In the past four years, Latin America’s so-called pink tide—the much-(and over) reported electoral shift to the left—has receded, after populist governments came under siege amid corruption scandals and economic disasters wrought by extravagant spending. The result has been a new wave of either more conservative governments hewing to a liberal agenda of free trade, as in Argentina or Brazil, or the possibly imminent rejection of governments carrying on the legacy of their forebears, as in Bolivia, Ecuador and—should elections and other democratic conditions ever return—Venezuela.
But just when Latin America’s populists had exhausted themselves, Donald Trump came along, appearing to embrace many of their largely failed policies. With his surprising election as U.S. president, the populist program that Latin American voters have either rejected or are struggling to overcome is now on the table in Washington, at least rhetorically: broad, unexplained policy initiatives, profligate spending initiatives, autarky and trade barriers.
Ironically, if Trump’s anti-immigrant, protectionist and nationalist rhetoric continues, his administration may succeed where the leader of the pink tide, former Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, failed—by uniting Latin America and the Caribbean against the United States.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the Dominican Republic late last month, where the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, met for a summit that brought together 10 heads of state and 33 foreign ministers from the region. Many heads of state expressed their solidarity for Mexico, which has been a particular target for Trump, who continues to insist on his plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and have Mexico pay for it.
“We have to protect ourselves from the aggressive policy of persecuting migrants,” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa declared. “The attacks against human rights is one of the central topics that brought us to this summit.” Of course, this was coming from a president who has shut down freedom of expression, undermined judicial independence and attacked indigenous rights in his own country. The host country’s president, Danilo Medina, warned that “the phantom of protectionism and closure of borders would have grave consequences.” Yet the Dominican Republic no longer recognizes the authority of the Inter-American System for the protection of human rights, which covers the 34 members of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Trump’s heated rhetoric and undiplomatic style provided a convenient distraction to Correa’s and Medina’s own troubling practices in their own countries. Correa has closed space for dissent and cracked down on the press. Medina has treated not even immigrants but Dominican citizens of Haitian descent harshly through discriminatory policies and deportations, sparking widespread condemnation by international human rights organizations. But in contrast to Trump, Correa suddenly seemed to become a beacon of moderation and Medina a protector of immigrants.
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