Venezuela , Mexico , Colombia and Cuba
Opinion Piece

The US election: Does it matter to Latin America?

Bnamericas Published: Friday, October 28, 2016

Whoever wins the November 8 presidential election in the US, Latin America need not hold its collective breath.

While it seems increasingly unlikely that Donald Trump will triumph, if he were to emerge as the winner one can expect little attempt to engage with the region. Although his anti-Mexican, and by implication anti-Latin America as a whole, rhetoric has died down notably in the final stages of the campaign (maybe Enrique Peña Nieto did have some positive influence on Trump after all when they met in September, despite the flak the Mexican leader took at the time and which led to his finance minister Luis Videgaray getting fired), but the underlying prejudices clearly remain. If he does make it to the White House, however, Trump will have little choice but to adapt to reality (the cost of the wall is not in next year's budget, as Videgaray's successor José Antonio Meade said during Mexico's budget debate).

What is more, the effect of expelling undocumented migrants from the US would not only have devastating consequence for parts of Latin America, especially Central America in terms of remittances and sending people back to the violence many of them fled, but would also have serious consequences north of the Río Grande. The US economy is highly dependent on migrant, and especially Hispanic, labor. How would the wealthy in California, Florida and elsewhere cope without their cooks, gardeners and cleaners?  

As for Hillary Clinton, while a more measured response can be expected, Latin America is unlikely to be a high priority, and her attention will be much more focused on the Middle East and her old foe Russia. She is likely, however, to take a more conciliatory approach to Cuba than Trump and continue improving relations, and maybe even manage to get the embargo lifted. What is more, both candidates are loath to negotiate any more free trade agreements, with Trump promising to tear up NAFTA, describing it as the worst trade deal in history and blaming it for many US jobs going to Mexico (which is no bad thing for Mexico, of course). 

One cannot reason with the likes of Trump. His tactics seem to be to shout the loudest, say outrageous and often blatantly mendacious things and throw around personal insults in the hope of attracting attention. Rational argument does not come into it. Those tactics, according to the latest polls, finally appear to be backfiring – but can we believe the polls? As the recent referendums on Brexit and the Colombia peace agreement show, the pollsters can get things spectacularly wrong, especially in votes that have no or little precedent, and the current US campaign is certainly like no other in history. Turn-out is crucial, as the polls are often notoriously off the mark in the event of high abstention rates. Trump declared all the polls to be fake and a Democrat conspiracy (presumably even the ones that show him leading), and, in a move that appears designed to save face in the event of defeat, also claims the vote itself will be rigged (unless he wins, naturally). Many moderate Republicans, however, have all but given up on their candidate and are focusing on holding onto congress. 

But while Latin America can't expect too many positive vibes to come from the next US president, the voting process itself may bring an indirect benefit. For the first time ever, the Organization of American States will be monitoring a US election, which should remove an excuse that Venezuela and others in the region have used to prevent the OAS overseeing their elections in the past: if Washington doesn't allow it, why should we?

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