Since the its adoption of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the United States has long asserted dominance in Latin America. This dominance, however, appears to be slipping as Latin American countries become stronger and other world powers exert influence in the region. From 2009 to 2011, Latin American countries expressed their belief that the relationship between Latin America and the United States was weakening. Most concerning of all, as the US loses influence in the region, China has gained a great deal of sway. Of the five countries most convinced in the world that China has replaced the United States as the world’s leading superpower, three are in Latin America. The truth of the matter is that, there is a dragon in our backyard and the US will soon feel the heat.
While one can argue that US influence in Latin America has been declining since 9/11, over the course of the last year, the United States has faced various diplomatic challenges with Latin American countries that expedited the US decline in the region. In mid-2013, following news that the NSA was spying on Brazil, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff declared US spying operations a “breach of international law and an affront” to Brazil’s sovereignty. She went on to declare that “without respect for [a nation’s]sovereignty, there is no basis for proper relations among nations.” This incident exacerbated relations between the two countries and may have pushed
Brazil to support other major world powers such as China. China has exerted influence in Brazil through trade and investment in infrastructure over the past decade. Just this year, China and Brazil signed a number of deals including the sale of airplanes to China and the construction of electric grids in Brazil. China has been Brazil’s largest trade partner since 2009, and Brazil has aligned itself ever closer with China. In fact, Brazil joined China among other countries to abstain from voting in the UN resolution declaring the Crimean referendum invalid, leading to its annexation by Russia. In 2011, Brazil also joined China to abstain from the vote authorizing “all necessary measures” against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
Another diplomatic crisis that the United States faced in Latin America was the expulsion of three American diplomats out of Venezuela. Venezuelan President Maduro accused the diplomats of conspiring against his government for condemning the arrest of peaceful protestors. Given the cessation of diplomatic ties and the lack of human rights in Venezuela, America has cut aid to Venezuela by nearly $2 million from 2012. As a result, Venezuela has turned to China for economic aid. China has lent billions of dollars to Venezuela, accepting repayment in the form of oil barrel shipments. Following tumbling oil prices and a cash crunch, Venezuela was at risk of defaulting on nearly $50 billion of loans it owed to China. China, however, loosened repayment terms and even offered to give Venezuela more loans, securing supply lines to Venezuelan petroleum in the process. Venezuela has long been openly hostile towards the United States, however, now that Venezuela need not rely on the US for economic aid, Venezuela can act in an even more aggressive fashion.
The growing strength of Latin America is not a bad thing. What is of concern, however, are the huge financial resources China is promising to bring to Latin America, it’s growing military relations in the region, and its political ambitions, especially in countries that have increasingly antagonistic relationships with the United States. Many people in Latin America look to China as an alternative to US hegemony. China has even taken steps to secure influence in countries that have long had a positive relation with the US such as Nicaragua, where a Hong Kong business pans to fund a canal that would rival Panama’s. One would be remiss not to see a parallel between China’s attempt to buy influence and the United States and Soviet Union’s behavior during the Cold War. For the moment, most Latin American governments still seek close ties with the United States; however, as China presents itself as an increasingly viable superpower, Latin America may no longer find it necessary to cooperate with the United States in the future. One thing is for certain, there is a dragon in the United States’ backyard and if the United States doesn’t act soon to improve its relationships with Latin American countries, it will soon feel the heat of the dragon’s flame.