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Latin America prominent in Republican presidential debate on foreign policy

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There were a lot of mentions of Latin America, or at least Mexico, in last night's GOP debate. Enough mentions that I saw several Asia experts complaining that the debate spent too much time on Mexico and immigration and not enough on China and India.

Here are the comments related Latin America policy other than immigration.

Asked a question about US-Mexico border security, here was Texas Gov. Rick Perry's full rambling answer:

Well, let me kind of broaden it out. I think it's time for a 21st century Monroe Doctrine. When you think about what we put in place in the – in the 1820s, and then we used it again in the 1960s with the Soviet Union. We're seeing countries start to come in and infiltrate. We know that Hamas and Hezbollah are working in Mexico, as well as Iran, with their ploy to come into the United States.

We know that Hugo Chávez and the Iranian government has one of the largest -- I think their largest embassy in the world is in Venezuela. So the idea that we need to have border security with the United States and Mexico is paramount to the entire western hemisphere.

So putting that secure border in place with strategic fencing, with the boots on the ground, with the aviation assets, and then working with Mexico in particular, whether it's putting sanctions against the banks, whether it's working with them on security with Mexico, all of those together can make that country substantially more secure and our borders secure.

As the President of the United States, I will promise you one thing, that within 12 months of the inaugural, that border will be shut down, and it will be secure.

Herman Cain's follow on comments:

Number one, we know that terrorists have come into this country by way of Mexico. Secondly, 40 percent of the people in Mexico, according to a survey, already believe that their country is a failed state. Thirdly, the number of people killed in Mexico last year equals the number of people killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

Rep. Ron Paul called for an end to the "war on drugs" and received applause from the conservative think tank audience.

Here was former Sen. Rick Santorum's answer on what issue isn't getting enough attention:

Well, I've spent a lot of time and concern -- and Rick mentioned this earlier -- about what's going on in Central and South America. I'm very concerned about the militant socialists and there -- and the radical Islamists joining together, bonding together.

I'm concerned about the spread of socialism and that this administration, with -- time after time, whether it was the delay in moving forward on Colombia's free trade agreement, whether it was turning our back to the Hondurans and standing up for democracy and the -- and the rule of law.

And we took the side with Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro for a corrupt President. We've sent all the wrong signals to Central and South America.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney:

But I happen to think Senator Santorum is right with regards to the issue that doesn't get enough attention. That's the one that may come up that we haven't thought about, which is Latin America. Because, in fact, Congressman, we have been attacked. We were attacked on 9/11. There have been dozens of attacks that have been thwarted by our -- by our security forces. And we have, right now, Hezbollah, which is working throughout Latin America, in Venezuela, in Mexico, throughout Latin America, which poses a very significant and imminent threat to the United States of America. 

Is there any chance a GOP candidate can talk about Latin America without mentioning Hezbollah, Islamic terrorists and Iran? It makes them sound incredibly out of touch with the major issues in the region.

Beyond that point, to the extent Latin America policy is discussed in this election, I think Rick Perry's comment about wanting a "21st century Monroe Doctrine" sets up the basic debate between the Republicans and Democrats, no matter who the GOP candidate ends up being. The Republicans want to return to a position in which the US dictates the policies and alliances of the region. Contrast that with President Obama's comments at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad:

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All of us must now renew the common stake that we have in one another.  I know that promises of partnership have gone unfulfilled in the past, and that trust has to be earned over time.  While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms.  But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values.

There isn't any GOP presidential candidate who has "an equal partnership" as his stated policy towards the hemisphere. They're all too busy being afraid of Hezbollah and Hugo Chávez, trying to figure out how to apply a 19th century doctrine to the current situation.

--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.


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