Trump vs Hillary: Consequences of US presidential elections for Latin America

As US voters turn out to decide between Trump and Hilary on election day, 5 analysts from the region share their thoughts on the potential impact of the results on Latin America. Español Português

Alejandro Vélez Francesc Badia i Dalmases Gema Kloppe Santamaría Breno Bringel Carlos D. Mesa Gisbert Abel Gibert
8 November 2016

US presidential candidate Donald Trump, as a piñata, ahead of election day. Mexico City, Sept. 25, 2016. AP Photo/Marco Ugarte.

The contemporary history of the relations between Latin America and its powerful neighbour to the North has not only been a turbulent one, but one that has never developed the full potential of their common destiny.

The relationship has been marked for decades by a long record of interventionism, double-standards, and an attitude of superiority and contempt. The huge asymmetry in terms of economic and political weight and the hegemonic position of the United States over the region have meant that the US economic and security interests have systematically overrun the defense of the shared values of freedom, democracy and human rights. This attitude on the part of the US has traditionally been the source of significant tensions along the North/South axis.

The relationship has been marked for decades by a long record of interventionism, double-standards, and an attitude of superiority and contempt.

Even though an analysis of the possible outcome of the elections on polling day always runs the risk of being obsolete the day after, we nevertheless consider it relevant to glean the opinion of some of our contributors at DemocraciaAbierta because, whatever the outcome, the underlying concerns will surely remain.

Former President Carlos Mesa, from Bolivia, comments:

"This election has a special significance for Latin Americans due to candidate Donald Trump’s attitude as regards migration in particular and Latin Americans in general. Trump has revived a stereotype that take us back to the times of the most conservative visions before the conquest of civil rights. This superficial and prejudiced outlook can be very harmful to a global policy towards Latin America.

Today, an important element is that the presence of the so-called Latinos in the United States - the first minority in the country - has in fact extended Latin America to the heart of its territory, forcing its political leaders to change their perception and their actions in relation to us, or – and this is a real possibility - to deepen the rift between us.

At first glance, Trump's triumph would make it difficult to think of an evolution following the course set by President Obama in Cuba, on issues relating to the need for less asymmetric relations regarding economic integration, migration, the fight against drug and arms trafficking and organized crime, and the strengthening of a relationship founded on respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of our countries (in this matter, Washington's foreign policy is different in South America from that in Central America and the Caribbean.)

If Hillary Clinton wins, a more open attitude can be expected, although the risk here - except in the case of Cuba – would be the continuity of a relationship stuck in dominant indifference, which certainly does not contribute to the establishment of a climate of trust and mutual cooperation between the world's first power and the hemisphere to which it belongs”.

If Hillary Clinton wins, a more open attitude can be expected, although the risk here - except in the case of Cuba – would be the continuity of a relationship stuck in dominant indifference.

Meanwhile, the analyst Abel Gilbert from Buenos Aires, warns:

“Arguably, South America has been so busy with its own crises that it hasn’t seen what’s on the horizon. Here, we are witnessing Venezuela try to avoid civil war, Colombia attempt to keep the prospect of peace between the Government and the FARC afloat, and Brasil on the verge of a new Thatcherite experiment – one which will surely result in social unrest. And in Argentina, the Right is seeking to return the country to a previous time, its own image and likeness.

Elections in the United States, in this context, present themselves as a side issue – as if what is at stake does not have a direct impact south of the Rio Grande. Mexico is perhaps the most concerned about the possibility of a Trump victory. This concern could also be extended to Cuba. But after Tuesday, many politicians and influential leaders will start to foresee the approaching danger. If Hilary wins, perhaps everything will stay the same – which in itself is not auspicious. But things could turn out to be much worse”.

Clearly, it is in Mexico where the election is being watched with greater concern. In this regard, Professor Gema Santamaría comments:

“Regardless of who is the president of the United States, protectionism and anti-immigration sentiments - stirred up during this election process - remain part of the American political landscape. In particular, the anti-immigrant feeling and promises of the United States’ mythical ‘return’ to a white, safe and homogenous America will undoubtedly have consequences for Mexico and Northern Central America.

