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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CRS Issue Statement on Latin America and the Caribbean

Mark P. Sullivan, Coordinator
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

U.S. interests in Latin America and the Caribbean are diverse, and include economic, political, and security concerns. Geographic proximity has ensured strong economic linkages between the United States and the region, with the United States being the major trading partner and largest source of foreign investment for many countries in the region. Free trade agreements with several countries have been critical means for enhancing U.S. economic relations with the region. The region is also the largest source of U.S. immigration, both legal and illegal, with geographic proximity and economic conditions being major factors driving migration trends. Curbing the flow of illicit drugs from Mexico and South America into the United States has been a key component of U.S. relations with Latin America for almost two decades. Latin American nations, largely Venezuela and Mexico, supply the United States with just over one third of its imported oil, but there have been concerns over their reliability as an oil suppliers. While the region has made enormous strides in terms of political development over the past two decades, the rise of authoritarianism in several countries, especially Venezuela, as well as the Honduran military's June 2009 ouster of the country's elected civilian president have been U.S. concerns. 

In the 111th Congress, legislative and oversight attention to Latin America and the Caribbean to date has included a focus on the sharp increase in drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico and U.S. assistance to Mexico under the Mérida Initiative; continued counternarcotics and security support to Colombia; and efforts to assist Central American and Caribbean countries deal with drug trafficking, other criminality, and related violence. As in past years, debate over the best means to foster political change in communist Cuba has been a focus of congressional attention. Efforts to promote poverty alleviation, stability, and security in Haiti remained top congressional concerns in the first session, while the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince in January 2010 focused congressional attention on the enormous task of disaster recovery and reconstruction. The 111th Congress also extended expiring unilateral trade preferences for the Caribbean and Andean regions (and could do so again for the Andean region), expanded and extended trade preferences for Haiti, and could consider legislation that would approve reciprocal free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia and Panama. 

Congress has maintained an active interest in neighboring Mexico with myriad counternarcotics, migration, trade, and border issues dominating the agenda. Numerous congressional hearings have been held on the increase in drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico, related U.S. foreign assistance and border security programs, and U.S. efforts to curb the flow of weapons to Mexico. Under the Mérida Initiative, Congress appropriated about $1.3 million in U.S. assistance to Mexico from FY2008-FY2010 to help combat drug trafficking and organized crime. Congress has expressed concerns about delays in the implementation of the program, including the delivery of equipment to Mexico, although it could appropriate additional assistance for Mexico in FY2010 supplemental appropriations legislation. For FY2011, Congress is considering an additional $310 million in assistance that broadens the scope of U.S.-Mexico bilateral security cooperation and focuses more on institution-building. On other Mexico-related issues, while initially it was thought that the second session might consider comprehensive immigration reform efforts, other domestic and economic issues have taken precedence. A current bilateral trade dispute involves the implementation of trucking provisions under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Date of Report: June 30, 2010
Number of Pages: 5
Order Number: IS40343
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