There's a running joke in Latin America that the region should be allowed to vote for the U.S. president because the outcome matters so much here.
But with less than two weeks to go before the election, the region is feeling left out of the race. With Pres. Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney focused on the U.S. economy and troubles in the Middle East, Latin America is getting short shrift on the campaign trail.
The final presidential debate this week on foreign policy, only underscored the point as Latin America was barely mentioned and both candidates seemed to try to answer every foreign policy question with a reference to the U.S. economy, said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue.
The foreign policy debate turned into a discussion about nation building in the United States not nation building in Colombia or even Afghanistan, he said.
Just a few years ago, former President George W. Bush called Mexico the United States most important bilateral partner. The country was barely mentioned in the three presidential debates.
Latin America was a second-tier, or third-tier, or perhaps no-tier issue, Shifter said during a forum organized by the University of Miamis Center for Hemispheric Policy in Bogotá this week.
But in the globalized society, even far-flung political issues are at play in Latin America. When the candidates were asked about the pressing foreign issues of the day, they cited global terrorism, China and Iran. All three of those forces are at work in the region
Colombia is currently in peace talks with the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, or FARC guerrillas, which are considered a terrorist organization by the United States. And those talks are being held in Cuba the hemispheres only nation considered a state-sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. government.
China has been making huge inroads into Latin America, becoming a key trading partner for many nations.
And Iran has close ties to Venezuela. Presidents Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chávez have met almost a dozen times and the nations have announced more than 200 joint projects. Brazil the hemispheres second-largest economy is Irans largest trading partner in the region.
Venezuela and Cuba
Venezuela is where the two candidates rhetoric is perhaps most divergent. A few weeks ago, Obama said the Andean nation, which is also the United States fourth-largest supplier of oil, did not represent a danger to the United States.
Romney fired back, saying Chávezs coziness with Cuba and Iran make him dangerous. The Republican platform spells out the position even more explicitly, calling Venezuela a narco-terrorist state and an Iranian outpost in the Western Hemisphere that is an increasing threat to the United States.
We will stand with the true democracies of the region against both Marxist subversion and the drug lords, helping them to become prosperous alternatives to the collapsing model of Venezuela and Cuba, the platform reads.
The GOP platform has also won praise from Miamis Cuban exile community for its call to maintain sanctions until the Castro brothers are out of power and there are free and fair elections.
Obama has found fans among reformers for his willingness to engage with Cubas leadership and ease travel and remittance restrictions.