foreign policy

Weekly InSight: The Trump Card, How US Policy Shifts Could Impact LatAm Security

In our May 11 Facebook Live discussion, Senior Investigator Héctor Silva Ávalos and Senior Editor Mike LaSusa spoke about InSight Crime’s coverage of shifting US policies toward Latin America, and how these changes could impact organized crime and security in the region…

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime. You can watch the full live stream below:

Does US Congress Act Equal More LatAm Extraditions?

Congress is considering a proposal meant to help the Department of Justice pursue a wider range of players in the transnational drug trade, potentially foreshadowing an increase in extraditions and prosecutions of drug traffickers based abroad…

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime.

High-level visits between the Obama administration and Latin American governments

Below is a timeline including the travels of the President, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and the various US Secretaries of Defense to Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as visits by regional leaders to the United States during Obama’s time in office. It was compiled using resources from the US Department of State Office of the Historian and other US government websites.

Last Updated: November 20, 2016

January 13, 2009: Mexican President Felipe Calderon meets with US President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama in the United States. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe also visits the United States to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

March 14, 2009: Brazilian President Lula da Silva visits the United States for a “working visit.”

March 25, 2009: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to Mexico to meet with Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa and to discuss the Merida Initiative.

April 16, 2009: President Barack Obama travels to Mexico for a meeting with President Felipe Calderon.

April 16-19, 2009: Clinton meets with President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis in Haiti, and also travels to the neighboring Dominican Republic to meet with President Leonel Fernandez. Obama and Clinton also attend the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

May 31-June 1, 2009: Clinton attends the inauguration of President Mauricio Funes and a “ministerial meeting of Pathways to Prosperity in America” in El Salvador.

June 2, 2009: Clinton travels to Honduras for an OAS General Assembly meeting.

June 23, 2009: Chilean President Michele Bachelet travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 29, 2009: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

August 9-10, 2009: Obama attends the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico.

September 24-25 2009: Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon attend the G-20 Economic Summit in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

January 16, 2010: Clinton travels to Haiti to meet “with Haitian officials and [assess] disaster relief efforts.”

March 1-5, 2010: Clinton attends the inauguration of President José Mujica in Uruguay. She also travels to Argentina for a meeting with President Cristina Kirchner, and to Chile for a meeting with President Michele Bachelet and President-elect Sebastian Pinera, where she discussed “disaster relief.” Clinton also travels to Brazil to meet with President Lula da Silva and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim. She then travels to Costa Rica, where she addresses the “Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Ministerial Meeting” and meets with President Oscar Arias and President-elect Laura Chinchilla. And on March 5, Clinton visited Guatemala to meet with President Alvaro Colom and “leaders of the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.”

March 8, 2010: El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

March 9-10, 2010: Haitian President Rene Preval travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

March 23, 2010: Clinton travels to Mexico for a “U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group meeting” and a meeting with President Calderon and Foreign Secretary Espinosa. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen also travel to Mexico.

April 11-13, 2010: Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon attend the Nuclear Security Summit held in the United States.

April 14-16, 2010: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates travels to Peru, Colombia and Barbados.

May 19-20. 2010: Mexican President Felipe Calderon travels to the United States for a state visit during which he addresses a joint session of Congress.

June 1, 2010: Peruvian President Alan Garcia travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 6-10, 2010: Clinton travels to Peru for a meeting of the OAS General Assembly, to Ecuador to meet with President Rafael Correa, and then to Colombia to meet with President Alvaro Uribe. She also travels to Barbados for a meeting of the CARICOM Foreign Ministers and the announcement of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.

July 12, 2010: Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

September 24, 2010: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos meets with President Obama at the UN General Assembly in New York City.

November 18-22, 2010: US Defense Secretary Gates travels to Chile and Bolivia.

January 1, 2011: Clinton attends the inauguration of President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.

January 24, 2011: Clinton travels to Mexico for a meeting with Foreign Secretary Espinosa.

January 30, 2011: Clinton travels to Haiti for a meting with President Preval and “political and civic leaders.”

March 3, 2011: Mexican President Calderon travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

March 19-23, 2011: Obama travels to Brazil for a meeting with President Rousseff, to Chile to meet with President Pinera, and to El Salvador to meet with President Mauricio Funes.