Migration and deportation policy, already intensified, could become even more severe under an electorate that continue to demand for the building of walls on the border. This election will leave the United States divided and damaged, with two irreconcilable sides facing off against one another. A damaged United States is a United States that will be prone to making unilateral, protectionist or invasive decisions in its attempts to regain unity. Let us hope that the country of checks and balances allows democracy to prevail and remains committed to plurality.”

Migration and deportation policy, already intensified, could become even more severe under an electorate that continue to demand for the building of walls on the border.

Alejandro Vélez, from Mexico City, further tells us that:

“Mexico is experiencing a bloody decade. The Mexican catastrophe became apparent towards the end of the George W. Bush administration, and has continued behind the charisma of the Obama presidency. The influence of the US has been felt through Plan Mexico (la Iniciativa Mérida), the failure of the Fast and Furious programme, and the ‘securitisation’ of Mexico’s southern borders with Guatemala and Belize. The common denominator across these programmes is that they are all framed within the paradigm of US Homeland Security and the global regime’s prohibition of narcotics.

In this sense, the most important question we should be asking in Mexico is how to change this paradigm, if either Trump or Clinton wins the election. One the one hand, I think that both are ‘drug warriors’ and that the prohibition regime will go on for at least another four years, having fatal consequences for Mexico and other countries in the region. But also, I think one of the dangers posed if ‘The Donald’ wins is that he can carry this narrative of ‘Homeland Security’ forward even further – with intrusive surveillance, the militarisation of internal security and preventative wars – whereas I think Hilary would keep it more or less as it is now”.

The most important question we should be asking in Mexico is how to change this paradigm, if either Trump orClinton wins the election.

Breno Bringel, professor and researcher at the Institute of Social and Political Studies of the State University of Rio de Janeiro, points out the following:

"Even though a profound, global geopolitical reconfiguration since the turn of the century has affected both the United States and Latin America as a region, I think it is important to highlight two elements, which are commonly viewed as apparent paradoxes, but which indicate some systemic constants.

On the one hand, there is the fact that while the United States, in the post-9/11 scenario, opened a new war phase through the "war on terrorism" and unleashed a brutal financial crisis that has metastasized to the rest of the world, it has actually come out from it strengthened, and has maintained its central role as a capitalist power. On the other hand, the assertion of the autonomy of Latin America and the proactive and potentially alternative character of its global projection in recent years has not only been marked by the circumstantial, gradually dissolved alliance of progressive governments, but by the reinforcement of the position of the region as a world-system dependant, a position directly related to its continuing function as supplier of commodities to the world-economy.

In this scenario, the future president of the United States will find itself with a regional map which is quite different from that of a few years ago. Today - and in the coming years – it is characterized by strong social polarization; regression as regards historically conquered social rights; political destabilization; interregional fragmentation; and several governments being inclined to more contingent and less conflictive relations with the United States. This situation can be read differently by Hillary and Trump but, in both cases, from a geopolitical perspective that will surely keep on viewing Latin America in terms of its trade potential and as an important pole for social containment. Be that as it may, we cannot think about US-Latin American relations only from the viewpoint of the states. In this sense, a possible Trump victory at the polls - though disastrous internally for a majority of the American population (including the Latin American migrant population) - could, however, reactivate with renewed strength the anti-imperialist feeling and empower of the social movements in the region that have been building, ever since the struggle against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in the 1990s, a series of networks, spaces of convergence and initiatives which are alive and well in the collective imaginary".

Whoever it is that wins the election, it is time for the Northern neighbour to change its attitude. For many reasons – geographical, economic, demographic and ideological – the future of the United States has a stake in Latin America. And in any case, it is clear that the offensive aggressiveness of Donald Trump generates more repudiation than the hawkishness we expect from Hilary Clinton.

What consequences do you think the US presidential election results could have on Latin America? Let us know in the comments sections below.

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