Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What the Pending Republican Sweep Means for Latin America

It's becoming more and more likely that the Republicans will take over the US House of Representatives, and may even grab the Senate. Domestic economic issues are the primary reason Republicans are poised to make big gains, and hence will take up most of the time and focus when the newbies arrive on Capitol Hill.

But lots of important work still gets done outside the glaring eye of cable news. Foreign Policy has highlighted some of these changes, and there are indeed some important potential shakeups with regard to US policy towards Latin America.

One of the Obama administration's most prominent diversions from Bush-era policy has come on Cuba. Though any further thawing is made very difficult by Cuba's continued detention of USAID contractor Alan Gross, the Obama admin has reversed the Bush administration's tightened restrictions on travel to the island by Cuban-Americans as well as cultural and educational groups. Despite international and elite public opinion against the sustained isolation of Cuba, the US' Cuba policy is driven by a large by a critical political constituency in a swing state: Cuban-Americans in Miami/Dade County, Florida.

So it's very interesting that Cuban-born Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is poised to take over the House Foreign Affairs Committee should the Republicans re-take the house. Ros-Lehtinen is a prominent advocate of the hard-line Cuban exiles and is unlikely to budge an inch towards any gestures made by anyone in Cuba with the Castro surname.

On the trade issue, the US still has pending free trade agreements with Panama and Colombia. The Colombia deal has been subject to more Congressional scrutiny, with many union-backed Democrats pushing for deeper environmental or labor rights protections before signing off. Especially given the current economic climate, there will likely be a push by pro-trade conservatives to get the treaties through on the grounds of boosting the economy. Trade may be one of the areas the Obama admin can tout bi-partisan success with the new Republican majority.

Colombia has received heaps of money over the years to support its fight against drug production and trafficking. The Plan Colombia era is definitely drawing to a close, as concerns about drugs and violence in Mexico take center stage in most Americans' minds. Expect a shift of resources and attention, as well as finger-pointing, towards Mexico and to a lesser extent Central America.

Sen. Jim DeMint, staunch opponent of the Obama admin's reaction to the Honduras coup last year, is poised to become significantly more important as Congress' resident Tea Party leader (assuming he can beat out Alvin Greene). DeMint doesn't like Chavez and has used his position in the minority to block confirmation of nominations to key Latin American-related posts in the admin. With Venezuela increasingly cozying up to Iran, expect some fun hearings and zingers, at the very least.

Lastly, though a domestic policy issue, immigration reform will also be significantly affected. Whether the new Republicans can or will make any more progress than the last time their colleagues took up immigration will be a huge issue (that will not escape the eye of cable news) remains to be seen.

Image: Washington Post ("Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) holds a copy of the constitution of Honduras during a press conference with interim President Roberto Micheletti at the presidential house in Tegucigalpa.")
Online Sources: Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Hill, Real Clear Politics,, Just the Facts


Bryce said...

I'd like to point out that DeMint is in the Senate, which is likely to remain under a Democratic control, albeit small. Also an analysis of Connie Mack from Florida (who you could say is the equivalent of a DeMint in the Senate) would be helpful. My guess it that he's going to blame everything on Chavez, as he already does.

Ben G. said...

Bryce - thanks for the heads up on the Demint error - I've updated to correct that.

Good call on Mack, as well.