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Latin Americans love Obama – so why the 'collective shrug' on reelection?

Obama is considered more popular in Latin America than his predecessor. But the region's self-confidence makes it feel far less buffeted by a particular president's outlook.

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“Mexicans favor Democrats, they believe Mexico will be better with a Democrat in power,” says Analicia Ruiz, an expert on US-Mexican relations at Anahuac University in Mexico City. “There is a fear that Republicans will take a harder line on foreign affairs, such as more vigilance at the border.”

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Omar Cruz, a bricklayer in Mexico City, says that Romney's campaign showed an anti-immigrant zeal that does not bode well for him. The 20-something says he plans on heading to the US "as soon as the opportunity presents itself," he says. "I am happy Obama won."

But belief that Democrats will be better on migration is not based on evidence, Ms. Ruiz says. With the exception of the temporary reprieve that Obama granted this summer to young undocumented migrants brought to the US as children, Obama has been unable to push through any meaningful reform on immigration. His administration has also been behind record deportations of undocumented immigrants.

“In reality Obama hasn’t done anything for Mexico,” Ruiz says.

More status quo?

That sort of paradox, a strong favoring of Democrats despite skepticism that it makes a difference, is apparent across the region. It underscores, in some ways, a preference for Democrats not because there is great hope that Democrats care about Latin America, but that they are viewed as a better alternative to Republicans, who appear to many Mexicans, like Mr. Cruz, as virulently anti-immigrant and elsewhere as a destabilizing force for the world.

“After the cold war, the Republican Party has been very associated with wars and interventions,” Mr. Ituassu says. “Bush left a terrible image of the Republican Party in Brazil.”

And that matters for Brazil. While Ituassu expects the Obama win will do little in terms of politics, trade, or the economy in Brazil, he says, “I do think that with [the] Obama win, you can be more secure about international stability. And this makes a lot of difference for Brazil. We are in a very good moment. We do not want any international instability. We like the order as it is now.”

Apart from Cuba, where a 50-year-old American embargo is still in place, Venezuela has the most actively troubled relationship with the US in the region, a dynamic that holds whether a Republican or Democrat is in the White House, says Jose Vicente Carrasquero, a political analyst at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas.

The tone under a Romney administration may have given President Hugo Chavez more chance to spar as he did with former president George W. Bush – Mr. Chavez once famously called him a “donkey.” There is less leeway for that kind of insulting under the more popular Obama.

But this does not mean he will attempt to forge an alliance with Obama, or vice versa, says Mr. Carrasquero. “Chavez does not want a relationship with US,” he says. “He does not want the gringos around.”

That means, he says, more of the status quo: terrible political relations, and a solid commercial one, based mostly on American imports of Venezuelan oil.

Elsewhere in the region, where relations with the US are much warmer, there is still the sense that neither Democrats nor Republicans matter much to bilateral relations because, not only is the US preoccupied elsewhere, it continues to view itself as the hegemon in the Americas, says Ituassu. But the region has flourished over the past decade, with Brazil's emerging rise in the world, despite little attention from the US.

“The relationship is based on the fact that the US [sees itself] as the sole superpower in the hemisphere,” Ituassu says. “That conception,” no matter who won Tuesday night, “does not change.”


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