The 2016 Latin American Studies Association conference is right around the corner, and I am looking forward to participating. This year, I will be giving a paper called “The United States and Latin America Decline of power or decline in interest?” on a panel on Sunday at 2:30. The panel, organized by Laura MacDonald of Carleton, is called “The Role of External Actors in Post-Hegemonic Latin America.” My paper (abstract below) sort of starts with asking, “how ‘post-hegemonic’ is the Western Hemisphere?” I am also discussant on a panel Sunday evening on “Contentious political issues in contemporary inter-American affairs: from (non)insurgency to international security and trade policymaking,” which includes my friend and superb young scholar Mariano Bertucci of Tulane.
Abstract: It is commonly asserted that the United States no longer holds the dominant position it once did in Latin America. This decline is credited to several factors: a global decline in U.S. power, lower levels of U.S. attention to the region, the entrance of new extra-hemispheric challengers, and more “assertive” Latin American leaders. This paper seeks to test these claims of U.S. decline. First, using a variety of metrics, it will ask whether U.S. power in the hemisphere has declined relative to regional and extra-regional actors. It assesses recent, frequently cited U.S. struggles to exert influence Latin America—that is, relational power—in comparison to the more distant past. The paper concludes that U.S. decline has too often been assumed instead of demonstrated, that when evidence has been provided it has often been anecdotal, and that this evidence actually demonstrates significant continuities. U.S. decline, both relative to extra-hemispheric powers and in regards to states within the region has been overstated, in part because of a tendency to exaggerate U.S. power in the past, a focus on changes, and an underestimation of the continued depth of U.S. military, economic, structural, and ideational power in the region. There have been real changes in the geographic concentration and nature of U.S. power, as well as in the economic role of China. However, these changes are often outweighed by the continuities of relationships that are still defined by asymmetry.