Lead­er­ship vac­uum in Latin Amer­ica

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

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: let­ters@the­sundaily.com

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