Andres Oppenheimer

A Trump victory could push Latin America to the left and away from U.S.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump visits the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump visits the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. AP

Judging from what I heard in recent interviews with several Latin American presidents, a victory by Donald Trump in the Nov. 8 election would chill U.S.-Latin American ties, moving even the most pro-American presidents in the region to distance themselves from the United States.

Few Latin American presidents, even the ones who are closest to Washington, would want to risk their domestic political capital countering the near unanimous dislike for Trump in their countries. In recent trips to Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and several other countries, I came across almost no one — including public officials, business people, academics and people on the street — who is rooting for Trump.

Donald Trump’s months of harsh towards the U.S.’s southern neighbor didn’t stop Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto from extending him an invitation. The Republican presidential candidate will meet with Nieto Wednesday in Mexico City.

In an interview at Argentina’s presidential palace this week, President Mauricio Macri — a center-right former businessman who is trying to steer his country away from the populist anti-American policies of his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner — told me that “we feel closer” to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the U.S. race.

“Given the quite isolationist rhetoric of candidate Donald Trump, we would feel more comfortable continuing to work with Hillary Clinton,” Macri told me. He added that the United States is a country of strong institutions, and that Argentina would work and cooperate with whomever is elected.

Days earlier, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who for many years was a U.S. citizen and worked in New York and Miami, told me in a separate interview that Trump’s proposals to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and to have Mexico pay for it, are both “unfortunate.”

“To propose a 2,000-mile border fence and then say that Mexico should pay for that fence is scandalous,” Kuczynski said.

When I asked him if he’s worried about the possibility of a Trump victory, Kuczynki said, “Of course, it’s a matter of concern. But it’s mainly a cause of concern because of this whole idea of protectionism, of breaking free trade agreements that have been very favorable to both sides.”

He said that Trump’s claims that free trade is killing U.S. industrial jobs are “completely false.”

He added: “What is happening across the globe, not just in the United States, is the robotization of industries. That’s what’s happening.”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told me in a Sept. 9 interview that “I’m not going to criticize any of the two candidates. What I can tell you now is that I am a very good friend of Hillary, that she helped us a lot as secretary of state, and that I know that she would continue helping us.”

Asked about Trump, Santos said that “if he’s against free trade, I think he is mistaken.”

And on Trump’s vows to deport millions of undocumented migrants, Santos said that “we have many Colombians living in the United States, and of course, we support a much more generous policy that the one Trump is proposing.”

My opinion: Trump’s claims that most Mexican undocumented immigrants are “criminals” and “rapists” — which he still hasn’t apologized for — as well as his racist remarks against U.S.-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whose parents came from Mexico, and his vows to build a wall on the U.S. southern border and scrap free trade agreements would all serve to unify Latin America against the United States if Trump were to become the next U.S. president.

Trump’s fascination with authoritarian leaders — such as those from Russia, Turkey and Egypt — and his assertions that “we need allies” regardless of their adherence to democratic values trigger alarm bells in Latin America. The region suffered from U.S.-backed military dictatorships in the 19th and early and mid 20th centuries, and Trump would break a four-decade-old bipartisan U.S. policy of support for human rights and democracy in the region.

It would not be far-fetched to speculate that a Trump victory would move Latin America to the left, and perhaps even unite the region against Washington.

If even the most pro-American Latin American presidents are rooting for Clinton, imagine the pressure they would feel within their countries if Trump became president and carried out even a small fraction of his campaign promises. The unpopular leftist regimes of Venezuela and Cuba would have a field day, and could make a political comeback.

Donald Trump spoke to the Cuban American National Foundation in 1999, casting himself as a pro-embargo hardliner who refused to do potentially lucrative business in Cuba until Fidel Castro was gone. Keyframe photo by Tim Chapman of Donald Trump as

Watch the Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español

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