What Joe Biden's Arrival Means For Latin America

The new administration isn't likely to prioritize relations with Latin America and the Caribbean. But after the Trump era, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

In Lima, Peru, on Dec. 29
In Lima, Peru, on Dec. 29
Farid Kahhat


LIMA — The United States is facing its biggest recession since the Great Depression. As I write, the coronavirus pandemic is killing more than 4,000 Americans a day. In foreign policy, the priority for the incoming administration of President Joseph Biden will probably be to repair transatlantic ties in order to forge a united western front against communist China. Latin America, on the other hand, is unlikely to be much of a priority.

But just because the region isn't not among Biden's top foreign policy concerns doesn't mean that the decisions his administration makes in other areas are not in Latin America's best interest. There is, for example, the new president's determination to rejoin the Paris climate pact. And that has a direct impact on my city, Lima, one of the biggest metropolises in the world.

Latin America is unlikely to be much of a priority.

The Peruvian capital was built in a desert, and the mountain glaciers that supply it with water are melting due to climate change. It is suffering, in other words, from a global problem that cannot be resolved if the planet's second emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States, does not take part in international agreements such as this that are designed to confront it.

The point here is that even though the United States makes decisions on international policy issues without necessarily considering how these might affect Latin America, it doesn't mean that these decisions do not have important consequences for our region.

The same applies to U.S. migration policies. Decisions are made based on domestic politics and security considerations. But since the vast majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States come from Latin America and the Caribbean, those decisions have substantive consequences for our region. The DACA (short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program benefits youngsters from more than 150 countries, two thirds of whom were born in Mexico.

For reasons like these, one could say that Democratic administrations were always a little better for our region than Republican administrations, bar in one area: international trade. Historically, the Democrats are the party most inclined toward protectionism. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, needed Republican votes to ratify the NAFTA free-trade pact, as most Democrats voted against it. But this changed with Donald Trump, who cajoled and forced Canada and Mexico into revising the treaty's terms.

Brazil realized that "America First" referred only to the U.S., not the Americas.

The reason why regional leaders like Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro sought to forge an alliance with the Trump administration was not so much because it served the interests of their particular countries, but was instead due to what they believed to be ideological and cultural affinities with the U.S. president.

As Brazil's Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo said, the two sides were united by devotion to the values of Western and Christian civilization, and a shared contempt for what they called "globalism." But Brazil soon realized that "America First" referred only to the United States, not the Americas, as Trump treated Bolsonaro worse than he had his predecessor, the conservative Michel Temer. The U.S. president approved tariffs on steel and aluminum from Argentina and Brazil, with the pandemic in full swing, and banned entry into the United States of anyone who had been in Brazil in the previous fortnight.

Bolsonaro seemed to have misunderstand Trump, in other words. He didn't realize that the U.S. leader was motivated by ethnic nationalism and not by a set of diffuse "civilizational" claims. Trump's voting base consists of whites, not Hispanics. He cares little for other Christians of the Western world.

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Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung


BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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