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Geopolitics

Trump's Sudden Interest In Latin America: A Play For Florida

Donald Trump walking along the Mexican-American border
Donald Trump walking along the Mexican-American border
Farid Kahhat

-Analysis-

LIMA — Last August, U.S. President Donald Trump's administration published its Western Hemisphere Strategic Framework paper, which designated the Western Hemisphere — North and South America — as a "geo-political priority for the United States." National Security Adviser Robert C. O'Brien, who presented the document, insisted the region was incredibly important to the United States, and had been ignored for too long. Personally, I find this declaration puzzling.

First off, this sudden interest seems to come out of nowhere as the National Security Strategy, approved in 2017, paid no particular attention to the Western Hemisphere — and the Trump administration hasn't published any similar documents for other regions. Secondly, Trump has been president since January 2017, so he's responsible for the indifference to this region that's been exhibited ever since. For example, he's only traveled to a South American country once (Argentina in 2018), but only for a G-20 meeting, not for an event focused on the region. Thirdly, Trump has not been overly friendly to regional states (including those that consider him an ally against communism, like Bolsonaro's Brazil).

The list of hostile gestures Trump has displayed towards these countries is long.

The list of hostile gestures Trump has displayed towards these countries is long, but I'll name a few. He threatened Mexico with a border wall if they didn't stop the flow of migrants to the U.S. He withdrew aid to Central American countries for similar anti-immigration reasons. Then there was the 2017 suspension of the family reunification program for Cuban immigrants, the refusal of most Venezuelan asylum applications and the 2019 announcement of punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Argentina and Brazil. I could also talk about his efforts to cancel the DACA migration program (affecting some 8,000 young Peruvians), and so on and so forth.

On Trump's only visit to a South American country, Argentina, for the 2018 G-20 meeting — Photo: G20 Argentina/ZUMA

I'm not saying the document was created solely to impact the upcoming election, but I find it hard to believe that an apparent policy change toward the region only two months before the big vote is entirely coincidental. The document wasn't just presented in a swing state, Florida, but specifically at a gathering of Colombian and Venezuelan migrants in West Palm Beach (where there just happens to be a Trump Plaza block).

It's fortuitous that the document focuses on the nations that former National Security adviser John R. Bolton dubbed "the Troika of Tyranny"— Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. They are the birthplaces of many U.S. residents or citizens with two shared characteristics: Many of them live in Florida and have a general dislike of both the regimes running their "home" countries and of communism. This makes them likely to support coercive measures to topple them. These are communities where most members agree with the document's proposals (which I may consider in another column) toward the three leftist regimes.

And, judging by polls in Florida, capitalizing on this issue may prove to be a vote-winner for Trump.

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