U.S. Ignores South America: Introduction

Secretary of State John Kerry got into a little political dust-up recently when he referred to Latin America as the United States' “backyard”. He got lucky when only Bolivia -- definitely not one of America’s strongest allies -- kicked a diplomat out in response to Kerry’s goof.

While Kerry’s words weren’t chosen well, his statement did reveal a deeper reality. Namely, Latin America is the key to America’s future political and commercial interests. While maybe not in “the backyard," Latin America does share the same hemisphere and is on the same block as America and has the potential to be an exploding market for U.S. goods and services. America needs to pay attention since China’s shadow is looming over Latin America and understands better than America the “how and why” of promoting goods and services.

While the globe is busy breaking down into major economic blocs that represent long-standing relations, America needs to get busy consolidating its own block. Latin America has historically been taken seriously only when other interests not central to Latin American concerns have shaped relations within the hemisphere.

Drugs, communism and terrorism have only been addressed by America when it more directly affected American interests. As each supposed threat is addressed, America crawls back home and gorges itself on fast food and television until the next crisis south of the equator nudges it back into action.

South America represents some of the world's largest commodity reserves of oil, gold, silver, copper and water. Any other spot on the globe with comparable resources means that a strong American presence is not far away. South America, specifically Argentina, has done its part in keeping American support and interest at a distance and keeping relations strained.

Recently, Argentina thumbed its nose at a court ruling that it must pay $300 million to two American companies over disputed investments. Another squabble happened in 2011 when Argentina decided to seize supplies and materials from an American Air Force plane that was delivering items for use by Buenos Aires “policia” in its training program. Another sticking point for Argentine/American relations is the fact that Argentina was recently included on the blacklist of countries released by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Established in 1989 by a consortium of countries to implement effective regulatory and operational measures to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, the FATF has recognized Argentina as being potentially explosive for its readiness to do business with international crime syndicates and terrorist cells -- issues that will need to be resolved before the U.S. takes steps on improving its relationship with the country.

With regards to South America in general, America feels that regime changes must be made in several countries before getting serious about providing assistance. With Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia all being run by dictators, South America is ravaged by drug trafficking with much of those drugs ending up in the United States.

Additionally, Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina are on a variety of lists of countries with human rights issues and despite the resources available within South America, the American GDP is not as dependent on South America as it is on other countries.

Unfortunately, with little financial incentive, it might be awhile before the United States starts to truly care about the countries in their own “backyard."

This article is the introduction to a four-part series "U.S. Ignores South America" about how and why the United States "ignores" South American issues.  Looking at topics such as economics, environment, politics and corruption, a person should have a greater idea of life in South America and what Americans can do to help.

Jerry Nelson is a freelance photojournalist living and working in South America.  Represented by Transterra, he mainly covers social justice issues.  Email Nelson today if you have story ideas, either in or beyond South America.