Joe Biden’s first foreign policy steps in Latin America

. Feb 03, 2021
latin america Joe Biden in 2015. As Vice President to Barack Obama, he met with then-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Washington Joe Biden in 2015. As Vice President to Barack Obama, he met with then-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Washington. Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

The term of former U.S. President Donald Trump marked a four-year period of adversarial foreign policy toward nations in Latin America, some of which fell under Mr. Trump’s definition of “shithole countries.” Now, with Joe Biden in the White House, there are renewed hopes for relations between the U.S. and its neighbors to the south, particularly regarding Cuba, Brazil, and immigration policy as a whole.

During his first days in office, Mr. Biden overturned a series of anti-immigration policies instituted by his predecessor, including a ban on including undocumented immigrants in census numbers and — most notably — suspending the building of Mr. Trump’s wall on the Mexican border.

</p> <p>Previous guidelines for deportation have been canceled, in what Joe Biden considers to be a path to a more &#8220;humane scenario.&#8221; While the government urges immigrants to be &#8220;patient,&#8221; suggesting things will not change overnight, the powers of law enforcement at border controls have been reduced, and the U.S. is once again supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, rejected by Mr. Trump in 2017.&nbsp;</p> <p>Applying to the so-called &#8220;Dreamers&#8221; — children of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. — the Biden administration&#8217;s plan for DACA involves fast-tracking the citizenship processes of these individuals, as well as facilitating their entry into the labor market. Previously, some 11 million Dreamers were facing risk of deportation.</p> <p>Furthermore, Joe Biden&#8217;s immigration reform — the so-called U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, sent for the approval of Congress — would guarantee Green Card holders the right to apply for citizenship after three years.</p> <p>According to Lucas Leite, an international relations professor at the São Paulo-based university Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado, the first steps of the Biden administration indicate that it seeks to expunge the most controversial immigration-related policies introduced during Donald Trump&#8217;s term.&nbsp;</p> <p>“When [Mr.] Biden immediately suspended the construction of the Mexico border wall, resumed the status of Dreamers, and took power over migratory decisions away from border authorities, we can see these as objective changes in normative terms,” he tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>The right time for change towards Latin America&nbsp;</strong></h2> <p>The decision of the Joe Biden government to make the U.S. more open to immigration comes at a critical moment. The Covid-19 pandemic has seen inequality gaps widen significantly across Latin America, with an estimated 150 million jobs lost since the beginning of the crisis. In recent weeks, a <a href="">migrant caravan</a> headed for the U.S. with more than 8,000 people — mainly from Honduras — was brutally detained by the police in Guatemala.</p> <p>It is expected that as vaccination coverage increases, more and more people will look to flee the post-pandemic <a href="">economic woes</a> in Central America.</p> <p>Also up for discussion in the White House is Donald Trump&#8217;s Safe Third Country agreements with nations in Central America. The program permits the U.S. to send asylum seekers to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to pursue settlement proceedings in these countries, instead of being deported home.&nbsp;</p> <p>The program has been widely criticized, as the trio of Central American countries in question are often unable to provide safe refuge conditions to asylum seekers, and reports of human rights abuse against these migrants are rife.</p> <h2><strong>Cuba and Venezuela</strong></h2> <p>Venezuelan opposition leader <a href="">Juan Guaidó</a>, who proclaimed himself to be the country&#8217;s rightful president in 2019, once enjoyed the full and unwavering support of the U.S. government. This began to dwindle when his biggest ally in the White House — Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton — was fired, and Mr. Guaidó became increasingly isolated after losing his post as head of Venezuela&#8217;s National Assembly.&nbsp;</p> <p>However, with Mr. Guaidó largely cast aside by the international community, Joe Biden took office assuring that the opposition leader will remain the <a href="">U.S.&#8217; man in Caracas</a>. Even so, Mr. Leite believes that the country&#8217;s Venezuela policy is unlikely to undergo radical changes in coming years.&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;It is a fact that the Venezuela issue is no longer a priority and was put aside on the radar of U.S. foreign policy in recent years. Sanctions will remain, but that’s all, at least in the short term,” he explains.</p> <p>For <a href="">Cuba</a>, there is an expectation for change. At the end of his term as president, Donald Trump decided to reclassify the island nation as a &#8220;state sponsor of terrorism,&#8221; barring a large part of travel and money transfers between the two countries.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Joe Biden administration had declared its intentions to re-engage relations with Cuba, but removing the nation from the U.S.&#8217; blacklist — which also includes Iran, Syria, and North Korea — will be a crucial first step.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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