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20/08/2017 | Donald Trump blusters, Latin America shrugs

The Economist Staff

Vice-President Mike Pence discovers that an “America First” foreign policy has costs

 

A DEEP perplexity. That, says a senior Latin American official, describes his region’s attitude to the government of President Donald Trump. What Latin American leaders do not feel is fear, awe or a sense of shared ambition to do great things. Lexington is in Panama, in the press pool accompanying Mike Pence on the final leg of a four-country tour of the region, also taking in Colombia, Argentina and Chile.

The single most striking impression of this tour is its smallness. Mr Pence, a man so disciplined and loyal to his boss that his favourite phrase is “As President Trump has said”, has asked each government in turn for modest, and in some cases puzzling, things. He has not described grand visions for pan-American co-operation of the sort once espoused by President George H.W. Bush, who called for a free trade area of the Americas stretching from Alaska to Patagonia.

Mr Pence has focused on policies that matter immediately to Mr Trump back home: sanctions on North Korea, more pressure on the autocratic left-wing regime in Venezuela, or better local access for specific American products and services (as agreed through the bilateral trade deals Mr Trump prefers, believing that one-on-one negotiations give him the winning hand). To a remarkable extent, his hosts have not feared ignoring Mr Pence in places where those American requests make no sense or do not match local priorities.

On Wednesday Mr Pence met the Chilean president, Michele Bachelet. In his own words he strongly urged her, along with the leaders of Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, to break all diplomatic and commercial ties with North Korea. In a brief meeting at the presidential palace of La Moneda he told the press that America would “especially welcome” a move by Chile to reclassify exports of Chilean wine as luxury goods, which would bring them under existing UN sanctions aimed at curbing imports of items like fancy cars for the ruling North Korean elite.

This request startled Chilean officials. Chile’s trade with North Korea’s regime is minimal and the country barely has diplomatic relations with Kim Jong-Un, the hereditary despot: the Chilean ambassador is based in Beijing. Perhaps most importantly, it is not clear to Chile why countries severing diplomatic relations will help bring about the goal that matters most: pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme. Indeed, Mr Pence was asked in Santiago whether Team Trump wanted countries to close their embassies in North Korea, and whether that might include China.

Mr Pence, a smart man of conventionally hawkish views, offered a reply that was not entirely convincing as he tried to channel the bombast of his boss, a thoroughly unconventional foreign policy actor. He noted, correctly, that North Korea has used “delay and feigned negotiations” for years while working to obtain usable nuclear weapons and a ballistic missile programme. Mr Trump had declared that era over, Mr Pence said. Now his vice-president was calling on America’s friends around the world “to continue to use the economic and diplomatic tools that they have to further isolate North Korea”. He said that America believed it would “facilitate a peaceful outcome” if Chile and others formally terminated their diplomatic relations with North Korea.

Leaving Santiago at dawn this morning for Panama, the local newspapers carried the response. “Chile rejects the USA’s request to break relations with North Korea,” read the front page of El Mercurio. Inside, the paper recorded the blunt words of Heraldo Muñoz, the foreign minister: Chile is “not contemplating” cutting diplomatic ties with North Korea. The report on the Pence visit, carried on an inside page, also noted Ms Bachelet’s public rejection of comments by Mr Trump that America’s options for restoring democracy in Venezuela include military operations—a nonsensical claim from a purely military point of view, and a political provocation that even pro-American leaders have felt obliged to denounce at every stop in the Pence visit.

Ms Bachelet told her guest publicly that while her government supports peaceful means to restore democracy in Venezuela, Chile will never support either coups d’état or military interventions in that country. Listeners in the region understood why Ms Bachelet included talk of coups: her own father, Alberto Bachelet, was an air force officer who served the government of Salvador Allende that was toppled in an American-backed coup in 1973. Brigadier-General Bachelet died in prison in 1974.

That history is a reminder that the Trump administration is far from the first to have testy relations with Latin America, and it would be unfair to claim that previous American presidents have devoted long hours to ambitious, beautifully crafted policies for the region. Latin American diplomats have long witnessed American officials flying in to pursue a handful of narrow topics of interest to the president of the day, whether that meant the war on drugs, counter-terrorism, free trade or climate change.

Even so, today’s levels of mutual indifference startle long-time practitioners. Mr Trump proudly boasts that he will treat foreign policy like a series of real-estate deals, negotiating one-on-one with other countries to extract concessions and bring back jobs to America. As it happens, Mr Pence’s national security staff, recruited from the Pentagon and other agencies, wins high marks from foreign diplomats. But there is a myopia to the approach they are tasked with selling. This president, foreign officials lament, seems neither to know nor to care that the whole region is made anxious and unhappy by Mr Trump’s scorn for Mexico, his threats to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada, and his cancellation of America’s membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious trade pact that includes some countries in Latin America.

