Step by step and without the usual din of his predecessor, President Joe Biden has begun to cement a new relationship between the United States and Latin America.
Less than a month after its inception, the Biden government took various actions towards the region that contrast like day and night with the policies of former President Donald Trump.
Here’s an analysis of three of those changes:
1. Increased pressure for democracy, corruption and human rights
The US has once again brought democracy, corruption and human rights issues to the table in its dealings with Latin America, increasing the pressure on some countries.
This is a novelty with respect to Trump, who relegated these issues in his relationship with the governments of the region, except those of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua for ideological reasons, experts say.
On NicaraguaWashington indicated this month that it is “deeply concerned about the increasing repression of the government of President (Daniel) Ortega.”
“Ortega is leading Nicaragua towards dictatorship,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, and demanded a “change of course” from the president.
But it has also issued warnings to other governments in the region that used to escape criticism from Trump.
At the end of January, Price said in a statement that the US was closely monitoring Congress’s attempt to Guatemala to place in the Constitutional Court a judge with accusations of obstruction of justice and links with a businessman accused of corruption.
The Biden government also rejected a request for a meeting from the Salvadoran president Here’s to watching during a trip he made to Washington days ago, the AP news agency reported.
This was seen as a sign of Washington’s concern about the state of law and democracy in El Salvador.
“They are showing that they are willing to prosecute the regimes in the region without ideology, in a very objective way,” Christopher Sabatini, senior researcher for Latin America at the Chatham House analysis center in London, tells BBC Mundo.
The US also expressed concern Thursday about the violence against human rights defenders in Colombia.
“Reducing this violence and investigating these crimes is one of the top priorities for both the US and Colombia,” Price said, “and it is an issue that we raise with the Colombian government.”
2. The end of “safe third country” agreements
Trump’s greatest concern regarding Latin America was to stop the flow of migrants to the United States, and to do so he tightened policies inside and outside the country.
Biden wants to dismantle that legacy, and his administration has already taken concrete action: suspended asylum cooperation agreements signed by Trump in 2019 with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
These “safe third country” pacts forced asylum seekers in the region to seek refuge in those nations of the so-called Northern Triangle, before doing so in the United States.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the interruptions of the agreements were “the first concrete steps” to be able to manage migration in the region.
The objective stated by Biden is create a new regional framework to do so and to process asylum applications in an orderly manner at the US border with Mexico, something that will require more time.
“It will take between four and six months to get a viable asylum system in place. In the meantime, I think it will be up to the transit countries and Mexico to make sure there is no increase (in the number of migrants) at the border,” says Muzaffar Chishti , an expert from the Institute for Migration Policy in New York, to BBC Mundo.
Biden signed an executive order this month aimed at addressing the causes of emigration and forced displacement to the US, such as violence or economic insecurity, and plans to allocate $ 4 billion to the Northern Triangle.
Biden also asked to review the Migrant Protection Protocols program, also called “Stay in Mexico”, launched by Trump and for which thousands of asylum seekers were sent to that country while their request is being processed in the United States.
Washington has indicated that it will begin processing those requests as of Friday, the 19th, which would allow the gradual entry of migrants into the United States.
Members of the Republican opposition argue that these changes and the abandonment of the project to build the border wall with Mexico that Trump wanted will attract more migrants to the United States, but the Biden administration denies that the border is open.
3. Review of sanctions against Venezuela
Another change that was expected from the Biden government was a relaxation of some sanctions against Venezuela, and that has begun to occur.
The Treasury Department enabled this month certain operations in ports and airports of the South American country that had been banned by the Trump administration.
The measure is far from signifying an end to sanctions on the Venezuelan oil sector: the Treasury clarified that the new authorization excludes activities to export diluents to Venezuela, necessary to refine crude.
The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) did not include previously sanctioned Venezuelan government officials in the permit.
But this slight change is seen as an announcement that Washington is already reviewing the sanctions policy on Venezuela implemented by the Trump administration, which sought to restrict as many activities as possible in that country.
“This shows that they are not going to maintain the same inflexibility with sanctions,” says Sabatini. “But it is possible that this act is also to open the doors to humanitarian aid,” he adds.
And remember that, despite the exceptions foreseen for example for the arrival of food and medicine to the country, the organizations dedicated to these tasks felt uncertain about how to proceed.
Indeed, a report from a US government watchdog this month indicated that sanctions on Venezuela may have hindered humanitarian aid and aggravated the country’s economic crisis.
After hearing the report of the Accountability Office (GAO, for its acronym in English), the chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee of the US House of Representatives, Democrat Gregory Meeks, asked to assure “that the sanctions do not impede the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those who need it most. ”
Blinken has called Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro a “brutal dictator” and Many rule out Washington lifting the sanctions imposed on members of their government for human rights abuses and corruption.
But the US could adjust economic sanctions while coordinating with other countries its demand for free general elections in Venezuela.
“It is time to move forward from four years of the Trump administration’s failed policy towards Venezuela and work with our allies in the Lima Group and the European Union on a more effective multilateral approach to the country’s multiple crises,” said Meeks, considered a possible articulator of those efforts.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.