Analysis: Obama and Romney Don't Care About Latin America

PHOTO: A zócalo is a central town square or plaza, usually located in Mexican cities. The most famous Zócalo is that of Mexico City. The government district of Mexico City is known after this. Zócalos were often the original central squares of Mesoamerica

We are almost through another presidential election and there has been a complete lack of serious discussion about U.S. relations with Latin America. In other words, it's become evident that the candidates just don't care. However they should. During the last two decades, thanks to globalization, U.S. and Latin American economies and societies have become increasingly linked. This new dynamic suggests politicians should place a new focus on how to take advantage of opportunities like Latin America's emerging middle class and reduce threats posed to mutual ties, like the violence and criminal activity of the drug war.

This week, I looked at Obama and Romney's Latin America policies, but there wasn't much there. What I could find were simply relics of the past. During last week's vice presidential debate, which was the first debate to include foreign policy questions, the words "Latin America" or "Mexico" were not mentioned once.

Romney mentioned Latin America twice during the presidential debate on Tuesday saying he would "dramatically expand trade in Latin America" as part of his economic plan. Alas, he provided no details. This may be because trade to Latin America is already expanding pretty rapidly and this will likely continue no matter who is president.

The only time the two candidates seem to talk about the region are when they are interviewed by reporters from Spanish-language media outlets who press them on drugs, security, trade, Venezuela and Cuba. If you don't watch Univision or read La Opinion, you are missing out on an important debate.

So, will anything change during the next four years? Probably not. Obama hasn't outlined any new policies during this campaign, but he does have a foreign policy record in the region, led mostly by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And Romney has shared little in the way of specifics. Here's where each stands on key issues in Latin America.

On Mexico

Let's start with Mexico, which is the U.S's second largest export market. Roughly six million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico, and as Mexicans move into the middle class, they are consuming more and more U.S. products. As the Financial Times pointed out recently in an op-ed, "Mexico is rapidly becoming as important to the U.S. economy as China." But you are unlikely to hear this on the campaign trail or in the debate hall.

Neither candidate has specifically addressed the economic importance of Mexico or discussed how to improve the efficiency of the border in regards to trade. Both tend to focus solely on immigration and security.

Romney says that he'll "use the full powers of the presidency to complete an impermeable border fence protecting our southern frontier from infiltration by illegal migrants, trans-national criminal networks, and terrorists." He fails to mention the impact that an impermeable fence might have on the $1 billion in trade that crosses the border each day. Both candidates have also promised to propose immigration reform if they win. However, again, they have offered few details.

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