Even as Mr Pence, a free-trader by instinct, talked loyally at each stop about how his boss’s favoured bilateral trade pacts will generate jobs and investments across the Western hemisphere, that fragmented approach left him talking about small achievements.

In Cartagena, Colombia, standing next to the pro-American president, Juan Manuel Santos, Mr Pence was pleased to announce an agreement to allow Colombian Hass avocados into the American market, and to expand Colombian access for “US rough rice.” In Argentina, flanked by President Mauricio Macri, an economic reformer and American ally, Mr Pence talked up the quality of American pork—“I come from an agricultural state,” he noted—and reported that talks are underway to sell more of it in Argentina. As if conscious that this sounded a bit footling for a presidential press conference, Mr Pence added: “We also discussed the interest in exporting and importing beef on both sides. And, of course, lemon exports from Argentina were a topic.” Two days after Mr Pence’s visit to Buenos Aires, the White House announced that American pork will be allowed into Argentine markets.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials are a constant presence in Latin American capitals, as they sign new commercial deals, offer hefty investments and seek to build new networks of influence across the Pacific region.  

Mr Pence spoke of some large topics. In each country he visited, he pledged that Mr Trump would not stand by as Venezuela “slides into dictatorship”, and talked of how America and its allies in the Western hemisphere were bound together by a common concern for human rights and democracy. That is as it should be. But Mr Pence’s Latin American hosts know that his boss in Washington has heaped praise on strongmen and autocrats from Russia to Turkey, Egypt and the Philippines. They also know that the American sanctions that would really hurt Venezuela, involving the two countries’ large trade in oil, would cause fuel prices to rise for American drivers. As a result, Mr Trump is seen as something of a paper tiger.

All of this means that the prevailing attitude in the region can look like resentment of Trump’s America, without much fear. It is telling that the only protest against Mr Pence seen on this trip, a candle-lit vigil opposite his hotel in Santiago, turned out to be staged by American expats from the Chilean branch of Democrats Abroad. These earnest teachers, lawyers and students held placards asking Mr Pence to take a stand against Mr Trump’s disturbing reluctance to single out white nationalists in America for special condemnation.

Mr Pence’s favourite catchphrase when abroad is that “America First does not mean America alone.” This is meant to be a promise that, though Mr Trump was elected to put American prosperity and security ahead of all other concerns, his country is still willing to play a leading role in the world. Alas, if global disillusionment with Mr Trump deepens much more, that promise to avoid “America alone” may start to sound more like a plea.

The Economist (Reino Unido)

 



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07/08/2010|
12/07/2010|
12/06/2010|
12/06/2010|
12/06/2010|
24/05/2010|
24/05/2010|
11/05/2010|
10/05/2010|
09/05/2010|
09/05/2010|
09/05/2010|
01/04/2010|
01/04/2010|
31/03/2010|
31/03/2010|
31/03/2010|
28/03/2010|
28/03/2010|
28/03/2010|
20/03/2010|
12/03/2010|
12/03/2010|
12/03/2010|
08/03/2010|
07/03/2010|
06/03/2010|
05/03/2010|
03/03/2010|
03/03/2010|
28/02/2010|
21/02/2010|
19/02/2010|
14/02/2010|
11/02/2010|
11/02/2010|
10/02/2010|
08/02/2010|
08/02/2010|
08/02/2010|
28/01/2010|
25/01/2010|
20/01/2010|
20/01/2010|
16/01/2010|
16/01/2010|
15/01/2010|
15/01/2010|
11/01/2010|
11/01/2010|
10/01/2010|
07/01/2010|
03/01/2010|
03/01/2010|
03/01/2010|
17/12/2009|
15/12/2009|
15/12/2009|
13/12/2009|
13/12/2009|
28/11/2009|
28/11/2009|
28/11/2009|
28/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
21/11/2009|
21/11/2009|
18/11/2009|
18/11/2009|
16/11/2009|
16/11/2009|
30/10/2009|
30/10/2009|
11/10/2009|
10/10/2009|
10/10/2009|
07/10/2009|
07/10/2009|
04/10/2009|
30/09/2009|
30/09/2009|
27/09/2009|
27/09/2009|
27/09/2009|
22/09/2009|
20/09/2009|
18/09/2009|
18/09/2009|
18/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
08/09/2009|
07/09/2009|
06/09/2009|
06/09/2009|
05/09/2009|
05/09/2009|
26/08/2009|
21/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
19/07/2009|
19/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
27/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
29/04/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House