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By Andres Oppenheimer
If President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney spend any time talking about Latin America during the campaign for the November elections, I can already see the thrust of their discussion -- who lost Latin America?
Republican foreign policy-makers, such as
But are they right? And are the solutions they offer, including more forceful stands against anti-democratic governments in the region, the right ones?
Recent studies by the
- U.S. foreign investments in Latin America, which were by far the largest in the region a few decades ago, amounted to 18 percent of the region's total foreign investments in 2011. By comparison, the 27-member
The United States remains the largest single investor in the region, followed by Spain with 14 percent of foreign investments, ECLAC says.
- When it comes to trade, the share of Latin America's overall imports that are made in the U.S.A. fell from 55 percent to 32 percent over the past decade. Similarly, the share of Latin America's overall exports that are going to the United States fell from 61 percent to 42 percent over the past decade.
- While the United States used to have a "strategic vision" toward the region when it proposed plans such as the
Critics add that, politically, the United Sates has lost ground as well. During last month's Summit of the Americas where Obama met with regional heads of state and government, they failed to agree on a final statement because of differences over Cuba and Argentina's claims to the Falkland/Malvinas islands.
In addition, critics point out that Latin American countries have recently created new regional institutions, such as the
Roberta Jacobson, the new
"It's not that we are losing influence in Latin America, but that there are other actors, such as China, which are conducting trade with the region," Jacobson said. "That's something that can be beneficial not only to Latin America, but also to the United States."
In a speech at Miami's
With the recently approved U.S. free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, the United States has now trade agreements with 12 countries in the region. The United States seeks "the collective success of this hemisphere," she said.
My opinion: Washington has lost some of its former economic clout in Latin America, but that started under former President George. W. Bush, and is not an irreversible tragedy.
It's something largely due to China's seemingly endless appetite for South America's commodities, a phenomenon that is likely to diminish in coming years as China's economy slows, and South American countries become disenchanted with becoming raw material-dependent economies.
We will expand in coming columns over whether Obama or Romney offer the best policies toward Latin America. But, when it comes to the future U.S. role in Latin America, it seems that it will be something like that of today's Germany in Europe.
As Latin America's commodity-based radical populist fad of the past decade begins to unravel, Washington will no longer be an almighty superpower, but a big first among equals.
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World - Who Lost Latin America? | Global Viewpoint