November 17, 2016
As we try to understand what Donald Trump’s foreign policy might look like, one interesting exercise is to consider what he will not do. In Latin America, for instance, Central and South America will very likely not be on the top of his agenda. His attention will be focused on Mexico. And here, Trump’s policies will be driven by U.S. domestic issues – jobs and immigration – not by traditional foreign policy priorities.
Our lead story this week analyzes how Mexico and its government are preparing for Trump. President Peña Neto was harshly criticized for hosting Trump during the campaign, but since last week Mexico has experienced a rare moment of unity in party politics in the face of the new era in its relations with the U.S.
We disagree with the assessment that Mexico has no leverage against its powerful neighbor or that Peña Neto’s deep unpopularity will necessarily soften Mexico’s response to Washington. If Trump moves forward with his more extreme policies on trade and immigration (something we believe is unlikely at this point), the Mexican government can count on sound domestic support and powerful allies in the U.S. to fight back. Moreover, as Trump will soon find out, Mexico’s collaboration is absolutely essential to preserve U.S. jobs – from the auto to the airspace industries – and to curb immigration. The incentives for moderation on the U.S. side are very strong.
On all the other major issues of the region, Trump’s position is uncertain. His campaign was not policy oriented and he has no previous experience in government. Since much of the Republican foreign policy establishment rejected him early in the primaries, we do not know who will fill the appointed positions in his government or who will have his ear on foreign policy issues.
For example: this has been another historic week for Colombia, as the government and the FARC reached a new agreement that will not be put before the public in another plebiscite. What will be Trump’s position on Colombia? He may be sympathetic to the more rightist groups under Álvaro Uribe’s leadership, but he is unlikely to work to undermine the peace process. Probably, he will keep his distance from the issue.
Trump also criticized President Obama’s decision to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba. But what would he gain from undoing the recent steps toward engagement with Havana? Again, he will likely adopt a more passive position, at least for now. U.S.-Brazil relations will also likely remain on the sidelines, especially given the complexity of the corruption scandals in Brasília. And the list goes on.
But one thing has already changed. Until November 9, all major Latin American economies (with the exception of Venezuela) were determined to get closer to Washington as a way of deepening their insertion into the global economy. Not anymore. At least in the next six months, relations with the U.S. will be based on calculations of risk not opportunity.