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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Latin America and the Caribbean: Key Issues for the 113th Congress

Mark P. Sullivan, Coordinator
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. U.S. policy toward the region under the Obama Administration has 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 is conducted in the context of 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 organizations have been established that do not include the United States.

Congress plays an active role in policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. In recent years, legislative and oversight attention have focused on the continued increase in drug traffickingrelated violence in Mexico and assistance under the Mérida Initiative; efforts to help Central American and Caribbean countries contend with drug trafficking and violent crime; and continued counternarcotics and security support to Colombia. The 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti continues to focus attention on the enormous task of disaster recovery and reconstruction. Another area of congressional oversight has been the deterioration of democracy and media freedom in several Latin American countries, especially Venezuela. Congressional concern also has focused on Iran’s activities and relations in the region and about the activities of Hezbollah. U.S. sanctions on Cuba, particularly restrictions on travel, remain a contentious issue in the debate over how to support change in one of the world’s last remaining communist nations. Other broad issues of congressional interest are relations with Mexico and the status of reforms under the new administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto; prospects for Colombia’s peace negotiations and the potential ramifications for U.S. policy; the status of democracy in Venezuela and U.S.-Venezuelan relations in the post-Chávez era; progress on negotiations for the Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP) that includes three Latin American countries (Chile, Mexico, and Peru); and the operation and activities of the Organization of American States (OAS).

In terms of legislative action to date in the 113th Congress, the Senate approved a resolution on Haiti’s 2010 earthquake (S.Res. 12) in March 2013; comprehensive immigration reform legislation (S. 744) in June; and a measure to reform the OAS (S. 793) in July. The House approved a measure (H.R. 1613) in June that would provide for implementation of the U.S.- Mexico Trans-boundary Hydrocarbons Agreement. Both houses also approved different versions of an omnibus farm bill (S. 954 in June and H.R. 2642 in July) with cotton provisions related to a trade dispute with Brazil against U.S. cotton subsidies; the House version also addresses an ongoing U.S.-Mexico water dispute. In July, the Appropriations Committees in both houses reported their respective versions of the FY2014 State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations measure (H.R. 2855 and S. 1372), each with numerous provisions on U.S. foreign aid to Latin America and the Caribbean. The Appropriations Committees in each house also reported out their versions of the FY2014 Financial Services and General Government appropriations measure in July (H.R. 2786 and S. 1371), with different provisions on U.S. travel policy for Cuba.

This report, which will be updated about twice yearly, provides an overview of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Obama Administration’s priorities; examines changes in the region’s economic and political environment that affect U.S. relations with the region; and analyzes U.S. policy toward the region and various recommendations made by policy analysts and think tanks. The report then examines the role of Congress and congressional interests in Latin America, looking at selected regional and country issues, including key issues that the 113th Congress is facing. Appendices provide U.S.-Latin America trade statistics and a listing of hearings focused on Latin America.

For additional information and access to over 30 CRS reports on the region, see the CRS Issues in Focus webpage on “Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Date of Report: August 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: R42956
Price: $29.95

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