In less than three months after Mr. Biden is inaugurated, the US will host the Ninth Summit of the Americas from 11-14 April. The Summit takes place once every three years and brings together all leaders of North, Central, South America and the Caribbean. The stakes are high and all eyes are set on Mr. Biden who as Vice President (2009-2017) visited the region 16 times and Mrs. Kamala Harris who is of Jamaican descent. Whilst many in the region are hopeful, this certainly will not be enough. The region needs to trust Washington again after a period of disengagement.
Perhaps most importantly is the fact that China has deepened its relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), and not just with the socialist administrations. Recently Trinidad & Tobago became the first Caribbean country to sign on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Others will soon follow. China has also been successful to convince LAC countries (Dominican Republic, Panamá and El Salvador) to switch recognition from Taiwan to Beijing. Through its wallet diplomacy, many infrastructure projects have been funded in LAC (via among others the China-LAC Cooperation Fund). But, it’s not only about cash. China has promised to help the region address climate change, which according to many is a matter of survival for many island-nations.
The question remains if Mr. Biden will be able to win back hearts in LAC. Will he engage in a meaningful relationship based on mutual respect? Does he promise free trade with this region, even though democrats are traditionally more protectionist? China’s President in his Year’s End Message pledged to continue pushing for free markets and global economic expansion as China celebrates this year the 100th anniversary of the almighty Chinese Communist Party.
Many LAC countries are cautiously optimistic. But, one thing is certain: The US is not the only game in town anymore.