What can Latin America expect from the Biden-Harris Administration?

What can Latin America expect from the Biden-Harris Administration?

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A new strategic alliance with Africa and Latin America, that is the proposal of the United States Democratic Party presented to the Democratic Convention, in August 2020:

"Democrats will not only reinvent existing alliances, but also work to strengthen and build new partnerships in regions of growing strategic importance, particularly in Africa and Latin America. (Democratic Party, 2020).

With the growing influence of other world powers in its area of influence, Latin America is once again attracting the attention of the next U.S. administration. Not surprisingly, the People's Republic of China has become an important commercial, economic, financial and political partner for several countries in the region. The Russian Federation also increases its presence, although not with the agility and magnitude of the Asian Dragon. The Republic of India is another power that is quietly making inroads. European Union maintains a low profile in the region, retaining the spaces gained since World War II and a very positive image in Latin America.

How realistic is this proposal for a new alliance between Latin America and the United States?

The Democratic Party's political platform specifically mentions two countries: Cuba and Venezuela; and two sub-regions: Central America and the Amazon. The rest of Latin America does not appear in this proposal, which shows the priorities of the future US administration. Central America and the Amazon are part of two major challenges that Biden and Harris want to address: migration and climate change.

A central proposal is the development of a new migration strategy, which they have called; "Creating a 21st Century Migration System". In this section, it is stated that "disciplined American leadership and well-designed assistance programs can help prevent and mitigate the effects of migration crises around the world, from Southeast Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa to Central America”. There may be a coincidence of interests here, as Central American countries and Mexico are aware of the seriousness of the problem and have been insisting on a more comprehensive U.S. position. Both sides have the need to work together.

The situation is totally different when the Democratic Party's political programmatic platform raises the issue of climate change and the role assigned to the Amazon. Eight South American countries have very diverse policies and interests in this important lung of planet Earth. The central U.S. idea about the Amazon is to stop deforestation through joint global action led by this world power. For their part, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela, grouped together in the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), would find it very difficult to accept interference in the management and administration of this important natural reservoir that generates pure air. The idea of "internationalizing" the Amazon is not a novelty and neither is its rejection. Therefore, it is very unlikely that the eight Amazon States will give the green light to this proposal. This does not mean that climate change will not affect the countries of the region and that their misguided national policies will lead to increased emissions of greenhouse gases.

Contrary to this issue, the strengthening of multilateralism, as set forth in the Democratic programmatic platform, becomes an area of overlapping interests between Latin America and the United States. In this new multipolar world order, the States of the region feel more comfortable with the validity of the rules of international organizations, than with the impositions of the main world powers: in this way, the law of the jungle is avoided.

Other transnational challenges of the future administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are issues that are present in Latin America: the COVID-19 and the economic crisis, generated by the pandemic. Poverty rates have increased alarmingly, which will exacerbate social conflicts in the region. Therefore, the Democratic proposal to strengthen the role of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), can be a measure that is well received by Latin America, as long as it focuses its programs on these critical issues, the fight against the pandemic and economic recovery.

The global competition for the primacy in the state-of-the-art technologies is also disputed in Latin American territory. The 5G technology of mobile telephony is generating tensions between the States of the region and the world powers. The United States will have to make innovative and attractive proposals to Latin American countries to stop the technological advance of the Euro-Asian powers.

While the countries have succeeded in making Latin America a nuclear-weapon-free zone, thanks to the Treaty of Tlatelolco of April 1969, powers outside the region are trying to obtain radioactive material from Latin American countries. Iran is a very active player in this field. The United States will have to establish a delicate balance between the re-establishment of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty called Joint Comprehensive Action Plan and Iranian actions in Latin America.

Again, the inclination of a populist group of the Democratic Party in favor of the countries of the Socialism of the 21st Century can generate internal crises in the Democratic administration. The close ties of Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela with the regime in Tehran could trigger serious disputes in the internal politics of the new administration and in U.S. policy.

Another international challenge to the Democratic administration is the issue of terrorism. In Latin America, the presence of terrorist groups has been detected in some countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago. The latest terrorist attacks date back several decades, such as the attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Argentina, but the presence of these organizations keeps the danger of a resurgence of such activities latent. Hezbollah, the main organization with a presence in the region, is a major ally of Iran.

A very difficult issue for the next administration of Joe Biden is undoubtedly the validity of democratic principles and the defense of human rights in Latin America. The presence of a sector of the Democratic Party that is very friendly to the populist current of 21st Century Socialism will create internal tensions in this area. The militant support given by democratic sectors to the government of the Castro brothers, of Maduro, of the Fernandez, of the Ortega couple and of Evo Morales, will have repercussions in the internal politics of the United States.

In the programmatic political platform of the Democratic Party, a very condescending position is expressed regarding Cuba and Venezuela. The proposed policy is based on diplomatic pressure on the government of Nicolás Maduro, with the support of allied countries worldwide. With respect to Cuba, it proposes to improve the relationship between people (travel and remittances) and to emphasize human rights. Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are countries where the principles of the rule of law are being violated, as the separation of powers, freedom of the press and of political and ideological choice are in danger.

A positive factor in the future foreign policy of the Biden-Harris administration is the appointment of the new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. They are foreign service officials, advocates of multilateralism and with moderate positions, not the radical wing of the Democratic Party, as they know Realpolitik very well.

Preliminary Conclusions

The Democratic Party's proposal for Latin America is a defensive foreign policy, trying to recover the ground lost during the administrations of Barak Obama and Donald Trump. The correlation of forces at the global level has been radically transformed. The United States is no longer in a position to propose the Americas Initiative, as the 41st President George H.W. did. Bush Sr., nor the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) of Will Clinton and his successor George W. Bush Jr.

The transition from a bipolar to a multipolar order has weakened the presence of the world's leading power in its main area of influence: Latin America. That weakness is manifested in the new role played by world powers such as the People's Republic of China, the Russian Federation, the European Union and the Republic of India, among the main ones.

However, it is not only the dynamic presence of the other world powers, but also the growth of the Left Wing of the Democratic Party related to the Progressive International, which erode the national power of the United States, by supporting nations which have opposing interests.

In this struggle for world power and peace, the proposal put forward in the programmatic political platform of the Democratic Party, seeks to recover influence in the region. However, it would already be a major success if the status was maintained by not allowing the other world powers to continue advancing in the Latin American region.


Democratic Party. (August 20, 2020). Democratic Party. Retrieved from Democratic Party: https://democrats.org/where-we-stand/party-platform/


JULIO GASTÓN ALVARADO AGUILAR is a diplomat in the Bolivian Foreign Service and Professor Emeritus at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in La Paz, Bolivia. He is a PhD candidate in Political Science and International Relations. Author of several books and articles.
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