From Opportunity to Disruption: What Is Next for Latin America?

From Opportunity to Disruption: What Is Next for Latin America?

The Western Hemisphere has emerged at the forefront of the accelerating global competition between governance systems, and Latin America’s future direction is now open for discussion in a way not seen since the last inflection point toward the end of the Cold War.

Finally, with democratic governance itself under siege, the United States must be willing to engage in a frank, ongoing dialogue in support of democratic institutionality, finding new ways to work with allies to celebrate democracy where it is healthy, support democracy where it is challenged, and restore democracy where it has been strangled. Democracy is no fragile flower, as Ronald Reagan told the British parliament, but it does require tending, and both the United States and the nations of the Americas could use a refresher. Unless the United States stands for democracy across the region, however, no one else will be likely to do so, either. With the United States as the main pole upholding the circus tent, others in the region can find shelter, and China will have much less of a toehold in capturing the hearts and minds of the region. In so doing, the nations of the Americas will also be meeting the commitments they made by signing the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Lima, Peru, on the same day, and at the same time, as vandals were attacking the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and seeking to attack the U.S. capitol some twenty years ago.

Should Washington tarry, Beijing has developed its own summit process, the China-Community of Latin America and Caribbean States Forum, a periodic consultation between China and the nations of the Western Hemisphere that purposefully excludes the United States and Canada. It is a primary vehicle for China to remain engaged with regional leaders, exuding high symbolic value and important public announcements that continuously promote China as a close friend for Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Latin America is in trouble, and the region needs help. Democracy itself is at risk unless it can deliver improving results to meet the needs of a majority of people across the region. China is betting it can’t, and is ready with an alternative. People are questioning everything, including political systems, values, and alliances. Unless the United States is newly prepared to contend for the Americas, strategic interests are at risk. Recognition of the strategic importance of the hemisphere would be the first step. Beijing gets it. Does Washington?

Eric Farnsworth is Vice President of the Council of the Americas.

Image: Reuters.