American foreign policy toward Latin America has had an overwhelmingly development based focus; building democratic institutions, promoting economic opportunity and encouraging social equity. With this strategy, American policymakers have hoped that both political and economic liberalization will lead to the submission of Latin American governments to the American interest. This has been proven false in an increasing number of occurrences, such as Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil. US policies have emphasized the domestic qualities of individual states, taking a comparative approach, instead of promoting cooperative and regional growth, in an international relations approach. Latin America must be treated as a geopolitically autonomous, emergent region that demands recognition at the world’s table. As US hegemony continues to be challenged, a strong, mutually beneficial relationship grounded in a respect for sovereignty will prove advantageous for our entire hemisphere.
The United States must stop treating Latin America as its “backyard.” The moral components of policy toward Latin America are traditionally patronizing, emphasizing that US politicians do not take the region seriously. Kennedy once called Latin America “the most critical” region to US interests, but only in a time when such alliances benefitted the American goals for the hemisphere. The relative priority of Latin America in the eyes of US lawmakers must parallel the region’s importance on the global stage, duly noted as dynamically emerging in the international community.
First and foremost, the US must realize that its days of directly influencing domestic politics and policy in Latin America are numbered if not already finished. The era of neocolonialism has long since ended. The US should not view Latin America as a recipient of dictated policy, but instead as a potential partner for multilateral cooperation. The US could follow China’s example; China seeks to promote international order while respecting sovereignty and independence. Instead of unilateral action and intervention, the US should seek to promote common interest for economic prosperity.
The United States has yet to learn from its past. Funneling huge amounts of military aid to friendly governments has not effectively combated the war on drugs. In addition to adjusting domestic policy to attack drug demand from within US borders, American policymakers should reevaluate the destinations of its anti-drug funding. Promoting a less militaristic approach to security issues more broadly, the US government should channel funds to NGOs on the ground in the name of more general development that promotes democratic values and rule of law. By taking money out of the hands of foreign governments and into the hands of capable, knowledgeable international developers, we can hope for better, faster, and more viable results.
More specifically, I feel the US and Latin America could cooperate to promote investment and development of sustainable energy. Instead of channeling funds into military aid, build infrastructure and sponsor STEM education to foster long run growth and advance human capital. Economic development through endeavors that induce mutual benefit in the sciences and energy security will allow for socioeconomic mobility and sustainable growth. Not to mention, human capital development will simplify immigration issues that plague the American legislative discourse on Latin American policy.
Finally, the US government must work to condemn human rights violations in our hemisphere, but should do so fairly without bias. Accountability and alliance must go hand in hand for all issues, not just human rights. With this balanced nature in mind, the United States should improve its foreign policy toward Latin America by pursuing multilateral compliance strengthened by institutional networks that promote hemispheric growth and cooperation. Through non-interventionist, anti-confrontational, more equitable diplomacy, what was once considered “America’s backyard” will become its neighborhood.