Search Penny Hill Press

Friday, February 24, 2012

Latin America and the Caribbean: U.S. Policy and Key Issues for Congress in 2012

Mark P. Sullivan, Coordinator
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

June S. Beittel
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Anne Leland
Information Research Specialist

Peter J. Meyer
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Geographic proximity has ensured strong linkages between the United States and the Latin American and Caribbean region, with diverse U.S. interests, including economic, political and security concerns. Current U.S. policy toward the region is focused on four priorities: promoting economic and social opportunity; ensuring citizen security; strengthening effective democratic institutions; and securing a clean energy future. There has been substantial continuity in U.S. policy toward the region under the Obama Administration, which has pursued some of the same basic policy approaches as the Bush Administration. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration has made several significant policy changes, including an overall emphasis on partnership and shared responsibility.

U.S. policy toward the region must also contend with a Latin America that is becoming increasingly independent from the United States. Strong economic growth has increased Latin America’s confidence in its ability to solve its own problems. The region has also diversified its economic and diplomatic ties with countries outside the region. Over the past few years, several Latin American regional organization organizations have been established that do not include the United States.

Congress plays an active role in policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. Legislative and oversight attention to the region during the 112th Congress is focusing on the continued increase in drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico and U.S. assistance to Mexico under the Mérida Initiative; efforts to help Central American and Caribbean countries contend with drug trafficking and violent crime; as well as continued counternarcotics and security support to Colombia. The January 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, continues to focus congressional attention on the enormous task of disaster recovery and reconstruction. As in past years, U.S. sanctions on Cuba, particularly restrictions on travel and remittances, has remained a contentious issue in the debate over how to support change in one of the world’s last remaining communist nations. Another area of congressional oversight has been concern about the deterioration of democracy in several Latin American countries, especially Nicaragua and Venezuela. Congressional concern has also increased about Iran’s growing relations in the region, especially with Venezuela, and about the activities of Hezbollah.

This report provides an overview of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Obama Administration’s priorities for U.S. policy and a brief comparison of policies under the Obama and Bush Administrations. It then examines congressional interest in Latin America, first providing an overview, and then looking at selected countries and regional issues and identifying key policy issues facing Congress in 2012. The final section of the report analyzes several upcoming events in the region in 2012 that could have an impact on developments in several countries or on U.S. relations with the region: the Pope’s upcoming trip to Cuba in March, the sixth Summit of the Americas in April, Mexico’s elections in July, and Venezuela’s elections in October. An appendix provides a listing of hearings in the 112th Congress focused on Latin America. For additional information, see the CRS Issues in Focus webpage on “Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Date of Report: February 14, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R42360
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.