US no longer towers over Latin America
As America became distracted by the war on terror after 9/11, the region sought other partners.
When a foreign mining company bought an entire mountain in Peru last year and secured a virtual monopoly on copper production in the country, it may have struck some as the likely act of an American corporation – extending Uncle Sam's grip in Latin America, the United States' traditional backyard.Skip to next paragraph
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How wrong, how '90s (or earlier still) such an assumption would be.
The multibillion-dollar purchase of Toromocho mountain by China's Chinalco corporation was yet another example of China's voracious appetite for resources. Yet the Chinese claim on Toromocho also symbolizes how, across Latin America, the US is no longer the only game in town.
As President Obama turns his attention to America's own hemisphere – he visited Mexico on his way to the Summit of the Americas this weekend in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago – he finds a region that within a decade has diversified its interests and adjusted interdependencies, moving away from a US dominance that dates back to the Spanish-American War.
After concluding that post-9/11 America was too busy with international terrorism and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to pay much attention to them, Latin America's political and business leaders looked increasingly beyond the US for partners. The Latin American publics followed suit, tired of waiting for Washington's economic prescriptions to deliver progress and relief.
The result is that Mr. Obama encounters a region that views its relations with the US quite differently now. At the same time, it's a region more prepared for a dialogue among equals – on development, energy, immigration, and security.
"The last 10 years have produced dramatic changes in Latin America, and one of the most striking is the loss of the United States' formerly towering dominance in a wide range of areas," says Miguel Tinker-Salas, a professor of Latin American history at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.
The region has undergone a political transformation beyond US control that was unimaginable a generation ago, Mr. Tinker-Salas says. It began with the election of Venezuela's leftist-populist (and anti-gringo) President Hugo Chávez in 1998, and has culminated with the victory in March of Mauricio Funes, El Salvador's first leftist president.
"This doesn't mean there is a united left in Latin America somehow threatening the US, as some have suggested," Tinker-Salas says. "But it does mean there is a much more independent foreign policy vis-à-vis the US and more nationalistic perspectives on economic matters. It's no longer the backyard where, either through benign neglect or direct intervention, the US could more or less freely act to achieve its goals."
Instead, the idea of a US-centric hemispheric free-trade area has faltered, and Brazil has become one of the world's top developing powers and emerging markets. Moreover, three Latin countries – Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina (which are part of the Rio Group) – are members of the Group of 20, which met earlier this month to reform the global financial system.