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By Pedro Germán Cavallero (for Safe Democracy)

Pedro Cavallero says that recent American funding cuts to Latin America and the increased sponsoring of Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia demonstrate the widening gap within the Americas. Cavallero notes that the strong opposition that has halted the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, and the EU enlargement process further weakens its ties. Although, he does point out the possibility of an Atlantic Triangle (USUELatin America), he concludes that such a triple partnership is highly unlikely due to a weakened inter-American axis: an Atlantic rendezvous can only take place upon the foundation of sustained and mature relations.

Pedro German Cavallero is a policy analyst based in Washington DC. He holds a master degree in comparative law and comments regularly on U.S. foreign policy and inter-American affairs.

Cavallero web fnl.jpg IN THE PAST FEW YEARS, THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE has witnessed a widening gap between the United States and its neighbors south of the Rio Grande. In 2004, the Secretary of State Colin Powell candidly explained to the U.S. Congress that Latin America was being selected for cuts in funding due to “higher priorities” of a more serious nature.

At the same time, the State Department’s funding for Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia was either increased or maintained at a steady level. Allegedly, more pressing demands were emerging throughout different quarters (particularly in the Muslim world), and therefore prevented Washington from focusing on the Americas. Since then, the situation has not changed.

Also, at a time when security-related and nuclear challenges crowd the international agenda, nothing short of an imminent crisis would bring Latin America back to center stage. As a result, dialogue along the hemispheric corridor has been downgraded.

In the meantime, Washington’s ambitious Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (encompassing 34 countries, 800 million people, and 40 percent of the world’s GDP) continued facing strong opposition.

Brazil and other regional interlocutors –Argentina, and the increasingly anti-American Venezuela– have voiced their dislike for the initiative. Meanwhile, Washington’s receding regional influence has not gone unnoticed elsewhere. In the past two years, China initiated an unprecedented diplomatic opening toward South America.

This “rediscovery of the Americas” by Beijing originated from the country’s ever growing energy and raw materials dependency. However, other long-term political and geostrategic considerations should not be discarded, as China’s disposition to play a larger role in an area historically off limits for its diplomacy has become evident.

Meanwhile, Latin American-European relations face other challenges. The ongoing EU enlargement process appears to weaken its ties with the Spanish-speaking Americas. Certainly, the expansion of the European family does not require becoming more introspective or detached. However, as the Union expands, it will have to take more into account for its extra-regional alliances and global responsibilities.

In a Europe with shifting borders, the inclusion of countries with, at best, remote connections to the Americas has raised concerns regarding the block’s geostrategic orientation. Despite reassurances, lingering doubts remain. In the meantime, Brussels’ attention has turned intermittently inward and toward the Urals.

With its population of 530 million and a combined GDP exceeding $1.7 trillion, Latin America defies its relegation into the sidelines of the international arena. On different forums, Latin American governments continue their quest for a global position commensurate with its dimension.

Unlike other areas of the developing world, the region poses no imminent threat to world order or security. This should enhance rather than diminish its strategic relevance. Furthermore, the multiple links uniting Latin America with both its North American neighbor and its partners across the Atlantic are vast, multifaceted, and rooted in history.

At the global level, there seems to be a growing need for institutional frameworks that could foster collaboration and pre-empt conflicts. Some European observers have even cautiously advanced the notion of an “Atlantic triangle” within which United States-Europe-Latin America relations could further develop.

However, this notion presents serious challenges: first, the current state of affairs among all three partners is far from optimal. Washington and its European allies are still deeply immersed in healing wounds caused by the divide over Iraq. Though they are collaborating on Iran, handling the challenging Mullah regime could also trigger some serious disagreements within the Atlantic family.

Simultaneously, US-Latin American relations are under significant strain on issues emanating regionally and worldwide. In order for Americans and Latin-Americans to move into a trilateral scheme, they would first have to repair a severely weakened inter-American axis. However, this is unlikely to happen in a short length of time.

The US will not redirect its focus back to its southern neighbors as long as extra-regional challenges demand full attention. Also, the communication between Latin-Americans and Europeans is still far from reaching maturity: despite their rhetoric (and the promising declarations emanating from EU-Latin American summits), political dialogue remains at the incipient stage.

Finally, the following should not be overlooked: Washington’s hostility towards any initiative seen as limiting its ability to operate in Latin America, where it has long been a pre-eminent player.

In sum, current dynamics do not favor the development of a complex triangular relationship. Ultimately, an Atlantic rendezvous can only take place upon the foundation of sound, sustained, and mature relations among all three partners.