Despite recent moves toward rearmament and anti-U.S. rhetoric from longtime critics like Venezuela, Latin America is moving towards more pragmatic policies that will facilitate the Obama administration's re-engagement with the continent, the annual strategic survey from the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Tuesday.
The IISS Strategic Survey 2009 coincides with large-scale military purchases by South American nations across the political spectrum -- from moderate Brazil to radical populist Venezuela -- that have raised the specter of a new arms race on the continent.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returned home from arms shopping in the Middle East and Europe, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva received French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Brasilia to seal new arms contracts worth billions of dollars.
Other Latin American states have also entered into arms purchase agreements with foreign suppliers including Russia, Germany, Israel and possibly China and Iran.
At the same time, populist rhetoric has targeted U.S. engagement in Latin America, most recently symbolized by enhanced military cooperation with Colombia to fight the drug cartels. But, according to the IISS, the dominant trend in Latin America is toward "pragmatic re-engagement."
"Hugo Chavez has inspired rejection of the United States' traditionally hegemonistic position in the region, and populist resistance to right-wing regimes' economic and political marginalization, especially of indigenous groups," the IISS said.
"But many, if not most, Latin American countries continue to value their strategic relationships with the United States, and to need its economic cooperation and, in the case of countries like Colombia, Mexico and Peru, its security assistance."
The IISS said the new realities had made Latin American countries realize the risks of confronting the United States, "prompted moderation and highlighted the desirability of a 'third way' that yields a greater degree of independence from the United States, on one hand, and a beneficial and fundamentally non-antagonistic bilateral relationship, on the other."
The IISS said the Obama administration was sensitive to the view that the United States "lost" Latin America during the Bush years but now needed to re-engage as "an indispensable power" rather than a hegemonistic one.
The idea is likely to appeal to center-left leaders like Lula and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, the IISS said.
The institute said global recession and U.S. preoccupations in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Arab-Israel conflict could still hinder Washington's re-engagement with Latin America. "But it is probable that pragmatism will prevail" in both Washington and Latin American capitals and help temper anti-American policies.
Analysts said the political outcome of a U.S. re-engagement with Latin America will have a direct impact on future security developments and growth in military industries and alliances within the region and with outside partners like Russia, China and Iran. Tensions over Colombia, unresolved border disputes and anti-American rhetoric about a looming hostile U.S. military presence on the continent have all contributed to recent arms buildups and diversion of billions of dollars from development funds to military spending at home and abroad.