Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro did a courageous thing a few weeks ago, the right thing. Yes, this is what passes for courage these days in certain parts of the world. We should encourage more of it. Bolsonaro bucked decades of Latin American leftist advocacy by advising Cuba that Brazil will not be a party to modern-day slavery by trading Cuban doctors for money or services. Predictably, Cuban officials were offended. Bolsonaro, lauded as a hero by those who oppose the current Cuban leadership. As for Bolsonaro, why stop there?
Brazil can do more, a whole lot more, as can other nations that have helped prop up and maintain since 1959 the Cuban gulag. No doubt Bolsonaro’s move was the right one. Brazil should have done this a long time ago. Rather than stop with Cuban doctors, the Trump administration should press Bolsonaro and other leaders in the region to adopt a more robust foreign policy toward Cuba. Brazil has a slight political first-mover advantage, now lead with it, help President Trump break the Triangle of Terror.
A new U.S.-Brazil foreign policy toward Cuba would include, but would not be limited to, mirroring U.S. economic sanctions programs that restrict Cuba’s access to the global financial system. However, sanctions are tools, not a policy. A regional offensive in defense of liberty, fundamental rights, property rights, and the rule of law is in order. Repeat the process with Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Chile, and others.
President Donald Trump deserves much of the credit for the change in rhetoric from Latin America’s left. They are apoplectic. Had National Security Advisor John Bolton been in place at the start of the administration, this process would be much further along. If Congress would join and support the administration, the process would have be on warp speed (at the end of this post is a 2012 legislative proposal introduced by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman Emeritus of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that the 116th Congress should review, update, and re-introduce).
The Trump administration inherited decades a foreign policy bramble toward the Americas put in place by Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses. These policies have allowed dictatorial regimes to take advantage of the global financial system to remain in power. Evil people in places such as Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and a few other places in the region are richer today because of it. They must be held to account. It will take at least ten years to reverse the damage, but, with the Trump administration, the process appears to be well on the way. They must kick it up a few notches.
Again, Bolsonaro did what governments should have done decades ago. The right thing. That does not, in my book, make him a hero. Potential ally, yes. For decades Brazil has been one of Cuba’s primary economic and political patrons. Now that things are not going well in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua — key points of the Bolivarian Axis of the Americas or the Triangle of Terror — Bolsonaro and other astute politicians are creating distance. Predictable. That is all right. A good political leader discerns trends.
The United States should exploit new political climate in these nations. We should deploy a new policy of robust engagement for the Americas led by the United States — a Monroe Doctrine 2.0 (Tillerson was on to something). This new policy will create markets for American goods and services, rather than allowing Chinese state-owned enterprises from pillaging the region and undercutting American interests. America can help strengthen democratic institutions, especially the rule of law, and empower local leaders rather then foreign meddlers. This will reduce crime, illegal immigration, and lay foundations for economic growth.
For example, Central America needs a Plan Colombia 2.0, not more U.S. taxpayer money for failed foreign assistance or, worse, UN or OAS purported anti-corruption, but sovereignty-eroding international bodies such as CICIG in Guatemala or MACCIH in Honduras. New prisons need constructing and American companies can make it so. U.S. prosecutors and law enforcement officers would be welcomed throughout the region to do what CICIG and MACCIH cannot: build capacity so that local stakeholders, not foreign interlopers, can build strong, healthy sovereign nations with national legal systems that work for the people.
The United States and American companies can help create and grow genuine free markets, rather than empower an oligarchical system that games political cycles or corrupt politicians on the left and the right. The United States, working with allies, must also strengthen military cooperation in the region and remind Russia, China, Iran, and other meddlers, they are not welcome in the Western Hemisphere. The same goes for Hizbollah, Hamas, other terrorist groups and those who support them. The inter-American security system is in need of an overhaul and only the United States, working with regional partners including Canada, can do this work.
Latin America and the Caribbean has a lot to offer the United States beyond “drugs and thugs,” illegal immigration, or decades of failed development programs that never seem to do what proponents claim that they do. President Trump and Ambassador Bolton are reversing decades of curious ambivalence toward the Americas. Our allies should do more than do the right thing, they should join President Trump and lead.