Monday, April 9, 2012
has Opportunities in Latin America as the US Loiters
By Jennifer Jeffs
The U.S. State
Department's agenda for Latin America is better suited for an economic development agency than the State Department. For
the time being, so, too, is Canada's. It is time for this to change.
Chris Sabatini's piece in the current edition of Foreign Affairs points out that the U.S. narrative on Latin America seems stuck
in a 1980s time capsule. His assertion that Cold War thinking still dominates U.S. policymaker attitudes toward the region
indicates that U.S. thinking is stuck in a completely different geopolitical reality than the one that we live in today. Social
movements, electoral trends, and democratic development give little insight into the important relations between states in
the region, and between the newly emerged states both within the region and outside it.
The rise of Brazil as a global
power is promoting Colombia's regional influence. The Chinese appetite for natural resources that are found in abundance
in the hemisphere, and their gifts of bridges and soccer stadiums to several Latin American countries, are trends that U.S.
students and policymakers should be watching and pondering, as should Canadians. Given the substantial investment that Canadian
mining companies - and at least one major Canadian bank - have made in the region, on top of the Canadian government's
recent focus on the hemisphere via its "Americas Strategy," the short-sightedness of U.S. policymakers that Sabatini
laments is, in fact, an opportunity for Canada.
As Sabatini points out, while the U.S. lacks sufficient interest in,
and understanding of, the rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics of Latin America, Canada can fill that void by taking seriously
the actions of Latin America's increasingly potent (and competitive) regional and global players. Informed Canadian engagement
with countries in the region will be mutually beneficial, and could also influence U.S. policymakers, encouraging them to
think about Latin America in terms of 2012 geopolitical realities.
The recent Republican debates in the U.S. have
demonstrated a staggering lack of understanding of Latin America. While fears of criminal networks becoming sufficiently internationalized
to encompass and accommodate the jihadist threat are understandable in a post-9/11 world, the strong historic economic and
social ties between Latin America and the United States should surely translate into a deeper understanding - and support
- of the trends developing in these vibrant and often resource-rich countries. As Sabatini points out, "A little realism
would go a long way." But perhaps the historic legacy of U.S. activity in the region is too strong, and resentments too
Meanwhile, Canada is ideally positioned to deepen its relations with its hemispheric neighbours. Canada's
experience of democratic institution-building - including its support for the development of judicial, educational, and policing
systems in the region - and, in contrast to the U.S., its historical record of no military intervention in the region, show
potential for mutually beneficial exchange and engagement with Latin American countries. Collaboration with Argentina, Brazil,
and Mexico, for example, in the development of fossil fuels and biofuels as alternative energy sources would further integrate
the hemisphere's economy while de-emphasizing the importance of Venezuela's oil. While Mexico's security threats
are an obvious concern, Canada could take the lead in partnering with Mexican researchers in areas that would provide entry
for Mexico's massive youth population into the knowledge-based economy. (In addition to clean energy, this could include
areas such as biotechnology, aerospace, and health care for developing regions.) By fostering these relations, Canada would
pave the way for other hemispheric partnerships, setting an example for the U.S. in its efforts to tackle governance, resource
management, and environmental issues through regional investment and partnerships.
Given the U.S.'s preoccupation
with security, transnational crime and its potential links to the jihadist threat might be a good place to start. But security
is only one aspect of the global challenges facing the hemisphere, and cannot be addressed in isolation. Latin America needs
partnerships in its natural-resource and associated sectors, in education and health-care research initiatives, and in bracing
for climate change. Canada should fill that need, engaging with Latin America in a spectrum of areas that the U.S. and China
have largely neglected.
Dr. Jennifer A. Jeffs is President of the Canadian International Council (CIC). This commentary, "Latin America: Land of Opportunity"
(Mar. 22, 2012), was originally published in Dispatch, The CIC Editors Blog. The Canadian International Council is a non-partisan, membership-based research council focused on international affairs. Reprinted with permission.