MADRID – It is a mantra increasingly heard around the world: US power is in decline. And nowhere does this seem truer than in Latin America. No longer is the region regarded as America’s “backyard”; on the contrary, the continent has arguably never been so united and independent. But this view fails to capture the true nature of US influence in Latin America – and elsewhere as well.
It is true that US attention to Latin America has waned in recent years. President George W. Bush was more focused on his “global war on terror.” His successor, Barack Obama, seemed to give the region little thought as well, at least in his first term.
Indeed, at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena in April 2012, Latin American leaders felt sufficiently confident and united to challenge US priorities in the region. They urged the US to lift its embargo on Cuba, claiming that it had damaged relations with the rest of the continent, and to do more to combat drug use on its own turf, through education and social work, rather than supplying arms to fight the drug lords in Latin America – a battle that all acknowledged has been an utter failure.
It is also true that Latin American countries have pursued a massive expansion of economic ties beyond America’s sway. China is now Latin America’s second-largest trading partner and rapidly closing the gap with the US. India is showing keen interest in the region’s energy industry, and has signed export agreements in the defense sector. Iran has strengthened its economic and military ties, especially in Venezuela.