Viewpoints

Trump, Clinton would be very different on Latin America

Andres Oppenheimer
Andres Oppenheimer KRT

Judging from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy views expressed in their nomination speeches, they would carry out very different policies toward Latin America.

Here are some of their main differences:

First, on human rights and democracy, Trump would make a radical departure from the long-standing bipartisan U.S. policy of making the respect for human rights and democracy key conditions for Washington’s good relations with countries in the region.

“Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” Trump said in his speech to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21.

Trump, who has repeatedly spoken in positive terms about Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin, said he would not demand that Turkey and other authoritarian U.S. allies respect human rights.

“I don’t think we have a right to lecture” other countries, he told The New York Times on June 20, adding that the United States has enough problems of its own. Asked specifically whether that meant that he would not make spreading democracy and liberty a cornerstone of his foreign policy, Trump responded, “We need allies.”

Clinton, on the other hand, says she would maintain the bipartisan policy supported with various degrees of enthusiasm by Democratic and Republican presidents since the mid-1970s of demanding that U.S. allies and foes respect fundamental freedoms.

Trump’s realpolitik would take U.S. foreign policy back to the days of the Cold War, when the United States routinely supported right-wing repressive regimes such as that of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, under the premise that they were U.S. allies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is famously alleged to have said, “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

But U.S. support for right-wing dictators backfired on Washington, creating a wave of anti-Americanism in the region that gave rise to leftist guerrillas, the Cuban Revolution, and – more recently – to radical-leftist populist regimes such that of Venezuela. It’s a policy that most historians agree has always hurt the United States in the long run.

Second, on immigration, Trump repeated in his speech his vow to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, and to deport millions of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and other countries, who he said are “roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”

Trump did not once in his speech mention the fact that the vast majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants are hard-working people, who according to several studies commit far fewer crimes than U.S.-born Americans. Trump’s Republican convention featured three parents whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants.

Clinton, on the other hand, reiterated her vow to introduce comprehensive immigration reform in Congress to bring millions of hardworking people with a history of contribution to their communities into the formal economy. Her convention featured many Latino immigrant success stories.

“We will not build a wall,” Clinton told the Democratic National Convention in her acceptance speech Thursday. “And we'll build a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who are already contributing to our economy!”

Third, on trade, Trump seems more eager to renegotiate or scrap the 1994 NAFTA free-trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico, which he called “one of the worst economic deals ever made by our country,” and the recently signed – but not yet enacted – 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Clinton, who has supported these trade deals but now opposes the TPP under pressure from her party’s left wing, echoed the dubious narrative that free trade deals have hurt the U.S. economy. Criticizing free trade deals seems to be a must to win key swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania in this election, pollsters say.

My opinion: Trump’s immigration and trade policies would badly hurt both Latin America and the United States. But what’s most troubling is that Trump’s abandonment of the bipartisan U.S. policy of defending human rights and democracy would give a green light to would-be dictators across the region.

We have seen this movie before, with dictators like Somoza in Nicaragua, and it almost always ends badly. It creates a counter-reaction that often results in anti-American regimes and reduces U.S. credibility and influence in the world. I hope Trump reexamines his proposed foreign policy, because only an ignorant demagogue would support the idea of returning America to the dark era when it sided with dictators.

Contact Andres Oppenheimer at aoppenheimer@miamiherald.com.

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