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Getting Latin America Right

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies
January 2, 2013
National Interest


According to the Congressional Research Service, trade between the United States and Latin America grew an astounding 82 percent between 1998 and 2009, surpassing the growth rates of U.S. commerce with Asia or Europe. In 2011 alone, U.S. exports to and imports from Latin America increased by more than 20 percent. Every year, the United States imports more crude oil from Mexico and Venezuela than from the entire Persian Gulf. As one Obama administration official puts it, "We do three times more business with Latin America than with China and twice as much business with Colombia [as] with Russia."

The United States also shares with Latin America an interest in cementing and protecting democratic values, as well as a set of common problems—including deadly transnational criminal threats and the mutual need to harness tomorrow's energy resources.

Cultural and human ties are profound and growing: Latinos make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, and the United States is now the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world after Mexico. Yet given the scale of these bonds, the degree of high-level U.S. strategic thinking about the region remains disproportionately low. The result is that Latin America and the Caribbean, with a population of roughly six hundred million and a gdp of more than $5.6 trillion, continue to represent a missed U.S. opportunity, economically, politically and diplomatically.

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