The United States’ presidential election is in full swing, with the Super Tuesday marking a pivotal moment in the primary race. After an initial crowded field of almost 30 candidates, the Democratic side narrowed it down and now there are two serious contenders trying to secure the nomination and face Donald Trump in November’s Election Day.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and former vice president Joe Biden emerged as clear front runners in the primaries. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the race after disappointing results on Super Tuesday. LABS searched through their and Trump’s statements and proposals to find out where the candidates stand on Latin American affairs.
Three main issues already play a significant role in the campaign, and will likely keep the debate going: Venezuela’s downward spiral, immigration and trade. When it comes to trade with the region, the debate is actually centered on Mexico. Biden, for example, supports the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that resulted from a Trump initiative to replace the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), while Sanders didn’t back either deal.
Here we listed what presidential hopefuls have said about U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America so far:
Biden was actively engaged with policy toward the region during his time as vice-president and views a strong relationship with Latin America as essential to America. The former vice-president believes that the U.S distanced itself from Latin America, and while doing so allowed for other global players, especially China, to make deep economic and diplomatic inroads in the region through investment and trade.
As a senator in 1993, he voted for NAFTA, a position he continues to defend while also supporting Trump’s renegotiated version, the USMCA, because of its improved labor rights provisions. Biden is a longtime supporter of trade liberalization and a critic of Trump’s tariffs, arguing that Washington should take the lead on creating global trade rules and lowering barriers to commerce worldwide. But he has already opposed some deals, like the one signed with Peru in 2006, citing weak labor and environmental protections.
Biden likes to highlight his role on immigration in the Obama administration, and signals an aid package to Central American governments to help stem the flow of migrants. Biden’s plan includes developing a comprehensive four-year, $4 billion regional strategy to address factors driving migration from Central America and mobilizing private investment in the region. Despite condemning Trump’s approach to immigrants and calling it “morally bankrupt” and “racist”, he has a somewhat hardline record on the issue: as a senator, he voted for fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, and a 1996 law that increased penalties for illegal immigration. Now he favors better screening at border entry points.
The former vice-president repeatedly declared that Nicolas Maduro is a “tyrant” who should step aside, and has called on world governments to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido. He advocates for increased sanctions on the regime and its supporters, and more aid to help both Venezuela and its neighbors deal with the refugee crisis.
Joe Biden was the least vocal of Democratic candidates during the Amazon wildfires, and has refrained from commenting on environmental issues in Latin America.
Sanders believes the United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries, which in his opinion has resulted in bad outcomes. His focus on the region is mainly related to immigration — for example, the senator says American meddling in Latin American countries was a root cause of the region’s economic malaise, and therefore its migrants seeking better standard of living.
Sanders has a protectionist stance and is a vocal critic of trade liberalization efforts, which he says have boosted corporate profits at the expense of workers and the environment. He voted against the passage of the USMCA trade deal, even after acknowledging it as a “modest improvement”on NAFTA. For him, the deal “is not going to stop corporations from moving to Mexico.”
Immigration reform is high on Bernie Sanders’ list of important issues. He promises to decriminalize unauthorized border crossings, making them a civil offense. He calls for the repeal of the 1996 law that increased penalties for undocumented immigrants and expanded federal deportation powers. He would end detention of all immigrants without a violent crime record. Sanders also stated that on day one, he would invite the presidents of Central America countries and Mexico to address the root causes of migration because this is a “hemispheric issue.”
Sanders advocates for sanctions against Maduro and his top officials but rules out a U.S. military intervention, citing Washington’s long history of “inappropriate” intervention in Latin American politics. His stance toward Venezuela differs from other 2020 candidates since he never characterized Maduro as a dictator and has also not recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
He says right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil is “destroying the entire lungs of the world” by rolling back environmental protections.
Immigration was a signature issue during Trump’s first term and will certainly prove a flash point between his positions and its Democratic challengers toward the U.S. southern neighbors. He also constantly decries “corrupt communist and socialist regimes” in the region, especially Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, while occasionally flattering Brazilian right-wing administration, which he seems to regard as a regional ally.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has taken aim at a global trading system that he argues is rigged against U.S. interests and responsible for large trade deficits. Mexico was constantly a scapegoat during the president’s complaints against trade deals. He renegotiated NAFTA and the updated USMCA has stronger labor provisions.
In 2018, he enacted a zero-tolerance policy for illegal border crossings and repeatedly threatened to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He proposes a broad reform that would create a merit-based immigration system, but the plan was not yet analyzed by Congress.
The Trump administration sustained pressure on Maduro and his allies, but the United States’ current agenda in Venezuela is tightly linked to the administration’s pursuit of regime change in Cuba.
Trump’s administration rolled back many local environmental rules and the issue does not seem to be regarded as highly important in current foreign policy.
Elizabeth Warren labels her proposals for international relations as a “foreign policy for all”, and does not offer policies that are too specific for Latin America. She has committed, though, to make her first international trip as president to Central America. For the Massachusetts senator, the region shares many mutual interests with the U.S. and she promises to re-establish American credibility in the Americas, “starting with respect and common courtesy.”
Warren criticizes existing trade deals for favoring corporations, contributing to a decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs, and lowering wage growth. She pledges economic partnership with Latin America would be a priority of her presidency, adding that her trade policies “aim to raise labor and environmental standards worldwide and bring down the price of drugs”.
Warren is strongly critical of the idea of a border wall and supports re-installing Barack Obama’s immigration reform. She would expand legal immigration, streamline the green card process, and provide a new pathway to citizenship for around 11 million unauthorized residents in the country.
For Warren, Maduro is a dictator, “but fomenting regime change doesn’t benefit the Venezuelan people. Instead, we should work with regional partners to address Venezuela’s humanitarian needs” and “advance negotiations for free, fair elections as quickly as possible.”
The senator says the Amazon rainforest demands both Brazilian and multilateral efforts to protect it, stressing that Brazil needs to lead all efforts.
The billionaire and former NYC mayor, who dropped out of the race and now supports Joe Biden, thinks America’s record in Latin America over the past 200 years has seen favorable outcomes and mistakes. Bloomberg says he is not concerned about the past history and that his commitment will be to build a strong cooperation with the region’s governments. “After Trump’s neglect, I will make improving relations and trade with Latin America a priority”, he stated.
Bloomberg believes trade can be a favorable proposition for the U.S. and its partners, so long as rules and policies ensure the gains are real and widely shared. As president, he would support new trade agreements with Latin American countries that include stronger labor and environmental standards and corruption-fighting commitments. He supports the USMCA, which in his opinion has achieved the strongest enforcement mechanisms of any U.S. trade deal.
The former mayor favors allowing foreign students who graduate from American universities to stay in the United States, as well as offering visas to foreign entrepreneurs. As the founder of liberal think-tank New American Economy, he is a strong backer of increasing immigration, arguing that it boosts growth and innovation. He promises to fix the country’s “broken” immigration system.
Bloomberg declared to Americas Quarterly: “Venezuela is a case study in how despotism can lead a country to ruin – and destabilize an entire region in the process. The U.S. must remain steadfast in supporting the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy and democratic institutions under interim president Juan Guaidó.”
Bloomberg promises to hold governments and corporations accountable for deforestation and other practices that increase climate change and threaten indigenous peoples.