Latin America needs carrots, not sticks

Trump White House has to know the cold war is over after recalling envoys from countries that switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 9:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 10:49pm

China and the United States are supposed to be starting a new cold war, but Washington is acting like it’s still fighting the last one. The Trump White House is acting like the western hemisphere is still its own neo-colonial backyard.

The United States last week recalled its envoys from El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Panama to protest against their switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.

This has prompted criticism from Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela, who asked the Americans to mind their own business. “We respect the sovereign decisions of other countries and we will always ask the same respect for ours,” he said, no doubt respectfully.

The three Latin American countries have been honest about the simple economic realities they face – they need Chinese capital and the billions that come with it to build new ports, rail lines and other infrastructure projects. The switch was not against Taiwan or anti-American, they say.

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So, unless Washington wants to chip in many more billions to compete with the Chinese, it should really put up and shut up. No chance of that, though.

Instead, there is now a bipartisan bill in the US Senate threatening a diplomatic downgrade and suspending aid to any countries that dare to make the diplomatic switch from Taiwan to China.

When it’s all sticks and no carrots, of course countries like Panama will thumb its nose at Washington. Latin American countries are especially sensitive about their sovereignty as they have all suffered from decades of American military interventions, subversions, assassinations and sponsorship of dictatorial and terroristic regimes, especially during the cold war.

Speaking of which, some Trump administration officials didn’t seem to realise the cold war is actually over. It emerges that they met rebels from the Venezuelan army last year to plot the overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro.

And, in a classic throwback to the worst excesses of the cold war, the officials didn’t care who they were dealing with, so long as the rebels met Washington’s political goals. One rebel commander was reportedly on the American government’s own sanctions list of corrupt officials in Venezuela.

So while Taiwan couldn’t afford the same levels of capital investment and aid, and Washington has only disrespect and displeasure to show to its southern neighbours, why wouldn’t more Latin American countries welcome the Chinese with open arms?