Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

What Can Latin America Expect of President Trump?

Following a long and bruising campaign, Donald Trump on Tuesday defied polls and surprised the world to win election as the 45th president of the United States. Trump’s campaign was marked by an inward-looking foreign policy and vows that alarmed U.S. allies in Latin America, such as that of building a massive wall on the southern U.S. border while forcing Mexico to pay for it, and pledges to renegotiate major trade pacts with the region. What does Trump’s victory mean for the economies of Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and how are political relations with the United States likely to change? Will the Trump administration and Republican-led Congress be able to make major alterations to trade deals involving Latin America? Will the now-dominant Republicans move to roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to end the U.S. embargo with Cuba and address immigration reform?

Peter Hakim, member of the Advisor board and president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue: "Trump is unpredictable. What he says today contradicts what he argued yesterday or last week. Moreover, Trump has offered few structured policy proposals. His foreign policy agenda largely consists of sound bites—build a wall, rip up bad treaties, destroy ISIS, remake NATO, etc. Who even knows why Trump wants to be president? He has no ideological bearings, core principles or party loyalty. His candidacy seemed to reflect an insatiable ego driving a desperate need to occupy center stage. His campaign rhetoric had one over-riding purpose, getting himself elected. Now that he is elected, his aspirations will inflate further--surely to be regarded a great American president, like Reagan or better. That may lead him to demonstrate that he delivers on his campaign promises. Or he could decide that moderation, dialogue and compromise are a better approach to shaping a presidential legacy. He recently, for example, vowed to reverse Obama’s Cuba policy (after an earlier endorsement). But he could, less provocatively, halt further U.S. concessions to Cuba, or even take a few back, while sticking with most of Obama’s reconciliation effort. U.S.-Mexico policy had a featured role in Trump’s campaign. Countless times, he pledged to renegotiate or rip up the NAFTA trade treaty and get Mexico to pay for building a wall on the border to stop immigration. These proposals have already profoundly alienated one of America’s most important allies and partners in the world. But Trump could start with a different approach—perhaps opening discussions with Mexico on immigration issues and border monitoring. With minimal goodwill, it might even be possible to revise NAFTA in ways that both countries can live with. Trump’s bombastic oratory has left a sour taste throughout Latin America. As president, he has a choice: whether to pursue an agenda that is offensive to the region and its people—or begin to work to regain the trust of Mexico and the rest of Latin America."

Andrés Rozental, member of the Advisor board, president of Rozental & Asociados in Mexico City and senior policy advisor at Chatham House: "Like many others, I am surprised and disappointed at Donald Trump’s election victory. I believe that with this result, the world has lost the traditional leadership role the United States has often—but not always—played in the defense of noble international causes. However, it is now time to be level-headed and work on facing the reality of a Trump presidency and the underlying causes that brought him to where he is today. Mexico and Mexicans now need to face a difficult phase in the bilateral relationship with our neighbor, probably under trying circumstances of hostility, blame and scapegoating. However, things won’t get better by lamenting and worrying about the consequences of this election. Together with other examples around the world of citizen anger, marginalization and populist rejection of established governments and politicians, we need to face the underlying causes that fuel this resentment and find ways to mitigate and correct them. Mexico is no exception: a politically, socially and economically divided and polarized country that is facing many of the same challenges that have been felt in Britain, France, the United States and elsewhere. Between now and our own presidential election in 2018, the Peña Nieto administration will not only have to manage the U.S. relationship with intelligence, strength and in the best interests of Mexico and our people, but at the same time will need to undertake a serious exercise of national introspection if it hopes to avoid similar populist reactions in our own political arena."

Abraham F. Lowenthal, founding director of the Inter-American Dialogue, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution: "It is much too soon to be sure how Donald Trump’s stunning election—and the Republican party’s continued control of Congress—will affect the United States, Latin America and the rest of the world. It is by no means clear what Mr. Trump will try to accomplish; who his most influential advisers and appointees will be; how the Democrats in Congress will respond to Trump; and whether the highly mobilized and polarized electorate would give the administration and Congress the space to seek consensual policies to pressing issues if they tried to do so. The electoral outcome has less to do with policies and programs than with Trump’s ability (and that of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries) to connect with the underlying malaise of many citizens who feel that they are losing status in a changing society, economy, and culture, and because of Hillary Clinton’s failure to adequately respond to those anxieties. In policy terms, however, responses of different types may be in play. U.S. voters did not call for exclusionary immigration policies; protectionist and nationalist commercial policies; or a society grounded in racism, religious discrimination, misogyny and homophobia, though all these attitudes emerge when the underlying challenges posed by globalization, automation and immigration are unaddressed. The importance of Mexico for the U.S. economy, and of cooperation with Mexico on many intermestic issues, as well as policies that foster a reintegration of Cuba into the North American region will probably become evident to President-elect Trump and his advisors, and the political advantages to the Republican party of maintaining these approaches will also become clear. A test of Trump’s leadership skill and those of his administration and of both parties in Congress will be whether they find ways to pursue these interests despite the campaign declarations Trump proclaimed."

Arturo Sarukhan, board member of the Inter-American Dialogue and former Mexican ambassador to the United States: "Considering the dramatic outcome of the presidential election, there should be widespread agreement that liberal democracy across the Americas is in a difficult state, and that inter-American relations might also be challenged by the outcome. Beyond Mexico—and even in this particular case, there might be a wide berth between what has been rhetoric and what will become policy—there’s a lack of certainty regarding what Trump’s foreign and economic policies would look like, and, more importantly, who will be designing and implementing policy toward the Americas, given that most Republican foreign policy and national security hands declined to support the then-GOP candidate. But beyond the ‘fog of war,’ three pillars could determine the fate of hemispheric relations in the months and years ahead. Fist, immigration reform, at least in the terms and shape of what the debate has looked like since 2006, will certainly be recast, with potentially dislocating impacts both in terms of remittances and border flows and security. Second, and given that Mexico-U.S. trade undoubtedly boosts jobs in North America (the Peterson Institute found that between 1990 and 2009, a 10 percent increase in employment at U.S. firms’ Mexican operations was associated with a 1.3 percent increase in their U.S. workforce), the potential renegotiation of NAFTA might not only create severe trade shocks, but also lead to an own goal in terms of an important impact on jobs in and exports from the United States. The effects of this would extend well beyond NAFTA countries, and some South American nations like Colombia might be particularly vulnerable to a trade and financing shock. Moreover, with TPP most likely now off the books, the construction of a coalition of the free-trade willing in the Americas (Canada, the United States, Mexico, Peru and Chile) will suffer a setback. And third, normalization of ties with Cuba, one the most relevant foreign policy and public diplomacy legacies of the Obama administration in the Americas, could—particularly given Trump’s strategic win in Florida—be ratcheted back."

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