Latin America and the Caribbean: U.S. Policy Overview

The United States has a long and complex history of involvement in the rest of the Western Hemisphere. This publication by the the Congressional Research Service details the most recent developments regarding US dealings in Latin America. Find the policy overview here:

"U.S. interests in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) arediverseandincludeeconomic,political,security,and humanitarian concerns. Geographic proximity has ensured strong economic linkages between the United States and LAC, with the United States a major trading partner and source of foreign investment for many regional countries. Free-trade agreements (FTAs) have augmented U.S. economic relations with 11 countries in the region. LAC is also a large source of U.S. immigration, both authorized and unauthorized; economic and security conditions are major factors driving migration trends.

Curbing the flow of illicit drugs from LAC has been a key component of U.S. relations with the region for decades. Theflowofillicit drugs—includingheroin, methamphetamine,and fentanylfromMexico and cocaine from Colombia—poses risks to U.S. public health and safety. Since 2000, Colombia has received support through Plan Colombia and its successor programs. The United States also has sought to forge partnerships with other countries to combat drug trafficking and related violence and to advance citizen security, including through the Mérida Initiative, begun in 2007 to support Mexico; the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), begun in 2008; and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), begun in 2009.

Another long-standing component of U.S. policy has been support for strengthened democratic governance and the rule of law, including initiatives to support civil society and promote human rights. Although many countries in the region have made strides in democratic political development, several face considerable challenges.

Increasing Challenges in the Region Over the past several years, the quality of democracy has eroded in a number of countries in the region, along with public satisfaction with how democracy is working. In addition to Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua—all ruled by authoritarian governments repressing the political opposition—human rights groups have expressed concerns about democratic backsliding in several other countries. Many countries in LAC experienced social unrest in 2019 fueled by such political factors as weak democratic institutions, politicized judicial systems, corruption scandals, and high levels of crime and violence, and by such economic factors as declining or stagnant growth rates and high levels of income inequality and poverty.

Since 2020, the Coronavirus Disease2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has had widespread public health, economic, and political effects in the region. As of June 22, 2021, the region reported over1.2 million deaths (32% of deaths worldwide),and vaccination rates remain low for many countries in the region. The International Monetary Fund estimated a regional economic decline of 7% in 2020, with almost every country in recession. As a result, poverty and inequality have increased throughout the region, and many countries may struggle with protracted economic recoveries. The economic setbacks associated with the pandemic contributed to increased protests in the region in late 2020 and 2021. Beginning in late April2021, mass protests in Colombia against a pandemic-related tax reform turned into broader anti-government protests. Concern about democracy and human rights has increased in several countries in 2021. Haiti is experiencing heightened insecurity and political unrest against President Jovenel Moïse, who has ruled by decree since January 2020; legislative and presidential elections are scheduled for September 2021. The government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has arrested prominent opposition political and business leaders, including several who were planning to challenge Ortega in the November 2021 presidential election. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele ousted his critics on the Supreme Court and ended an anti-corruption body accord with the Organization of American States."

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