April 7, 2011: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

April 28, 2011: Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 22, 2011: Clinton attends the Conference of Support for the Central American Security Strategy in Guatemala. She also travels to Jamaica for “the High-Level U.S.-Caribbean Conference.”

July 6, 2011: Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

September 20, 2011: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff meets with President Obama at the UN General Assembly in New York City.

October 5, 2011: Honduran President Porfirio Lobo travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

November 10-13, 2011: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala attends the Asia-Pacific Economic and Cooperation Summit at Honolulu and Kapolei, Hawaii.

February 19, 2012: Clinton attends a G-20 Ministerial Meeting in Mexico and signs the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Agreement.

April 2, 2012: Mexican President Felipe Calderon attends the North American Leaders’ Summit in the United States.

April 9, 2012: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

April 13-19, 2012: Obama and Clinton attend the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Colombia. Clinton then travels to Brazil for the Third U.S.-Brazil Global Partnership Dialogue, also addressing the First Annual Meeting of the Open Government Partnership there.

April 23, 2012: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta travels to Colombia, Brazil and Chile.

June 18-22, 2012: Obama and Clinton attend the G-20 economic summit in Mexico, and Clinton travels to Brazil for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

October 5, 2012: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta travels to Peru and Uruguay.

October 15-16, 2012: Clinton meets with Peruvian president Ollanta Humala and addresses the Conference on Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion.

October 22, 2012: Clinton travels to Haiti to attend the opening of Caracol Industrial Park, and to meet with President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.

November 27, 2012: Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

May 2-4, 2013: Obama meets with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico and also travels to Costa Rica to meet with President Laura Chinchilla and leaders of the Central American Integration System.

June 2-4, 2013: Chilean President Sebastian Pinera travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 4-5, 2013: Kerry attends OAS General Assembly meeting in Guatemala.

June 10-12, 2013: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

August 12-13, 2013: Kerry meets in Colombia with President Juan Manuel Santos, Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, and “Colombian Peace Negotiators.” He then travels to Brazil to meet with President Rousseff, Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, and Education Minister Aloizio Mercadante.

December 2-4, 2013: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

February 19, 2014: President Obama meet in Mexico with President Enrique Pena Nieto for the North American Leaders Summit.

April 23-26, 2014: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visits Mexico and Guatemala.

May 21-22, 2014: Kerry travels to Mexico “to discuss a range of bilateral issues, including expanding trade and economic growth, increasing higher education collaboration, and our continuing security cooperation.”

July 1, 2014: Kerry travels to Panama for the inauguration of President Juan Carlos Varela.

October 2014: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel travels to Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago.

December 11-12, 2014: Kerry travels to Peru and Colombia to meet with Presidents Humala and Santos.

April 9-11, 2015: Obama travels to Jamaica. He and Kerry then travel to Panama for the Seventh Summit of the Americas.

August 14, 2015: Kerry travels to Cuba to “formally re-designate the U.S. Interests Section to U.S. Embassy Havana. While in Havana, he met with senior Cuban government officials.”

October 5, 2015: Kerry travels to Chile for the second “Our Ocean” conference. He also personally delivers to Chilean President Michele Bachelet documents related to the 1976 assassination of Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier.

October 6, 2015: Kerry travels to Haiti and meets with Haitian President Michel Martelly and other senior Haitian officials.

January 14, 2016: Vice President Joe Biden travels to Guatemala to attend the inauguration of President Jimmy Morales.

February 3-4, 2016: Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos visits Washington, DC to discuss the ongoing peace process in his country.

February 24, 2016: Biden receives the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in Washington, DC to talk about the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity.

February 25, 2016: Biden travels to Mexico for an economic summit.

March 20-22, 2016: Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years. Kerry also travels to Cuba and meets with Colombian peace negotiators.

March 23-24, 2016: Obama travels to Argentina on the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup there, after promising to declassify U.S. records related to the “dirty war” that followed.

May 3, 2016: Biden meets with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in Washington, DC to talk about the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity. Obama also stops by for part of the meeting.

