Trump vs. Clinton: Moment of Truth

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One of the tensest and most bizarre presidential campaigns in the history of the United States has finally ended. After months of speculation, insults and accusations, on Tuesday Americans will elect a successor to President Barack Obama. Never before had the major candidates expressed such different views on the identity and future of the country, and never before have Americans picked between such unpopular candidates as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Nobody expects Latin America to be a foreign policy priority for the next administration, given the numerous crises the US will have to face around the world. But whoever occupies the White House for the next four years will shape relations with the region and make decisions that will have an impact on Latin American countries. In that sense, a Clinton presidency would essentially mean continuity with Obama’s policy towards Latin America, while Trump’s unpredictability and volatility make it difficult to anticipate his approach to the region. However, a Trump victory would likely result in a deterioration of the US image in Latin America, given his abrasive rhetoric against immigrants and especially against the Latino population.

Immigration has occupied a central role in this campaign. From the moment he announced his candidacy, Trump and his acolytes have used xenophobic arguments against Mexican immigrants, accusing them of being criminals and of taking jobs away from US citizens. Trump has also promised to build a wall on the border and expel a large part of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the US. In contrast, Clinton –who expects to benefit from the mobilization of Latino voters against Trump-- has pledged to implement a broad immigration reform, including a path towards citizenship. Clinton will not, however, be able to implement her plans without Congressional support, which highlights the importance of the legislative elections that will also take place on Tuesday. If Clinton wins but the Republicans retain control of Congress, her capacity to enact meaningful reforms will be severely limited.

In addition, Trump’s proposed protectionist policies could lead to a cascade of trade restrictions at a global level, which would plunge the world economy into turmoil. Latin America, of course, would be affected. The Republican candidate has pledged to renegotiate NAFTA, the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that represents around 30% of US total trade. Trump also opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes 11 pacific nations, including Mexico, Peru and Chile in Latin America. If Clinton wins, we could expect a more traditional, cautious approach to trade policy, one that would maintain existing deals and look for some changes in future negotiations without putting the world economy at such risk.

Obama’s most important legacy in Latin America will be the end of a decades-long policy of isolating and punishing Cuba. To be sure, the trade embargo remains –only Congress can lift it. The candidates differ on this issue as well: Clinton supports continuing Obama’s policy of engagement towards Cuba but Trump rejects it, after having first supported it. However, polls consistently indicate that a majority of Americans, including Cuban-Americans, support the rapprochement with the island. Remarkably, the hemisphere’s most urgent crisis for the next president –Venezuela—has barely been mentioned in the campaign. On this and other topics, Clinton is expected to continue Obama’s policies with perhaps a slightly more activist role for the US, at least at the rhetorical level. What Trump would do regarding Venezuela is unknown: although the Republican candidate has promised to be tough on authoritarianism in the hemisphere, he has refused to promise to accept electoral results in the US -- and has repeatedly praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Without question, what is at stake in this election are two entirely different ways of understanding the United States and its role in the world. Trump has effectively tapped into the frustration of millions of Americans who feel threatened by globalization, by the perceived decline of the US on the world stage, and by the growing cultural, social and racial diversity in the country. Clinton, in sharp contrast, has more than 35 years of experience in public service and is extremely qualified to be president and continue Obama’s policies, yet at the same time has been incapable of generating trust and enthusiasm. On Tuesday the voters will have their final say –and the time to govern will begin. Whoever wins, the polarization, rancor and malaise that this election brought to the fore will permeate US politics for years to come.

Read the original article in Spanish in El Deber

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