Leadership vacuum in Latin America
same influence as Chavez and Castro once did. Unfortunately, the Latin American left under these new leaders faces political crises of confidence and domestic backlash to their own detriment.
They had created a political monster which they are unable to tame as accusations of widespread corruption, impunity and abuse of power resurface from within their own ranks – the exact platform that they fought to come into power.
The election of President Barrack Obama in 2008 brought a renewed message of hope and wind of change throughout Latin America. True enough, Obama earned the respect from Latin America through his conciliatory approach with the region as a “good neighbour” by engaging as, more or less, equal partners rather than talking down to them as the US’s backyard.
This allowed Latin America as a region to regain its autonomy and reduce dependency on the US to chart its own path. In recent years, Latin America received record Chinese investments without much US disgruntlement. It also allowed for Latin America’s new pivot to the Asia-Pacific region as a new internationalisation strategy. The minimal influence by the US also allowed for more regional and internal coordination solely within Latin America as in the case of the Pacific Alliance among Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.
By keeping Latin America in check at arm’s length, Obama’s presidency enjoys highly positive relations with the region as a whole. His landmark Cuban outreach, dubbed “Cubama”, allowed Latin America to once again put its trust in him which unsuspectingly made him the de facto leader of the Americas, thus effectively maintaining US regional hegemony.
Obama could have had a favourable legacy streak, with clean hands, if it had not been for the State Department’s misstep in responding to the Honduran coup which ultimately ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. However, while the Honduran coup fiasco is slowly forgotten, “Cubama” had redeemed him.
Going forward, it is up to President-elect Trump to build on the leadership pathway carved by Obama. As Trump takes office he is likely to face less antiimperialism challenges from his neighbours. Not only will he have an outright Republican Congress to support him, he would also have a unique opportunity to work with a largely (centre)-right Latin America, as the left are mostly disfranchised.
Given the constant back-pedalling from his hard-line campaign rhetoric it might just be the case that Trump would do a 180 and find it conducive to work together with likeminded conservative Latin governments.
It would also come as no surprise if Trump would strongly consider pursuing a new era of America isolation foreign policy. If the inverse relationship between lesser US influence and greater US leadership in Latin America does actually hold true, as the case with Obama, it would allow Trump to sustain American hegemony within the continent by just disengaging from Latin America, not totally but just sufficient to only oversee US interests.
Riding on the euphoria as the latest Nobel Peace Prize winner resulting from the aspiration of the Colombian Peace Pact, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia would find that the stage is set for him to assume the leadership role in Latin America under Colombia’s lead.
However, given the failure of the peace plebiscite by his own voters, there is not much hope that he could elevate his image to that of Obama even after the signing of the peace deal and having the Nobel Peace Prize attached to his name without having any concrete results achieved.
As for Latin America, embracing that a new era has dawned provides the opportunity to take control of its own future. The main question remains whether the countries in the region are willing to place the leadership and fate of their collective destiny at the mercy of Trump or will a new charismatic Latino or Latina figure rise to the occasion to redeem the dignity for Latin America and lead it forward.
The writer is guest columnist for a political magazine based in Mexico. A researcher and commentator of Latin American affairs, he was formerly information officer and analyst for the Embassy of Malaysia in Mexico City. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org