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O

n the eve of the 2020 election, Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Christy Thornton mused about the similarities between the United States and the other nations of the Americas. Over a year and a half later as the U.S. prepares to host the IX Summit of the Americas for the first time since 1994, I cannot help but think back to this tweet and how similar the U.S. continues to be to the rest of the region. Not only is this due to the similarities in political systems or parallel histories that the United States and Latin America share, but also in terms of the challenges that currently face the region. If the Biden administration is to make the most of the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, it is going to need to embrace these similarities and look for common solutions to address the shared challenges faced by all of the nations of the Americas.

The United States and Latin America have histories that in many ways have paralleled one another— countries inhabited by indigenous peoples that were colonized by European powers, legacies of slavery, liberal revolutions and early development of democratic institutions, challenges of state building and internal conflict in the 19th century, and attempts to construct regional orders based on the uniqueness of the Americas. All of these histories, as well as the repeated attempts to create regional organizations that support collective action in the Americas, have created a system in which the U.S. shares many characteristics and an entwined history with the countries in the rest of the Americas.

Noting that there is something unique about the “new world” that binds the different countries of the Americas together is nothing new. Arthur P. Whitaker’s classic, The Western Hemisphere Idea, tracked how policy makers across the Americas viewed the connections between the United States and Latin America. Similarly, Charles Jones has noted the shared culture of the region. None of this is to minimize the differences in the histories of the different nations of the Americas, but rather to highlight that our commonalities are greater than the differences that divide us. All of these historic legacies have positioned the region today, both in terms of the opportunities facing the Americas as well as the challenges that the region faces.

The legacies of this shared history and tradition have led to a number of problems that are evident across the Americas today. One of the greatest challenges facing the Americas today is declining trust in democracy evident across the region. Results from the most recent round of the Latin American Public Opinion Project show that support for democracy has continued to decline across the region. This has been coupled with leaders across the region pushing against democratic governance leading to what some have referred to as a “democratic recession.” However, it is not only Latin America that has seen an erosion of support for democracy nor an increase in undemocratic actions. The United States has also seen this occurring in recent years, something that the January 6 insurrection made startlingly clear. 

Exacerbating (and being exacerbated by) distrust in democracy is the fact that the Americas were the hardest hit region by the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of the health and economic impacts. In 2020, GDP in the Latin America and Caribbean region fell by 7.0% and in the United States it fell by 3.4% compared to the 3.1% seen globally. While the region saw GDP rebound by 6.8% and the United States grew by 5.7% in 2021, these only remain on par with other parts of the world.  Similarly, as of 5 May 2022, the Americas accounted for 29.9% of COVID-19 cases and 43.6% of deaths despite representing only 13.1% global population. While the U.S. has been able to vaccinate more quickly, many of the challenges that the region has faced in addressing the pandemic are shared by the U.S.

The impacts of climate change are also particularly evident across the Americas. With wildfires raging across the western United States and the increasing frequency and severity of major storms, the United States is no stranger to the impacts of climate change here at home. Latin America has also been particularly impacted by climate change. A recent report from the World Bank noted that by 2030 approximately 5.8 million people in Latin America could be pushed into extreme poverty due to the climate crisis. Addressing the climate crisis will be no easy feat for any country, particularly given the cross-border impacts of any action across the globe. 

The impacts of both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are highlighting one of the Americas’ other great challenges, both exacerbating and being exacerbated by— inequality. While Latin America has often been referred to as the most unequal region in the world, inequality across the Hemisphere is particularly high. In fact, the United States remains one of the most unequal OECD countries. These inequalities are not purely incidental either, but the result of the historical development of countries in the region. One area where this is particularly evident is in the racial inequalities that are evident across the region. While the United States has been having a reckoning with its own legacies of slavery and racial discrimination, these problems have important parallels in other parts of the region as well. 

As the United States prepares to host the IX Summit of the Americas, a meeting of the leaders of the different nations of the Western Hemisphere, many of these items should be on the agenda. Given that the Summit is designed to serve as a platform to collectively discuss the problems facing the Americas and develop collaborative approaches to address them, it represents an opportunity to reframe the relationship between the U.S. and the region. However, as these issues are not unique to Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. should not seek to lecture or dole out solutions to these challenges. Rather than taking its traditional paternalistic position, the U.S. should seek to enter the Summit as an equal partner, willing not only to support and engage with the region, but also to learn from the region.

Addressing the challenges that are facing the region will require that the Biden administration embrace the similarities, both in terms of opportunities and challenges, that the United States shares with the region. For too long the U.S. has viewed the challenges across Latin America as distinct from those in the U.S. and clung to U.S. exceptionalism. The Summit of the Americas represents an opportunity to reframe the U.S. as part of the Americas, but only if the Biden administration does not try to fix Latin America’s problems and instead looks both inward and outward to look for opportunities to collectively address the shared crises facing the Americas.

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is special series editor and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

The United States as Part of the Americas

Flag of the Organization of American States. Image via CC.

