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Latin America is at forefront of U.S. foreign policy thinking today.

“The region is facing major transformations – from new migration patterns, climate change and a growing left leaning political shift,” said Sandy Close, Director of Ethnic Media Services, at a June 10th briefing where experts assessed U.S. policy towards a changing Latin America. 

Migrants Are Flowing Into The US

According to Ariel Ruiz Soto, Policy Analyst from the Migration Policy Institute, Central American migrants have been flowing in larger numbers into the U.S. through Mexico over the last few years. “In the fiscal year 1922, the U.S. administration said there were 1.3 million encounters (events) by migration authorities of migrants – 61% from Mexico Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador and 39% from other parts of the world. Migrants from Cuba, South America, Asia have become a bigger piece of this flow and our systems are not able to handle this increasing diversity.”

Migrants Funnel In Through Mexico

During this period, Mexico apprehended 198,000 migrants – from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, Venezuela said Soto. In 2021, Mexico apprehended 308,000 migrants and received 131,000 asylum application ranking Mexico number three in the world for receiving asylum applications.

“Mexico is grappling with this situation. Since 2014 we have seen 6 million Venezuelans leave their country and settle in Central Latin America. This is a significant trend in migration and countries have been responding by using enforcement resulting in deportations and repatriations.”

Soto added that between 2015 and 2019, Mexico and the US deported or repatriated 1.1 million migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Migrant crisis at the Mexican border

Handling The Migration Crisis

“Not all migrants are returned to country of origin, like Cuba and Venezuela, because of humanitarian or political reasons.”

Soto said families and children still continue to be a big block of migrants into Mexico and they cannot detain families and children in immigration detention centers.

“The goal of the current Summit of the Americas, held June 6 -10), resolves to create stability and assistance for those working and receiving migrants by providing them with food, shelter, and better screening; increase the legal pathways for migrants; and make border management more humane,” by reducing confrontations between authorities and migrants.”

Latin America Is An Energy Innovator

However, Christine Folch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, suggested that Latin America should be seen as leader in climate change, energy transitions and green growth.  Countries like the US could learn lessons from Latin America where “more than two third of electricity generated comes from renewable energy resources.”

In the U.S. two third two thirds of its electricity come from fossil fuels, 20% from nuclear, and 20% from renewables. This heavy reliance on fossil fuels is also seen in Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East and India.

“One exception is Latin America,” Floch stated. “For instance, in Paraguay, the Itaipu Binational Dam, on the border of Brazil and Paraguay, is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam and can power a third of the state of California or 1/4 of Texas.” She added that 10% of Argentina’s electricity needs are currently met by renewable energy such as wind power, and this goal is going to be raised to 20% by 2025. 

Is Latin America Worthy Of Attention?

Two decades ago, Henry Kissinger declared that ‘Latin America is not worthy of U.S. attention.’ However, that sentiment does not hold true today. Though the migration crisis from climate chane focuses attention on the region, the rest of the world can learn from its forward thinking strategies on how to develop energy resources;  in addition, Latin America is important for its extractive resources especially as the U.S. shifts to lithium and ion batteries.

“There is an amazing amount of attention paid to the region,” concluded Folch.

Photo by Barbara Zandoval on Unsplash

Ramaa Reddy

Ramaa Reddy is a writer, photographer, food and travel specialist who blogs at venturetraveller.com