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

On Trade

On trade to Latin America, Romney offers a few ideas but there are no specific targets or goals. During his first 100 days in office he says he will launch a trade promotion effort?called the Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America (CEOLA) focused on extolling "the virtues of democracy and free trade". He hopes this will draw a contrast between free enterprise and the authoritarian socialist model of Venezuela and Cuba and set the stage for membership to a new multilateral trade group called the "Reagan Economic Zone" (seriously). The REZ is meant to further liberalize trade between like-minded, pro-market nations and exclude China, which Romney has called a cheater and "currency manipulator."

President Obama has set the goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015 and oversaw the ratification of trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. However, the U.S. is slightly off track to double exports and it took him three years to send the trade agreements to Congress for ratification.

Both candidates have pledged to complete negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new free-trade agreement that includes 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (including Canada, Mexico, Chile, and Peru) that want to further liberalize trade. Like Romney's REZ, it excludes China. Both candidates have said they would seek Trade Promotion Authority, which gives the president the ability to fast track approval of free-trade agreements.

Romney would try harder to get the TPP passed but there is no evidence that he would accomplish more on trade with Latin America than President Obama. Romney has said he wants more trade agreements with Latin America, but the countries without U.S. trade agreements like Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Cuba are not very interested in entering into one.

On Drugs and Security

Romney wants to create a unified "Hemispheric Joint Task Force on Crime and Terrorism" that builds on existing anti-drug and counterterrorism initiatives. He has also suggested exploring military-to-military cooperation and intelligence sharing with Mexico, similar to what was done in Colombia as part of Plan Colombia. While this is a commendable suggestion, Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto has already said that they are not open to joint armed operations.

Romney has also taken a more hawkish line on Venezuela, fearing their links to Iran and Hezbollah. By contrast, in July President Obama told an interviewer that Hugo Chavez "has not had a serious national security impact" on the U.S. Both campaigns have been light on details as to how they would change the dynamic of the failed drug war. President Obama has acknowledged that he would be willing to discuss the issue with the growing number of Latin American leaders that are calling for a change in strategy. Romney would be under more pressure from his party to maintain a hard line stance.

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