May 20, 2022

The Summit of the Americas represents an opportunity to reframe the U.S. as part of the Americas. However, the U.S. must look both inward and outward to find opportunities to collectively address the shared crises facing the Americas, writes Diplomatic Courier's Adam Ratzlaff.

O

n the eve of the 2020 election, Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Christy Thornton mused about the similarities between the United States and the other nations of the Americas. Over a year and a half later as the U.S. prepares to host the IX Summit of the Americas for the first time since 1994, I cannot help but think back to this tweet and how similar the U.S. continues to be to the rest of the region. Not only is this due to the similarities in political systems or parallel histories that the United States and Latin America share, but also in terms of the challenges that currently face the region. If the Biden administration is to make the most of the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, it is going to need to embrace these similarities and look for common solutions to address the shared challenges faced by all of the nations of the Americas.

The United States and Latin America have histories that in many ways have paralleled one another— countries inhabited by indigenous peoples that were colonized by European powers, legacies of slavery, liberal revolutions and early development of democratic institutions, challenges of state building and internal conflict in the 19th century, and attempts to construct regional orders based on the uniqueness of the Americas. All of these histories, as well as the repeated attempts to create regional organizations that support collective action in the Americas, have created a system in which the U.S. shares many characteristics and an entwined history with the countries in the rest of the Americas.

Noting that there is something unique about the “new world” that binds the different countries of the Americas together is nothing new. Arthur P. Whitaker’s classic, The Western Hemisphere Idea, tracked how policy makers across the Americas viewed the connections between the United States and Latin America. Similarly, Charles Jones has noted the shared culture of the region. None of this is to minimize the differences in the histories of the different nations of the Americas, but rather to highlight that our commonalities are greater than the differences that divide us. All of these historic legacies have positioned the region today, both in terms of the opportunities facing the Americas as well as the challenges that the region faces.

The legacies of this shared history and tradition have led to a number of problems that are evident across the Americas today. One of the greatest challenges facing the Americas today is declining trust in democracy evident across the region. Results from the most recent round of the Latin American Public Opinion Project show that support for democracy has continued to decline across the region. This has been coupled with leaders across the region pushing against democratic governance leading to what some have referred to as a “democratic recession.” However, it is not only Latin America that has seen an erosion of support for democracy nor an increase in undemocratic actions. The United States has also seen this occurring in recent years, something that the January 6 insurrection made startlingly clear. 

Exacerbating (and being exacerbated by) distrust in democracy is the fact that the Americas were the hardest hit region by the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of the health and economic impacts. In 2020, GDP in the Latin America and Caribbean region fell by 7.0% and in the United States it fell by 3.4% compared to the 3.1% seen globally. While the region saw GDP rebound by 6.8% and the United States grew by 5.7% in 2021, these only remain on par with other parts of the world.  Similarly, as of 5 May 2022, the Americas accounted for 29.9% of COVID-19 cases and 43.6% of deaths despite representing only 13.1% global population. While the U.S. has been able to vaccinate more quickly, many of the challenges that the region has faced in addressing the pandemic are shared by the U.S.

The impacts of climate change are also particularly evident across the Americas. With wildfires raging across the western United States and the increasing frequency and severity of major storms, the United States is no stranger to the impacts of climate change here at home. Latin America has also been particularly impacted by climate change. A recent report from the World Bank noted that by 2030 approximately 5.8 million people in Latin America could be pushed into extreme poverty due to the climate crisis. Addressing the climate crisis will be no easy feat for any country, particularly given the cross-border impacts of any action across the globe. 

The impacts of both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are highlighting one of the Americas’ other great challenges, both exacerbating and being exacerbated by— inequality. While Latin America has often been referred to as the most unequal region in the world, inequality across the Hemisphere is particularly high. In fact, the United States remains one of the most unequal OECD countries. These inequalities are not purely incidental either, but the result of the historical development of countries in the region. One area where this is particularly evident is in the racial inequalities that are evident across the region. While the United States has been having a reckoning with its own legacies of slavery and racial discrimination, these problems have important parallels in other parts of the region as well. 

As the United States prepares to host the IX Summit of the Americas, a meeting of the leaders of the different nations of the Western Hemisphere, many of these items should be on the agenda. Given that the Summit is designed to serve as a platform to collectively discuss the problems facing the Americas and develop collaborative approaches to address them, it represents an opportunity to reframe the relationship between the U.S. and the region. However, as these issues are not unique to Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. should not seek to lecture or dole out solutions to these challenges. Rather than taking its traditional paternalistic position, the U.S. should seek to enter the Summit as an equal partner, willing not only to support and engage with the region, but also to learn from the region.

Addressing the challenges that are facing the region will require that the Biden administration embrace the similarities, both in terms of opportunities and challenges, that the United States shares with the region. For too long the U.S. has viewed the challenges across Latin America as distinct from those in the U.S. and clung to U.S. exceptionalism. The Summit of the Americas represents an opportunity to reframe the U.S. as part of the Americas, but only if the Biden administration does not try to fix Latin America’s problems and instead looks both inward and outward to look for opportunities to collectively address the shared crises facing the Americas.

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is special series editor and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.