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At Last, Team Trump Has a Western Hemisphere Policy

Richard G. Miles


Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

The Trump administration finally seems to be developing the semblance of a policy toward the Western Hemisphere. In its basics, the overall strategy is remarkably like the policies of past administrations from both parties. Focusing on “three pillars of engagement…. economic growth, security, and democratic governance,” senior officials in recent days have laid out a broad framework for the region but also emphasized the problems presented by two very different countries: Venezuela and China. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s biggest challenge to implementing a Latin America strategy is not in the region; it is five blocks away from Foggy Bottom, emanating from a house on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Prior to departing for a five-nation trip to Latin America on February 1, including Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and Jamaica, Secretary Tillerson stopped by his alma mater, the University of Texas (UT), to outline the structure of “U.S. Engagement in the Western Hemisphere.” The first pillar, economic growth and trade, appears to be synonymous with energy. In a background briefing before the visit, a senior State Department official referred to a “prosperous, energy-secure” hemisphere. In his speech at UT, former oilman Tillerson spoke extensively of “energy integration throughout the Americas…abundant energy resources in South America…and an energy partnership that spans the Western Hemisphere.” In a speech at CSIS the following day, David Malpass, a senior Treasury Department official, put “energy and infrastructure” at the top of his list of growth initiatives. Finally, in Tillerson’s joint press availability with Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso of Mexico, the secretary cited energy integration as the first example of economic cooperation. It’s safe to say that Western Hemisphere oil, gas, and electric grids will receive lots of attention from Washington policymakers.

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