August 3-6, 2016: Kerry travels to Argentina for bilateral meetings, then to Brazil as part of the U.S. delegation for the Olympic Games.

September 23, 2016: Biden meets with the presidents of Guatemala, Hondruas and El Salvador at the Inter-American Development Bank for a forum entitled “The Northern Triangle – Constructing together a more prosperous future for the region.”

September 26, 2016: Kerry travels to Colombia for the signing of a peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Kerry also reportedly met with Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro on the sidelines of the event.

October 19, 2016: Biden meets with representatives from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras regarding the “Alliance for Prosperity.”

November 18-21, 2016: In his final foreign trip as president, Obama attends and economic summit in Lima, Peru.

How the US can improve its foreign policy toward Latin America

It is relatively easy to critique individual foreign policy decisions made by the United States with regard to specific countries and situations that arise in Latin America, but it is more difficult to suggest broad changes in America’s stance toward the region as a whole. Nevertheless, there are some overarching matters of US foreign policy toward the region that could be improved.

For instance, the War on Drugs has been one of the most fruitless and devastating US-led initiatives in that region of the world. A recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime concluded that the Americas have superseded Africa as the world’s most violent region, in part due to the persistent presence of organized crime. Moreover, despite billions of dollars in funding over many decades, top officials from both the US Southern Command and the Coast Guard have stated lately that they are only able to intercept about 20 percent of the drugs leaving Latin America destined for the US.

The militarization of the drug war has left nearly a hundred thousand dead in Mexico and tens of thousands more in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia and other countries in recent years. There needs to be a complete inversion of priorities. Instead of focusing on taking kingpins out of commission and crop-dusting campesinos’ coca fields, the US should push its partners to concentrate on the factors that drive people to criminal activity – namely a lack of legitimate economic opportunities.

If the massive amounts of funding for security assistance had been directed toward helping countries in the region make improvements to infrastructure, education and social services, the benefits would have accrued not only to Latin Americans, but also to the United States’ economy in the form of improved economic relations. As it stands, US trade with Latin America, both in imports and exports, has been decreasing in recent years.

The results of the United States’ economic policies in the region have been as disappointing as those of its security-related efforts. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) forged by the United States, Canada and Mexico in 1994 has largely failed to benefit the majority of Mexican citizens. Instead, Mexico has suffered from persistently high poverty and unemployment and an economic growth rate that has lagged behind that of the region as a whole.

In Colombia, a free trade agreement concluded in 2011 has also failed to yield positive results for many of that country’s citizens. Colombia’s agricultural sector under the agreement has met a similar fate to that of Mexico under NAFTA. Agricultural imports to the country have skyrocketed in recent years, undercutting small farmers and contributing to the frustration that bubbled over into a nationwide strike in August 2013.

Perhaps more importantly, these policies have not benefitted Americans either. Rather, they have brought about a “race to the bottom,” wherein US workers are pressured to accept pay cuts to compete with their lower-wage counterparts south of the border. In sum, the promises made by the proponents of “free trade” have rarely materialized.

Finally, and perhaps most broadly, the United States should stop treating Latin America as its “back yard.” Supporting – tacitly or otherwise – anti-democratic movements and actions in countries like Honduras and Venezuela does not engender confidence that the United States is a reliable supporter of basic principles like democracy, human rights and national sovereignty.

The countries of Latin America share many aspects of their history and politics with the United States. In many cases, these nations were born of revolutionary struggles against European imperialism. They continue to wrestle with issues of race and class and gender and sexuality. Many of their citizens live and work within the US’s borders, as do many American citizens within theirs.

The US should view Latin America not as a region to be antagonized, patronized and dictated to, but rather should see them as partners on the global stage. These countries and their citizens share the United States’ values of democracy and respect for human rights. The US should seek to make the most of these similarities.

Improving US foreign policy toward Latin America is not as simple as improving US foreign policy “toward Latin America.” What is truly required is an absolute overhaul of the entire US foreign policy apparatus. However unlikely this may be, it is not impossible or unthinkable. Promoting a less militaristic approach to security issues, more sustainable and mutually beneficial economic policies and greater respect for democracy and human rights overall – these are things that can benefit not just the United States’ international partners, but America itself.