Just as the Republican platform (which I analyzed here) situated itself in direct counterpoint to President Barack Obama, the Democratic platform seeks to be the opposite of Donald Trump, whose name comes up 32 times in 51 pages. Democrats actually pay less attention to Latin America in their platform than Republicans, perhaps because they are not so paranoid about threats emanating from the region.
Nonetheless, having so few words is incongruous with the document’s own assertion that Latin America and the Caribbean is “a region of singular strategic, economic, and cultural importance and opportunity for the United States.” For the most part, references to Latin America are heavily sprinkled with what we might call platitude verbs, such as build, embrace, stand by, work with, and bolster.
Countries sometimes are just jumbled together: “We will build on our long-term commitment to Colombia and work with Central American countries to stabilize the Northern Triangle.” Why the momentous peace deal with the FARC goes unmentioned is curious. Hillary Clinton supported the deal as Secretary of State, and in 2016 even had long-time ally Alvaro Uribe asking her in vain on Twitter to read the agreement and find fault with it. As for Central America, the most critical issue for the United States—undocumented child migrants—is never brought up anywhere.
Immigration from Latin America is seen as almost purely a domestic issue; sending countries don’t even figure into the discussion. The platform calls for immigration reform, more humane treatment of immigrants (a rare slap at the Obama administration), helping DREAMers and their parents, and ending derogatory language toward migrants. The latter is a reference to the slurs that have been the norm for the Trump campaign. These goals, while admirable, are disconnected from the countries and contexts from which migrants are coming.
Cuba gets a quick mention: “we will build on President Obama’s historic opening and end the travel ban and embargo. We will also stand by the Cuban people and support their ability to decide their own future and to enjoy the same human rights and freedoms that people everywhere deserve.” Given Obama’s bold initiatives, simply “standing by” seems like a pale reflection.
The Republicans actually had no policy prescription for Venezuela, while Democrats say they will “push the government to respect human rights and respond to the will of its people.” What “push” means is never mentioned and it is possible the platform writers themselves do not know.
A nod to Bernie Sanders—whose supporters wanted their ideas in the platform in return for their votes—is mention of training Latin American militaries:
“Finally, we will close the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, because we believe that military and police forces should support democracy, not subvert it.”
This is not only a bone tossed to the Democratic Party’s left wing, but also a shot at the U.S. Army, with the assertion that the Army is teaching subversion of democracy. Hillary Clinton has never shown interest in closing the much-reformed WHINSEC, and won’t likely spearhead an initiative that alienates an institution she will want to court.
Overall, Democrats promise to “bolster democratic institutions, promote economic opportunity and prosperity, and tackle the rise of drugs, crime, and corruption.” This is almost Donald Trump-esque in its belief in sweeping solutions to complex problems.
On trade, the platform does its best to embrace Bernie Sanders, whose views are closer to Donald Trump than to Hillary Clinton. The wording is quite similar to the Republican version, trying to please all sides. Global trade is positive, but only if it benefits U.S. workers in specific ways that are quite difficult to discern.
While Donald Trump says he wants to “break” NAFTA, Democrats assert that “we should review agreements negotiated years ago to update them to reflect these principles” of public health, workers’ rights, environmental protection, and overall trying to “support jobs.” This doesn’t jibe with Hillary Clinton’s own record, as she has been strongly in favor of free trade agreements.
Trump’s Mexican wall proposal makes an appearance, of course, and the platform notes correctly that it would “alienate Mexico, a valuable partner.” That is so obvious it’s hardly worth expanding on. At the same time, since the platform also indirectly criticizes NAFTA, it is not clear what parts of that partnership are considered most valuable.
What we might expect from an HRC administration, then, is ambivalent continuismo with the Obama policy. There are no new ideas and an overabundance of platitudes. Being anti-Trump is not the same as forming a coherent set of policies.