South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
The moment has finally arrived. Today Donald Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. Before too long, it will become clear just how much of the blustery rhetoric he directed towards Latin America, especially Mexico, should be taken seriously.
In an editorial, the Financial Times argues that it would be ironic if Trump’s Mexico-bashing puts an end to decades of fruitful co-operation between the US and Mexico. That would frustrate Trump’s desire to make America “great” by imperiling thousands of jobs and harming US interests. Already, his threats to “terminate” the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he has called the “worst trade deal in history”, have pushed the Mexican peso down to its weakest level in two decades, just as he is worrying about the US dollar’s strength.
That is to say nothing of the possibility of an ensuing trade war that would hardly be welcomed by the roughly half of US states that count Mexico as their first or second-biggest export market. So no surprise that he has said less lately about terminating Nafta than renegotiating it.
On the southern side of the border, Mexico’s avocado growers are already voicing intense concern at the implications – not least for guacamole-addicted Super Bowl viewers. And one can only guess at what Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán thinks, after the notorious Sinaloa cartel boss was extradited to the US on the eve of Trump’s inauguration to face trial in the US. But there is at least one Mexican who is unfazed by Trumpian America – and rather sees it as a business opportunity. Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim announced this week that he is launching a new television channel “made by Mexicans, for Mexicans” in the US this year.
Elsewhere, apparently one Latin American nation has been sounding out Trump administration officials about a free-trade agreement with the US, to capitalise on Trump’s preference for bilateral deal-making (presumably not Mexico). Argentina even whipped out a massively oversubscribed $7bn bond the day before Trump takes power, seizing advantage of the relative calm in markets.
But it’s not all about Trump. Brazil was shocked by the death in a plane crash of the supreme court judge in charge of the Lava Jato corruption probe on Thursday, opening the possibility that the investigation could be seriously undermined.
And Argentina has also been looking in completely the other direction: to Antarctica. On a recent trip to the White Continent, Susana Malcorra, trumpeted her country’s scientific research activities there, as well as the importance of protecting Argentina’s sovereignty claims and Antarctica’s resources. It remains to be seen what Trump will have to say about that.
Quote of the week
“Who is to say what countries like Russia and China will do in 30 years’ time? They might say ‘we need these resources’ in the Antarctic” - a diplomatic source.