In his inauguration address, Donald Trump vowed to uphold his vision of making “America great again.” No longer would political rhetoric rule the day. Rather “the hour of action” would begin.
Among the smaller-than-usual inauguration crowd listening to this, there was a person from Latin America who, like Trump, started as a businessman and entered politics supposedly for the people—Edgardo Novick.
Novick recently created a party in Uruguay last year called Partido de la Gente and vowed to “to make this country better.” Certainly his rhetoric is not like Trump’s, but he does share the same ideas—the government is ineffective and big, crime is a major problem that needs a tough solution, and “the people” have the solutions.
While preparing a run for the 2019 presidential elections in Uruguay, Novick has been criticized for refusing to answer journalists as well as being linked to the Panama Papers. Despite these issues, at the request of Rudy Giuliani, Novick attended the inauguration. “Uruguay has a new friend” in the Trump administration, assured Giuliani.
The two figures met the day before to strengthen their ties and talk about anti-crime policies to enact in Uruguay. In an interview, Novick explained that he wants “to contact the best in the world for every [Uruguayan] problem.” He elaborated that New York City previously had “robberies, murders, [and] thefts,” but, after Giuliani became mayor, this fell by “70 percent.”
Of course this ignores factors that led to crime falling even before Giuliani took office. Instead, he left a legacy of racism and excesses that many, like Novick, see as a legacy of clean streets and public safety. That’s why it’s been exported to Latin America.
Yet this meeting shows that Latin American leaders aren’t afraid to associate with Trump. For all the talk of a unified bloc against Trump, there are leaders that prefer appeasement appease to the new president based on common principles.
Take immigration for example. Donald Trump was sharply criticized last year for calling Mexican immigrants entering the U.S. as rapists and drug smugglers.
However, Argentina recently modified a law that restricts immigrants from entering if they’ve committed certain crimes. Argentina’s Security Minister Patricia Bullrich defended this change by accusing immigrants from countries such as Paraguay, Peru, and Bolivia of sending drugs to Argentina. Furthermore, such civilians enter the country as “drivers [or] mules” for drug traffickers and end up “killing each other to control drugs,” therefore causing crime.
In Chile, immigration is reaching record numbers and causing concerns among people there. Sebastián Piñera, former president from 2010 to 2014 and first billionaire to hold that office, said late last year that Chile should open its doors to immigrants that “grow our country,” but not to those who engage in narcotrafficking, organized crime, and illegal immigration. He too accused Peru and Bolivia of being countries that produce drugs and contribute to crime in Chile as most criminals are from there. “This [crime] is particularly serious in those regions where immigration represents a large percentage of the population,” he told Chilean outlet La Tercera.
President Michelle Bachelet vowed to defend immigrants, yet is considering a law dealing with immigration that is no doubt in response to her falling popularity.
Meanwhile, for the 2017 presidential elections, Alejandro Guillier, a leftist senator that is a serious contender with his outsider persona, advocates “a more selective migratory policy” among his progressive plans of education and pension reform. Notably, his main opponent in the election is Piñera.
It doesn’t stop there. Trump’s plans to cut science programs isn’t so different than what’s happening, again, in Argentina.
During the 2015 presidential election, Mauricio Macri promised increasing investments in science and technology. “We Argentinians have reasons to be proud in our science, we have a history that gave us scientists and researchers recognized worldwide,” the current president wrote in a Facebook post.
Once in office, he quickly reversed his plans. The government will cut 30 percent of funding for science and technology (so much for being proud). Scientists are protesting the government’s austere decision as it would shut out young scientists and force them to work abroad.
Marcos Peña, chief of the cabinet of ministers and said to be Macri’s main adviser, dismissed concerns about the cuts. He believes that “critical thinking has done too much damage to our country.” And, what sounds Trumpian, he argued that “some people in Argentina think that being critical is being smart. Our government believes that being smart is enthusiastic and optimistic.”
Who can forget Brazil? Its president, Michel Temer, took office amid a coup and immediately appointed an all-male cabinet, not seen since the dictatorship era. Corruption constantly plagues his administration that it is exhausting to document it all.
Furthermore, Temer won a victory on December 13 as the Senate passed a cap on public spending for the next twenty years. This means the poorest in society will suffer from an indefinite freeze on social welfare, health, education, and other spending programs.
Brazilian lawmakers do not intend to stop. They are obsessed with “gender ideology” affecting the country and going after reproductive rights as well as other policies that ensure protections for many Brazilians.
But the cherry on top is the new mayor of Sao Paulo, João Doria. Doria is a businessman who starred in the Brazilian version of “The Apprentice” and is sometimes compared to Donald Trump. Doria ran as an outsider against the establishment in the mayoral campaign and won.
Now in office, he views Brazil’s ongoing crisis as an opportunity for privatization. “This is the moment for us to do this, when we are faced with a crisis of this size,” he said last month. He immediately went to work as he dismissed all government vehicles and told his staff to use Uber. Furthermore, any employees that arrives late to meetings is fined. As citizens protest against privatization, he’s glad that “they are all obeying now.”
It is true that Doria says he is no fan of Trump, but he admires Michael Bloomberg as a role model for governing. The alternative is not much better.
Where do Latin Americans elites go from here? For some, appeasement is the strategy. Mexico is bearing the brunt of Trump’s fierce rhetoric and attacks. Enrique Peña Nieto should act in defiance, but does not. In fact, it is arguable that he legitimized Trump during the presidential election.
Peña Nieto recently appointed Luis Videgaray as his Foreign Minister. Videgaray is the former Energy Minister that helped schedule the disastrous meeting with Trump last September. This appointment cannot be overlooked. Trump once called Videgaray a “wonderful man” and the Trump administration views Videgaray as a dealmaker, not as an opponent.
Argentina is ready for Trump as Susana Malcorra, minister of foreign relations, affirmed it will work with the U.S. to find common ground and potentially utilize historic ties between Trump and Macri. The Trump team is receptive to Macri as well. Eric Trump, during a business trip last year to Punta del Este, Uruguay, said his father was “very similar to Mauricio Macri.”
Others view the new president as an opportunity to side with another superpower, albeit with limitations. Peru is weighing its options on signing deals with Russia and China. Despite Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski vowing to stand with Mexico in the face of “serious difficulties,” it is likely Peru and other right-wing governments will work with the Trump administration in some capacity.
Yet it is important to note legitimacy amid all of this. Michel Temer refused to meet the families of Chapecoense, a Brazilian soccer team that tragically lost almost all of its players in a plane crash. Temer feared the public would boo him if he met the families in a stadium, drawing condemnation from family members.
Elites fear losing legitimacy and Trump is no different. The protests across the nation helped cancel Trump’s visit to a Harley-Davidson factory. As long as the protests continue, Trump and his allies will worry about his effectiveness and cause more disruptions.
As the protests in Mexico against the gasolinazo show, movements are the best tool to resist unpopular and repressive governments. The elites may decide to appease Trump, but the citizens certainly will not and, with their power, will show that.