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Trump's Policy Toward Latin America Is Worse Than Just A Wall

Gazing through the border wall in Tijuana
Gazing through the border wall in Tijuana
Danilo Arbilla

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ –– For some time now, Latin America has not figured on the U.S. State Department's agenda. If the continent did appear, it was at the bottom of the government's list. This indifference has only grown starker since Donald J. Trump moved into the White House.

This state of affairs is neither good nor bad. Close ties with the U.S. have resulted in many ugly experiences and memories. Hence the common anti-American graffiti on the streets of Latin America — "Yankee go home"; politicians from Fidel Castro to more recent leftist governments have postured themselves as "anti-imperialist."

For these regimes, which are now in free-fall, blaming the U.S. and the rightwing for all their ills is the last plank they can desperately cling to. They even make solemn vows to unite to confront invasions by "gringos' and right-wing "oligarchs' (as if there aren't any left-wing oligarchs.) Despite more than a dozen warnings by Venezuelan presidents both current (Nicolás Maduro) and former (Hugo Chávez) over the years, these invasions have yet to materialize.

Inventing foreign enemies is an old recourse to invigorate nationalism at home. If that ploy fails, these countries justify "exceptional" measures like curbing rights and liberties. The thing is, nobody believes them anymore. If an invasion did occur, it would certainly come as a surprise.

In Latin America, there isn't a "nuclear bomb" — not even Chávez tried that trick. We also don't field a global terrorist group. It's just as well considering the drama Castro provoked when he tried to host Soviet missiles.

The result is that we're increasingly slipping into oblivion. Consequently, small dictatorships proliferate, like those we see so often in other ignored continents.

Trump, notoriously, has no Latin American "policy." This contrasts with the frivolous policy of his predecessor Barack Obama, which only served to chase away America's last remaining friends, many of whom were admittedly rough. Obama, who happens to have deported more migrants than ever before in U.S. history, was like the proverbial church dove –– a pretty bird that defecates on the faithful who enter a place of worship.

Trump, on the other hand, has not even cast a glance this way, save for a couple of phone calls. He has only cited themes of passing relevance to us, which he sees as domestic issues. Take Cuba, for instance. You would have expected some news by now about U.S.-Cuba relations. There is talk of a new policy but we will need to wait — you never know with Trump.

The change in trade policies, migration and the proposed wall on the Mexican border all relate to Trump's domestic agenda and follow his dramatic vows to make changes inside America. But the issues he says are internal will directly affect many countries on this continent. Persecuting migrants will lead to injustice. Subsequent deportations signify a serious problem, almost a tragedy, for each person affected but also for every country receiving them "back."

The border wall is simply pathetic. It will not be practical and it will prove to be only symbolic. It will not just be a long wall between Mexico and the United States; it will be a demarcation separating the United States and Latin America.

For now, everything appears erratic. Recently, the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay, Kelly Keiderling, said there was no dictatorship in Venezuela. The former U.S. ambassador in Venezuela, who was expelled from Caracas in 2013, said the U.S. did not see the present situation as a dictatorship but rather as a dysfunctional separation of powers.

What does all this mean? Anything can happen now, so we must wait.

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Visiting Paris on Tuesday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksïï Reznikov recalled that a year ago, the United States had refused him ground-air Stinger missiles deliveries. Eleven months later, Washington is delivering heavy tanks, in addition to everything else. The 'no' of yesterday is the green light of tomorrow: this is the lesson that the very pragmatic minister seemed to learn.

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