By Shannon O’Neil, CFR
Shannon K. O’Neil is senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Latin America’s Moment originally appeared here. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
With the Republican Convention underway, the Republican Party platform, in its entirety, has finally found its way onto the internet. The 50-plus page document touches briefly on all of the hottest election year topics, addressing everything from traditional marriage to Medicare to foreign policy. In regards to Latin America, the Republican platform focuses almost exclusively on the two states toward which the GOP has the greatest antipathy: Venezuela and Cuba.
On Cuba, the language harks back to the past, describing the regime as mummified and anti-democratic, and strongly declaring Republican support for Cuban opposition groups. Although the tone is decisively anti-Castro, the platform is less strict than in the past. Quite noticeably, there are no calls for a roll-back of the Obama administration reforms that loosened remittance restrictions and expanded family travel, perhaps because of their popularity with Cuban-Americans.
For Venezuela, the GOP’s concerns extend beyond President Hugo Chavez’s non-democratic practices. The real threat, as they see it, is the transformation of the country into an “Iranian outpost” in the Western Hemisphere. While the platform explicitly accuses Venezuela of offering safe haven to thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists, it stops short of suggesting what a GOP president would do about this threat.
On Latin America’s two biggest economies – Brazil and Mexico – there is close to nothing. Apart from saluting Mexico’s cooperation in the drug war, the more important mention is on energy. The GOP highlights the abundant resources of Mexico, Canada, and the United States and presents a long term vision of North American energy independence. While a good idea, making this a reality depends much more on Mexico’s next president, Enrique Peña Nieto (and his willingness and ability to change the Mexican constitution), than on the next U.S. president.
Another issue outlined in the platform that affects Latin America is immigration, and here the GOP takes a tough stance. The platform declares that illegal immigrants “pose grave risks to the safety and sovereignty of the United States,” and unequivocally opposes any programs that might allow undocumented immigrants a path toward citizenship or that would grant in-state tuition to undocumented college students (adding that it would go even further and deny federal funding from schools offering such rates). The posturing stands in stark contrast to Obama’s recent directive and the general Democratic Party position, which provides a means for undocumented youths to stay and gain legal work permits.
The GOP platform also calls for securing the rule of law along the border and completing a (double layer) border fence. At least in this first objective, the Republican Party is in line with the Obama administration’s actions over the last four years, which increased the border patrol from 14,900 in 2007 to 21,400 in 2011.
Overall, the Republican Party generally seems to see the region (when it considers it at all) as a threat rather than an opportunity. The question remains whether this matters to the descendants of Latin Americans, which make up 16 percent of the U.S. population and may play a decisive role in the November 6 election (especially in swing states such as Colorado, Florida, and Ohio). With little to entice Latinos in regards to immigration or foreign policy, it will remain to be seen whether the GOP can attract their votes based on U.S. domestic concerns alone.