Nothing beats the personal touch. The ability to be heard in the most exclusive center of government power—the Oval Office—and the presence of a trusted and knowledgeable interlocutor at the highest levels to clarify issues and head off potential crises is the dream of almost every foreign representative in Washington, DC. Despite proximity, history and massive business and cultural ties, Latin America and the Caribbean generally have a more difficult time than others in getting their issues in front of the U.S. president.
Understandably, agencies entrusted with the management of international affairs, such as the State Department and Treasury Department, also prioritize threats, crises and the largest global economies; this tends to relegate the western hemisphere to the bottom of the priorities list. In a sense, that’s a good sign, because it means ISIS isn’t running around causing havoc in Latin America, while the threat of systemic financial crisis is virtually nonexistent compared to a generation ago. But it also means there is the potential that otherwise close, vibrant and mutually beneficial relations will suffer from neglect.
Now, as the Trump administration looks to rethink and revise policies on trade, immigration and other issues that directly impact regional relations, the ability to conduct a serious, substantive dialogue including the establishment of a meaningful channel for inevitable disagreements is even more important than before. Mexico already has a high level, if fitful dialogue, with the White House and relevant agencies. But most of the others can only read the news and wonder what’s in store for them on trade and investment or immigration and security….