.S. and others are modulating their spheres of influence in the region.A new report from the China-Latin America Finance Database (a collaboration between
Inter-American Dialogue and Boston University) shows that China's loans to Latin America rose 71% in 2014 to $22 billion, a sum that exceeds last years' loans from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, according to the BBC (2/27). The top three recipients in 2014 were Brazil ($8.6 billion), Argentina ($7bn) and Venezuela ($5.7bn). These loans "come with few strings attached" and avoid "meddling in domestic policy, according to the authors of the report in an oped in the Financial Times (2/27). There are risks for China as they "remain heavily focused on industries that are endemic to environmental and social conflict. Tensions are rising in Ecuador and Peru as new Chinese finance pushes exploration into the indigenous and biodiverse Amazon." Still, the authors suggest that 2015 may be the biggest year for China in Latin America yet. (See their take in 2012.)
Coletta Youngers and Adam Schaffer report that Washington's hegemony over drug policy is being challenged across Latin America creating "an unprecedented international drug policy debate," according to an essay in NACLA's Winter issue and posted online yesterday (2/26). Unlike China, the U.S. has to deal with "waning political influence" and a "long-simmering resentment" in the region. Youngers and Schaffer write about the paradox between U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Where the Obama administration has two significant domestic initiatives in drug policy in favor of public health (expanded access to drug treatment through the Affordable Care Act) and civil and human rights (rethink harsh sentencing policies), this has yet to be fully reflected in the U.S. drug policy towards Latin America. "Drugs are still seen as a scourge" and they "provide a convenient means for maintaining relations and influence with military and police forces across the region." Youngers and Schaffer wonder, for example, if a peace accord is signed in Colombia, the fundamental question to be put to the U.S. government is whether or not it will fund the peace, as it did the war.
Daniel Zovatto writes that the end of Latin America's 'golden decade' (2003-2013) demands a renewed agenda in his essay on IDEA's website (2/27). "In a few short years, the region moved from euphoria to the moderate and even cautious optimism prevailing today." Zovatto warns that "this will be a very difficult year for ... Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil", coincidentally or not the same three countries that received the most Chinese investment last year (see above). Repeating themes from The Washington Consensus, he suggests that Latin America needs to "urgently set in motion an agenda of profound structural reforms aimed at modernizing its development model and strategically adapting to this new global context." (His essay is based in part on IDEA's Third International Forum of Santo Domingo held in January.) Separately, Simon Whistler (Control Risks) argues that while Latin America shifts to the center, Hugo Chávez’s legacy has not been wholly discredited, as "government support for the poorest members of society has increased across the region," according to his oped in Forbes (2/26)
Another less influential group, MIKTA, is preparing for their first meeting of foreign ministers in May, according to an article in Global Post (2/26). This set of "middle powers" includes Mexico (as well as South Korea, Indonesia, Australia and Turkey) and was formed in 2013 "to enhance coordination on global issues of common interest."
Still, the U.S. military sphere of influence seems beyond dispute. Even though Chinese naval ships occasionally reach the region, "at any given moment, 4,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Latin America," according to the Associated Press in 2013. This includes at least four U.S. Navy ships, U.S. pilots "clock[ing] more than 46,400 hours in 2011 flying anti-drug missions, and U.S. agents from at least 10 law enforcement agencies spread across the continent."
- Former Colombian President Uribe expressed willingness to meet with current President Santos to review the peace talks, according to Colombia Reports (2/26) that Earlier this week, during his visit to Bogota, Kofi Anan encouraged the two political rivals to dialogue, according to Colombia's Caracol (2/25).
- Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles responded to outgoing Uruguay President José Mujica's fear of a military coup in Caracas, according to La Patilla (2/26). Capriles wrote a strong 2-page letter to Mujica appealing to UNASUR to help strengthen democracy in Venezuela. Mujica is also President Pro Tempore of UNASUR.
- Tal Cual, the opposition Venezuela newspaper started six months ago by Teodoro Petkoff, a former guerrilla as a forum to criticize the socialist revolution started by the late President Hugo Chavez is going from daily to weekly publication "amid a shortage of newsprint and what it says is a pattern of government harassment," according to the Associated Press (2/26). Daily information will continue online. The Spanish daily El Pais (2/26) says that the shift is in part due to Petkoff's health.
- Novo, a new market-oriented political party in Brazil, is profiled in the new issue of The Economist. Led by banker João Amoêdo, the group calls for privatization of Petrobras and has submitted the 492,000 notarised signatures needed to register with the electoral authority. They are set for the Brazilian elections in 2030, according to the Spanish daily El Pais (2/18).
- An Argentine judge has dismissed an accusation by prosecutors that President Cristina Fernández conspired to hide Iran’s alleged role in a deadly 1994 bombing. According to the Financial Times (2/26), "the decision provides a needed fillip for the embattled leader but also raises more questions about the credibility of Argentina’s judicial system." President Fernández, her foreign minister and other senior officials had been accused of impeding a probe into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in order to put through a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran.
- 15 years ago PAN broke the PRI's lock on Mexican elections, but now it seems Mexicans exchanged one set of corrupt politicians for another, according to an essay in Open Society (2/26) that calls for "enhancing civil society" as a solution.