Editor's Note: Antonia Hernández, Chief Executive Officer of the California Community Fund (CCF) and Solomon Trujillo, Chief Executive Officer of Trujillo Group Investments, are co-chairs of the Pacific Council on International Policy’s Latino Taskforce, the first group to look at foreign relations issues through the lens of Latinos.
By Antonia Hernández and Solomon Trujillo - Special to CNN
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s visit to the U.S. this week had the potential to repair the bilateral relationship between the hemisphere’s two largest economies and refocus U.S. foreign policy in its own neighborhood. Instead, Americans and Brazilians will bemoan another missed opportunity. Contrasted against the red carpet rolled out for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - state dinner, honor guard, Jennifer Hudson - the lack of pomp and circumstance surrounding President Rousseff’s Washington debut is downright dispiriting.
President Obama’s announcement of a U.S. “pivot” toward Asia late last year left many Latinos scratching their heads. It is hard to understand why the Obama administration - and others before it - would hesitate to give a higher priority to our own hemisphere when redeploying the nation's economic, diplomatic, and military assets. A pivot toward markets much closer to home would better serve the national interest. Such a “Latino foreign policy” would reflects our country’s changing demographics and allow our leaders to pay closer attention to the political, economic and social development of their own hemisphere.
As growing middle class countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, emerge as 21stcentury growth hubs, policymakers should focus on strengthening our nation's capacity to navigate a multipolar world where U.S. influence will continue to be challenged by new emerging powers. Many South American countries today are less likely to look north for advice and assistance, turning instead to China and India, while looking to Brazil for a model of self-reliance.
With exception of North-South trade, which continues to grow, America's official engagement with the region has been episodic, limited to crisis management and bilateral and sub-regional trade pacts. In addition, there have been on-going clashes with Venezuela, resistance to U.S. leadership by Brazil, ongoing friction with Cuba, and America's symbolic affronts to the region as domestic politics blocked Senate approval of key appointments to positions with responsibilities for the region.
If these trends continue, U.S. leaders will wake up a decade from now in a hemisphere that is crisscrossed with Chinese investments in oil, copper, iron ore and soy beans, a weak dollar competing against Reals and Rupees, and a new generation of consumers filling up with Iranian oil. There is too much at stake to disregard our neighbors to the South at this critical time in their economic and social development.
Luckily, there is still time to change course. U.S. Latinos by virtue of their personal and familial histories look at U.S. foreign policy from a perspective that is different from the current crop of foreign policy practitioners. Latinos bring to the table a visceral understanding of the challenges shared across the hemisphere and a collective sense of frustration when Washington neglects its hemispheric neighbors with whom we share so many cultural values.
Domestically, the U.S. Latino community’s political and economic influence is growing. Latinos now make up 16 percent of the U.S. population. While America's non-Latino population grew 9 percent in 2010, the Latino population grew 43 percent, and most electoral battleground states have large Latino electorates.
The Latino economic footprint is just as impressive, with purchasing power projected to top $1.5 trillion by 2015. Yet while both political parties seem to recognize the electoral significance of the Latino community, so far both seem to disregard Latino opinions, emotions, ideas and connections in formulating laws and regulations at the federal, state and local levels - including American foreign policy.
U.S. foreign policy is bound to become more informed by Latino voices for several reasons: the growing electoral strength of Latinos; the growing profile of Latinos at official levels – e.g., in the military, Foreign Service, and Congress, which means that Latinos are already positioned to play an important role in helping to clarify our hemispheric interests and to refocus foreign policy to achieve those interests; and because diplomacy is, above all, about relationships, Latinos can use their language skills and cultural affinities to help bridge the divide between the U.S. and our southern neighbors.
A Latino-influenced foreign policy would likely reaffirm traditional pillars of U.S. hemispheric policy - namely, the promotion of democratic political development and trade expansion via FTAs - but it would be more attuned to the ways in which trade stimulates economic development, and how rising living standards influence issues that directly affect the U.S., such as migration, drugs, and crime.
In addition, a Latino-influenced policy would give higher priority to further integrating our foreign policy with many of our own domestic issues, such as protecting energy security through joint energy development in hemisphere; strengthening the rule of law, law enforcement, and judicial institutions and administration; and achieving comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. in a way that mobilizes cross-border human capital and recognizes a longstanding economic dependence on migrant labor.
We believe that America's growing Latino population - including Latinos already in leadership positions - can be a major asset in reforming America's hemispheric policy. We also believe a Latino-informed approach to policy reform will better serve U.S. interests while resonating with our neighbors to the South. However, America's Latino assets are not being used as they could to advance the nation's interest. Better relations with our neighbors are possible. Latinos can lead the way.