Written by: Nils Peterson
As the United States continues to prioritize Asia in its foreign policy, Latin America enters an uncertain future marked by dim prospects for most of the population. Fears of an economic lost decade and dramatic upticks in inequality present severe challenges across the region. Chinese fishing fleets near the Galapagos Islands compound the region’s problems by turning off their tracking devices and potentially engaging in predatory fishing practices that threaten to drive local fishermen out of business. Tumult caused by the pandemic requires the United States to aid Latin America to prevent an expansion of Chinese influence within the Western hemisphere.
A lack of global leadership from the United States throughout the Trump administration did not win hearts and minds in Latin America. Not all bodes poorly, however, for the United States in the region. The aforementioned predatory fishing garners China no goodwill in the area. The pandemic will continue aggravating Latin America’s economic and social problems, but the first step towards addressing these concerns remains vaccination.
While President Biden’s priority will be on dealing with the pandemic and social issues plaguing the United States, focusing on attainable goals like administering Covid vaccines in Latin American countries as soon as possible remains the best strategy. Considering the 1 billion dollars in financing that China put towards helping vaccinate Latin America, the United States already finds herself out of the driver’s seat. The need to assist Latin America has never been more urgent for the future of United States foreign policy in the region.
Failure to support Latin American vaccination efforts could produce undesirable long-term consequences for United States foreign policy. Forcing Latin American countries to choose between the United States and China should not be the objective of support efforts. Counting on long-term United States trade relationships with Latin American countries that China increasingly aims to supplant does not guarantee that these nations will side with the United States if pressed. President Biden must focus on ending the pandemic’s devastating effects both at home and abroad in Latin America. This would buy the United States time to rebuild trust within Latin America and swing the balance of power in the region away from China.
COVID-19 continues to paralyze Latin American countries and increase internal economic inequalities. The power vacuum created by the pandemic will be filled, but by whom is the question. To avoid the answer overwhelmingly leaning in favor of China, the United States must help vaccinate Latin American nations’ populations. President Biden must walk a thin line between supporting these countries and prematurely forcing them to choose either the United States or China. While Latin America’s future choice between the United States and China will not be binary, decision time is nearing. When that day comes, the United States’ foreign policy in the region will reap what it sowed: ideally, the goodwill it instilled from a pandemic-ending vaccination campaign.