Multilateralism seems to be the new U.S. president’s gamble while promoting democracy as an antidote to authoritarianism and deterrent on the influence of China and Russia, without major initiatives and priorities in our region.

By Ingrid Jiménez

After U.S. President John Biden’s first 100 days in office, his foreign policy priorities and the role of Latin America on his agenda are clearly defined.

Since his run for office, the newly inaugurated president has emphasized that the biggest challenges for U.S. foreign policy at this time are Russia and China. Biden has clearly stated that his country will recommit to the defense of democratic values and Human Rights worldwide, distancing itself from Trump and once more embracing the priorities set by his Democratic Party predecessor, Barack Obama.  

It is clear that the means to achieve this goal will be diplomacy and joint action. To this end, one of his primary guidelines is the return to multilateralism hand in hand with his European partners, so battered during the Trump era.  

After four years in which the United States closed in on itself and, by own choice, lost important spaces in global politics, engaging with Russia and China will not be easy. 

In his initial presidential addresses, Biden made it known that hugs with Russia are over and that China poses a threat to the United States, thereby marking a much more confrontational stance with both powers.

Putin’s Russia is today a declining power that lacks the standing of the Soviet Union and cannot compete with the United States. For Professor Gustavo Pastor, “although Russia has a proven capacity to cause significant damage in the international arena, it is far from being a serious contender for the United States”. Furthermore, the nature of its confrontation with the United States has deep historical roots.

China is something else. Its economic growth has been exponential in the last two decades, developing a near-perfect authoritarian system that leaves no room for dissent and which seems to have grown stronger with the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, its discreet diplomacy, respectful of the non-intervention principle, promotes its political model around the world under the persuasion of its superiority vis-à-vis the West.

At this moment, for Biden’s United States, Latin America does not represent a priority. In fact, during the campaign trail, one of the few concrete proposals was an offer of USD 4 billion for economic support to Central American countries in the areas of security, governance, and migration, as well as more options for asylum petitions from migrants stranded in Mexico.

With respect to Venezuela, one of the largest authoritarian enclaves in the region, everything seems to indicate that Trump’s sanctions policy will continue and, at least in the short term, no other kind of initiative is expected to be advanced. 

Latin America has once again been downgraded the U.S. foreign policy agenda, while China and Russia have patiently sought ways to solidify ties with the region. China’s economic strength has made it a compelling stakeholder, investing time and resources to tip the balance in its favor. China is currently the largest trading partner of such countries as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Bolivia.

Through cooperation during the pandemic, the Asian country has managed to position itself in Latin America as a supportive partner interested in contributing donations, the sale of medical material and its Sinopharm vaccine.

Russia’s presence is much more tentative and its relations with Venezuela have intensified significantly; but it is undoubtedly also trying to gain space and the Sputnik V vaccine seems to be the ideal tool. 

Although the vast majority of Latin American countries have left behind their past of dictatorships and Human Rights violations, the continent is about to go through a perfect storm in the midst of a worsening pandemic in most countries, especially in Brazil, where it has already grown to tragic proportions. Delegitimized democratic governments, economic and social crisis, and the resurgence of authoritarian populism threaten fragile democracies, so President Biden’s pro-democracy crusade would have plenty of room for action among the weakened democracies of his Latin American neighbors.

In Latin America, nothing is final when it comes to democracy. More than a few politicians in the region will be mulling over the convenience of strengthening partnerships with governments for whom Human Rights violations and disrespect for democracy are irrelevant.

The consolidation of new authoritarian enclaves in the region will cause new waves of migration, economic crisis, and political instability.

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