Over the years, relationships the United States has had with other countries have undergone profound metamorphoses. Consider: Today, Russia is no longer thought of as the “Evil Empire.” China, while not the closest ally, has been given most favored nation status. But in the last 50 years, one nation has consistently maintained its status as a sworn enemy of the U.S. One leader, now the longest ruling on Earth, has a perfect record of opposing the U.S. despite military threats, embargos, sanctions and general opposition around the world. The country: Cuba; the leader: Fidel Castro.
Now, with support for the U.S. around the world dwindling, Cuba has officially requested to become an associate member of the $727 billion Latin American trade group Mercosur.
A few years ago, this request would have been considered beyond ridiculous. The United States of America—the largest trading partner of virtually every country on Earth—refuses to trade with Cuba. Washington would certainly have a less-than-friendly posture toward a group that boasts Cuba as a member.
The mere fact that Latin American governments are even discussing the idea indicates their specifically trying to alienate the U.S.That is exactly what some Latin American leaders would like —and they are not at all shy about making this desire known.
Since January 2003, Cuba’s trade with Brazil and Mercosur has doubled. The president of Brazil has said that he favors trade with Latin American countries over the U.S. or the EU. He and the president of Argentina have opposed the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba and want to increase their own trade with President Castro. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made a point of putting his friendship with Castro in the public eye and painting the U.S. in the most wretched colors possible; in his own words: “we have evidence: if something happens to me, the person responsible will be the president of the United States, George W. Bush.” The state-run oil firms of Brazil and Venezuela have plans to begin construction on a $20 million lubricants factory in Cuba.
Even if Cuba isn’t admitted to Mercosur, this can be used as a powerful bargaining chip in upcoming Free Trade Area of the Americas (ftaa) talks, which are starting, perhaps not so coincidentally, between the U.S. and Mercosur right as Cuban membership in the organization comes up for discussion.
If the U.S. is looking for friends, it had best look outside of Latin America. This is another example of the U.S. finding itself less welcome, not just in Latin America, but all over the world. ▪