Since 9/11, a Frost and a Thaw in U.S.-Latin American Relations

Patrick Duddy on the up-and-down relationship between the U.S. and Latin America since 9/11

Part of the 15 Years After 9/11 Series

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, sitting at his desk at the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, Patrick Duddy was expecting to hear news from Lima, Peru, not from New York City.  Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Lima preparing for the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to strengthen democratic institutions in the Americas.

Despite the tragic events that happened that same day back home, Powell stayed in Lima until the charter was adopted. “He though it was that important,” says Duddy, who currently serves as the director of the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. “His decision to stay in Peru until the charter was officially adopted underscored the importance the U.S. attached to this achievement.”

Although the United States entered into the agreement in full faith, and 42 percent of all U.S. exports remain within the Western Hemisphere, Duddy says the timing of the agreement and the United States’ shifting foreign policy priorities following 9/11 have relegated relations with Latin America to the second tier of U.S. foreign policy.

While Latin Americans were deeply sympathetic to the USA in the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush’s “with us or against us” rhetoric didn’t go over well, Duddy says. In 2003, neither Chile nor Mexico, both serving in key United Nations positions, supported a US-led resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

In Venezuela, the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez ushered a wave of leftist populist leaders in the region, many skeptical of U.S. plans for economic development.

And while the U.S. maintained a commitment to the region, its reaction to the short-lived and ultimately failed coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 left many in the region doubting U.S. commitment to the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

But as commodity prices, especially oil prices, have softened, Latin Americans have reexamined both their own economic and social policies as well as their relationship with the U.S., Duddy says.

He believes now most Latin American countries may be ready to embrace a closer and more cooperative relationship with the U.S., and to fully achieve that, American leaders should acknowledge its importance.

“Both major candidates for president of the United States are questioning the sort of trade policies long considered of fundamental interest to the health of the U.S. economy,” he says. “Of course there are problems with some of our trade agreements, but our relations with the region are increasingly symbiotic, and those who aspire to lead the country should acknowledge that more clearly.”