What's at Stake
Decades of remarkable progress in Latin America toward security, democracy, and increased economic ties with America are currently under threat. Venezuela and Cuba are leading a virulently anti-American "Bolivarian" movement across Latin America that seeks to undermine institutions of democratic governance and economic opportunity. The Bolivarian movement threatens U.S. allies such as Colombia, has interfered with regional cooperation on key issues such as illicit drugs and counterterrorism, has provided safe haven for drug traffickers, has encouraged regional terrorist organizations, and has even invited Iran and foreign terrorist organizations like Hezbollah into the region. The region is also witnessing an epidemic of violent criminal gangs and drug cartels, which have wrought death and mayhem across much of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
President Obama has done little to reverse these disturbing trends and has to some degree exacerbated them. He has neglected our democratic allies in the region while reaching out to those nations that are working against our interests and values. He has squandered valuable time in which to advance free-market principles throughout the region by waiting for three years to present free trade agreements with our allies Colombia and Panama to Congress for ratification. He has relaxed sanctions on Cuba while demanding no reforms in return that would offer the Cuban people their long-denied freedom. He has allowed the march of authoritarianism to go unchecked. In some cases, he has actually encouraged it, as when he publicly backed former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya -- a Hugo Chavez ally -- despite Zelaya's unconstitutional attempt to extend his term as president in defiance of the Honduran supreme court and legislature.
Mitt Romney will chart a different course. Under a Romney administration, the United States will pursue an active role in Latin America by supporting democratic allies and market-based economic relationships, containing destabilizing internal forces such as criminal gangs and terrorists, and opposing destabilizing outside influences such as Iran.
In his first 100 days in office, Mitt will launch a vigorous public diplomacy and trade promotion effort in the region -- the Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America (CEOLA) -- to extol the virtues of democracy and free trade and build on the benefits conferred by the free trade agreements reached with Panama and Colombia, as well as those already in force with Chile, Mexico, Peru, and the members of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Through old and new media and through numerous public events conducted in conjunction with our regional partners, CEOLA will draw a stark contrast between free enterprise and the ills of the authoritarian socialist model offered by Cuba and Venezuela. The campaign will also seek to involve both the U.S. and Latin American private sectors in efforts to expand trade throughout the region with initiatives that not only help American companies do business in Latin America, but also help Latin American companies invest and create jobs in the American market. The goal of CEOLA will be to set the stage for eventual membership in the Reagan Economic Zone for nations throughout Latin America and the creation of strong and mutually beneficial economic ties between the region and the United States.
Mitt will build on separate existing anti-drug and counterterrorism initiatives to form a unified Hemispheric Joint Task Force on Crime and Terrorism. The aim of this group will be to coordinate intelligence and enforcement among all regional allies. Coordinated strategies are required to combat regional terrorist groups and criminal networks that operate across borders. And a regional effort is required as well to sever all financial, logistical, and material connections between regional groups and foreign terrorist entities like Hezbollah that are operating in the region.
Mexico and the United States must take immediate action on the problem of violent drug cartels operating across our shared border, which has already inflicted great costs to both our countries in human life, drug addiction, and social decay. The United States and Mexico currently cooperate through the Merida Initiative, a program run by the U.S. Department of State to improve Mexico's law enforcement capabilities. However, in light of the severity of the cartel problem and the sheer firepower and sophistication of the criminal networks we are facing, the United States and Mexico should explore the need for enhanced military-to-military training cooperation and intelligence sharing similar to practices that were successful in combating cartels and narco-terrorist networks in Colombia. Mitt will use the full powers of the presidency to complete an impermeable border fence protecting our southern frontier from infiltration by illegal migrants, trans-national criminal networks, and terrorists.