Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sorry Monroe, Russia and China are playing in our backyard

In the nearly 200 years since President James Monroe stated the foreign policy doctrine the bears his name (that would be the Monroe Doctrine of course), the United States has looked at Latin America as our backyard. Now the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are holding a historic summit, the inaugural "Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development" and the United States isn't invited.

But Russia and China are.

You can only take it as another sign of the United State's waning influence in a part of the world we once thought of as "ours". Even while it seemed like the world was eagerly following this past November's presidential election, a region-wide poll found that Latin America was largely indifferent to the outcome; the thought was that neither Obama nor McCain would really focus on the region.

It seemed like it would be very different when George W. took office in 2001. He touted the relationship he developed while governor of Texas with (then) Mexican President Vincente Fox as a sign of America's close relationship with Latin America, but the region quickly fell off Bush's radar. In the end, Chinese President Hu Jintao wound up spending more time in the Latin America than did Bush. China and Russia have also seen their investments in the region triple in recent years, while America's fell by nearly a quarter. China has become Chile's biggest export partner, while Russian companies are making big investments in the energy sectors in Venezuela and Bolivia. The high-profile visit to Venezuela last month by a flotilla of Russian warships is a distraction from the bigger story: Russia's increasing economic influence in the area.

So then it shouldn't be a surprise that the United States is becoming a less important player in Latin America - just because you think a place is your back yard, that doesn't mean you can ignore it and expect that circumstances will never to change. One last thing that will probably irk some folks in Washington - the conference will be the coming out party for Cuba's Raul Castro who is making his first trip abroad since taking over the leadership of Cuba from his brother Fidel.
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