Monday’s final presidential debate focused on foreign policy, but noticeably absent from the discussion was any meaningful mention of Latin America or the Western Hemisphere. With the press buzz surrounding the Latino vote and obvious plays by both the Democratic and Republican parties to outreach to the Latino community, it seems that someone would have brought up Latin American in a meaningful way, right?
The only mentions of Latin America were when Governor Romney mentioned wanting to engage with Latin America in more free trade saying that there were time zone and language opportunities and in mentioning that President Obama had wanted to speak with Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez. There was no follow up by the moderator, and President Obama did not make any mention of our country’s neighbors to the south.
From some brief context, here are some facts to keep in mind. Mexico is the U.S.’s third largest trade partner. It’s a country that the U.S. is already cooperative with in the War on Drugs via the Merida Initiative, including other countries in Central America. Brazil is another economic powerhouse, as South America’s fastest growing economy. Venezuela has vast oil resources. Immigrants from Mexico and Central America make up 37% of all U.S. immigrants, and a majority of the undocumented workers come from this region. In many ways, the fate of the U.S. is tied to what happens in Latin America.
The lack of attention toward Latin America in the final debate isn’t surprising. The Obama administration has received criticism for a lack of clear vision in its relationship with the region. Some have gone so far as to say that the U.S. lacks “the basic levels of a formal Latin American strategy.” So this final debate was a missed opportunity for both candidates to clearly articulate a plan for the country’s relationship with its closest neighbors.