During the US presidential election campaign, now president-elect Donald Trump had promised to build a wall across the border with Mexico to keep off illegal migrants sneaking into the US. In the past few days, however, so much has changed in Latin America that Trump needs to consider building bridges rather than walls with his Central and South American neighbours.
The passing away of Fidel Castro could open a new chapter in US-Cuba relations, long frozen since the Cuban nuclear missile crisis. It was also unfortunate that the US saw its relations with Latin America through the prism of Cuba. This myopic vision led to half a century of misunderstanding, lost opportunities and even enmity.
The post-Castro era will need a re-think for the new president. He should build on the efforts of President Barack Obama policy towards Cuba now that the situation has changed dramatically with the demise of Castro, one of the greatest revolutionary icons of the past century. President Obama diplomatic initiative to establish relations with Cuba will be one of the lasting legacies of his eight years in office.
At the same time, the Colombian government led by Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jiminez have made a second peace accord after the previous one was rejected by the people in a referendum. Latin America’s longest and last insurrection has ended and it promises the whole region a new beginning with political stability and socio-economic progress.
The main reason why the South Americans migrate to the US is due to poverty, lack of opportunities and political instability.
Trump’s policies are somewhat isolationist and more focused on domestic issues and thus he should concentrate more on his own backyard - the Western Hemisphere ranging from Canada to Chile. The whole continent together with the US has about a billion people, and it can be the basis of a new win-win trade pact between all the countries should Trump abrogate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
Earlier US heads of government, such as President James Monroe, had realised this potential and came out with the Monroe Doctrine to reserve the Americas for the Americans.
Latin America offers much hope for a revival in the US re-industrialisation programme and other socio-economic growth promised by Trump.With abundant raw materials, labour and other resources, the US can also rely on South America as a major supplier and as a vast market for its manufactured products.
This complementary partnership can lead to prosperity and stability for the whole region. Sharing a common European and Christian heritage all the people and countries of the Americas should unite and ensure greater mutual progress as never before. Even Pope Francis in his numerous visits has spoken on the need for unity.
Trump needs to re-assess his Mexican wall ideas as he now has the unique opportunity, denied to previous presidents, to unite the entire continent based on socio-economic progress and political stability.
The US has had a long-term interest in South America as could be seen by its lead in constructing the Panama Canal, but over the decades the US got mired in supporting right-wing governments and death squads to counter socialist and communist movements that were against US political interference and exploitation by US multi-nationals.
Anti-US feelings can be overcome
Anti-US feelings run deep in Central and South America due to its past record, but with sincere friendship and understanding it can be overcome. A good 60 years had been wasted due to the Cold War and other misgivings and it is time now to start this fractured relationship anew and Trump has an excellent chance to do this. The US as the leading nation in the Americas should spearhead to unite the nations and bring prosperity to all.
All-American prosperity and well-being will mean much for the US to face future changes and challenges to the global economic order. This is not impossible for the US. It must be noted that Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and some of the Asean countries became prosperous due to massive US investments and the vast US market being fully opened for them.
The US came with the Marshall Plan to rescue the Western European nations debilitated and destabilized by the Second World War but it has never done anything of this sort for its poorer cousins in the Americas. Very much like China opening up Africa for its investments and markets, the US should do the same in South America.
The US can have a special complementary economic relationship with Brazil, a country similar in geographical size and population to the US and which is a member of the BRICS grouping. Intra-trade among the American nations will bring many proximity and complementary advantages.
Security and stability in the US own backyard must be its major concern now that various problems are cropping up worldwide. Trump should take advantage of the groundwork done by President Obama in improving ties with all its South American neighbours, and take it further. The Trump presidency should not be about building barriers, but building bridges to a better world.