It never fails. “If something can go wrong, it will.” Latin America is no stranger to Murphy’s Law. Latin America keeps going through the economic wringer.
For instance, foreign debt, inflation, recessions, currency devaluations, U.S. meddling, chronic dependency, corruption, mismanagement and unbridled population growth have all deleteriously impacted the region at one time or another.
And politically, Latin America has undergone frequent changes of government regimes, numerous constitutions, unstable governments, insurgency, dictatorships often ruled by caudillos (military dictators) and an innate inability of its governments to solve major domestic problems.
Today’s Latin leaders are mostly responsible for turning their dismal economies around, but most of Latin America has amassed so much massive foreign debt that it severely impairs the region’s ability to fully prosper.
Although many Latin American countries during the Cold War were considered democratic, most were democracies in name only. Corrupt, repressive or despotic — it didn’t matter. Latin American regimes were supported by the U.S. just as long as Latin America’s governments weren’t communist.
Though their governments for the most part were once authoritarian, corporatist, hierarchical or paternalistic, their future shines today much brighter than before. Now, more than ever, the U.S. should continue to strengthen its commitment, encouragement and support of Latin American democracies, even though most of Latin America’s leadership leans ideologically to the left.
The U.S. needs to flex its economic muscles more. Aid should not be unconditional. To continue receiving American aid, Latin nations should qualify as being de facto democracies first. Second, the uses of aid should be fully accounted for to avoid increased corruption. And third, the U.S. must curtail its trade addiction with China, and concentrate on America’s southern neighbors. (Actually, China has recently agreed on trading much more with Latin America.) America should help economically “raise all boats” in Latin America not sink them.
Modernization has been elusive for decades due to the fact that Latin America never went through the Industrial Revolution like the U.S. If it had, their Industrial Revolution would have transformed Latin American society from one based on agriculture into an industrial one. Thus, since Latin America emphasized economic growth over industrial development, it hardly modernized at all. The price for not modernizing has been costly.
Some countries have more than others. Inequality and poverty are facts of life for many nations. According to the United Nations, about 174 million Latin Americans remain poor, of whom 73 million live in extreme poverty. Things were so bad economically that people were fleeing in droves to the U.S. illegally.
One can only hope that America’s illegal immigration problem will be solved on the Latin American side, where the root of America’s immigration problem resides. When the economic situation dramatically improves throughout the region, illegal immigration will likely cease altogether. Due to U.S. policies, illegal immigration has already significantly slowed.
Nevertheless, Latin America’s exodus of its economic refugees is proof positive that its governments are highly incompetent. If Latin America’s economic problems had been solved by good Latin leaders in the first place, the U.S. wouldn’t have had a continuing illegal immigration problem. Still, America remains the No. 1 destination for illegal immigrants who widely view an alluring U.S. as a land of opportunity, hope and economic security.
The U.S. Census proves that Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in America. And America’s Latinos have gained substantial political influence as a result. If anything, this past election demonstrated that America’s Hispanics possess political clout. The Hispanic vote was decisive in Obama’s recent re-election victory: Two out of three registered Hispanics voted for him. Their votes mattered. Obama knew it and capitalized on it. Two-thirds of eligible Hispanic voters vote Democrat, and they’re a political force to be reckoned with.
Obama is seen by many Latinos as likely to push hard on immigration reform to give legal status to millions of undocumented Hispanic workers in the U.S. In a recent survey, it was found that eight out of 10 Latinos feel unauthorized immigrants should not be deported. (However, education, jobs and health care are more important to Hispanics than the issue of immigration, which ranks fourth in importance.)
Latin America has a host of problems, which stunts economic growth. There is no easy solution to its problems. And even though the U.S. shares the same hemisphere with Latin America, they couldn’t be more further away in each other’s minds. Illegal immigration is just the tip of the iceberg. Only time will tell when illegal immigration ceases altogether.
David Briceno lives in Grass Valley.
(M)ost of Latin America has amassed so much massive foreign debt that it severely impairs the region’s ability to fully prosper.