Monday, July 16, 2018

How Does Trump Choose His Latin American Foes?

Michael Shifter and David Toppelberg ask why Donald Trump is hard on Venezuela and Cuba whereas he likes dictatorships almost everywhere else. This is an interesting question. Their answer is "political ideology and his combative instincts." I'm not sure I agree. Trump does not fit well on the left/right spectrum (and why not North Korea?) and his combativeness is selective. I would emphasize two factors.

First, domestic politics. They mention this but only in passing. Trump visited Bay of Pigs veterans during the campaign and sees this as important for his support in Florida. Venezuela is an adopted cause for hardline Cuban Americans as well. Trump won Florida in 2016 and I doubt any of this was decisive but he'll stick with it.

Second, doing the opposite of Obama. The Obama administration opened up to Cuba and was less vocal about Venezuela than George W. Bush was. Trump is doing the opposite. The same is true of Iran, whereas Obama was tough with Russia and North Korea. In Latin America, this also helps explain Trump's hardline position on Colombia, which is an ally. One problem with this argument is that Obama was ramping up his rhetoric a bit, so Trump's policy is not really a full rejection. But clearly Obama was more interested in dialogue with Venezuela.


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