In the last decade as the U.S. has struggled with problems at home and abroad, Latin America has prospered. It’s also quietly built relationships with some of the U.S.’s biggest rivals – China and Iran. Our influence in
the region has now fallen to an historic low. Hal Weitzman talks about how – and why – he thinks we lost the south.
Our Shifting Priorities
Prior to 9/11, Weitzman said George W. Bush had made some efforts to put Latin America more at the heart of U.S. foreign policy. But afterward, the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy became the fight against violent Islam. “When the U.S. withdrew and effectively shoved Latin America down to the bottom of a very long list of foreign policy priorities, where it’s effectively remained ever since,” Weitzman said. “That created a kind of power vacuum in Latin America.” Countries like China, Russia, and Iran stepped in to the vacuum.
The Brazilian Story
Brazil has emerged as not only the powerhouse of South America, but also as a global economic power, Weitzman said. Last year, Brazil overtook the U.K. to become the sixth biggest economy in the world. “The real challenge for the U.S. is how to build a partnership with a country like
Brazil that will enable the U.S. to find a new kind of global role in this multi-polar world that’s emerging, where the U.S., in a few decades, may no longer be the top dog,” Weitzman said.
U.S.’s Attitude Toward Cuba Is A Symbol
Weitzman thinks the U.S.’s attitude toward Cuba is a larger symbol of our attitude to the region as a whole. The U.S. is seen as a somewhat bullying, “We’ll tell you what to do” presence in Cuba, he said. In contrast, the U.S. deals with China and Saudi Arabia with a more pragmatic approach. “It doesn’t tell them how to run their countries,” Weitzman said. There has been an inertia about our Cuba policy, and Weitzman thinks it’s time to revisit that.
Resource Exports And Sustainability
Although South America has seen many improvements and successes in recent years, there are still areas where it stands to make progress. Its economies have become very dependent on exporting natural resources and agricultural commodities, Weitzman said. It’s hard for them to diversify. South America sends many of its natural resources to China, where they’re used to make cheap manufactured goods that are sent back to Latin America. Brazil, for example, is very concerned about shoe, textile, and car industry being undermined by Chinese exports. “Education would be the path out of that…Latin America has not been particularly good in doing that,” Weitzman said.
You can read the full transcript here.