The U.S. Badly Needs Friends In Latin America — It Should Start Acting Like It
If the United States insists on treating Latin American countries as unruly neighbors rather than partners, then it must expect problems from them in the form of fugitives, drugs and crime.
BOGOTÁ — There isn't a border on this planet as tense and heated as the U.S.-Mexico border. It isn't a bilateral frontier, but a line drawn through an entire continent. Every day it must keep thousands of migrants, who are filled with dreams of a life of work and prosperity, at bay as they push to get in.
Without a concerted strategy of productivity, job opportunities and strengthened markets between these countries, the migrant problem will inevitably become less manageable and more explosive.
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You cannot open frontiers to capital flow and raw materials while shutting out people and production. Latin America is an immense market and a vast supplier. It should be treated as a partner, not a rowdy neighbor — in that respect, we have problematic neighbors on both sides.
Today, Mexico and Colombia are two countries destroyed by drug trafficking, which nurtures the development of gangs and creates outrageous, ill-begotten fortunes. It defies all legality, rots public institutions and crushes customs, flourishing in poorer areas where desperation for a fast buck lingers. It hurts work ethic, leads young people to join gangs and drains communities of resources while drenching them in blood.
Drug trafficking is kept alive by a large market of consumers without a need for tangible stores or advertising. Banning drug use — the approach of the last 50 years — has merely fueled it. The day will come when cocaine use is no longer illegal (ceasing, in other words, to be so readily available) and instead regulated like regular prescription medicines. Had tobacco been outlawed, its use would not have fallen as it has in recent years, thanks to information campaigns and social censure.
But until that day of wisdom comes, when we see drug use as a health problem and not a crime, the only working alternative is to create productive economies that give people a basic income and prospects of legal earnings. These are society's defenses against the maelstrom of violence, and the reason why people leave: they want to be part of a legal economy.
So we don't need a police force, but a friend. The U.S. must stop trying to police Latin American countries when it wouldn't dare to behave this way with China or Saudi Arabia and never has with allies like the old Shah's regime in Iran. It must let every country resolve its internal problems — without sanctions and imperialist pressures — trusting in the truth of its economic model and understanding that a policy of backing local jobs and culture will yield better results than blocking migration or deporting en masse.
Geography has imposed itself.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba's ardent desire has been to end the exhaustive U.S. blockade. An unconditional end to the embargo would make it an inseparable U.S. partner, because, as Fidel Castro understood, when you need a screw or a spare part, it is, quite simply, easier to bring it in from Miami than from China or Moscow.
Geography has imposed itself here, as 60 years of closeness to Russia could not end Cuba's need to trade with the United States. Now, there are things Cuba has achieved, which it will not renounce — namely, a generous health system, in spite of its precarious finances, as well as universal education and social harmony not seen elsewhere in Latin America.
January 8, 2023: U.S President Joe Biden talks with Custom and Border Patrol officers during a visit to the border wall along the Rio Grande, in El Paso, TX, United States of America.
An urgent need for change
In Florida, many believe there can never be a new relationship without regime change in Cuba. Yet the same controlling regime that stifles personal initiatives has managed, amid an economic siege, to keep Cuba safe from the chaos of crime and violence engulfing Latin American societies. Its social controls would not in any case survive the end of the embargo, because they are one of its consequences.
We should want Cuba to keep its social and humanitarian advances. People have dignity and education in Cuba and show concern for their neighbors. The political regime is strict, but the policies are not intrinsically malign. This fact must have been perceived by all the countries urging an end to the embargo every year. A friendly strategy like that of Former President Barack Obama would bear more fruitful results than a sterile, 60-year blockade that has made a people suffer while not bringing the government to its knees.
Venezuela also needs to be viewed in a different way. Nobody, seeing the state of Venezuela today, could fail to miss the democratic years of its last president, the late Hugo Chávez, in spite of his irksome discourse. An economic collapse caused by falling oil prices and sanctions has helped tighten Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's grip on power. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to a power transition there was former U.S. President Donald Trump's threat to send Maduro to Guantanamo once he was overthrown.
Washington should favor the prosperity of allies, not their submission.
Venezuelans who have suffered but remain appreciative and admiring of a 20-year socialist project would never have allowed such an outrage. Above all, the United States must return to the spirit of the Alliance for Progress. It must create neighborly policies that favor the prosperity of allies, not their submission. That is the way to stop regional states from sending thousands of migrants to the border or seeking other partners to prop up their ailing economies.
If the United States were conscious of its situation at this point and had a strategic vision of its future, it would be in a rush to improve and reshape its relations with Latin America. We have water, natural reserves, biodiversity, organic produce aplenty, simple lifestyles and cultural riches that are fast becoming the world's vital resources.
But there is no exploiting this vast and precious hoard without giving its people minimal prospects of prosperity and dignity. Only as the result of strong and genuine alliances, born of authentic reciprocity, can we expect to face down the vast challenges that are no longer looming, but right in front of our eyes.
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