On Tuesday, November 4th, the U.S. midterm elections will take place and Latin America is, most decisively, not an issue that will be on the ballot. The U.S. has a plethora of pressing issues that must be addressed, including a revamping economy and a new military venture in Iraq. As for Latin America, while immigration is a relevant (and divisive) issue, Latin American affairs in general are not a priority for the American citizenry.
The 2014 Senate
All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs, but the main focus is on the Senate as the Democratic Party is in dire need of retaining control.
Currently, the Senates composition is: 53 seats held by the Democrats, 45 by the Republicans while two are Independents who tend to favor President Obamas party. A total of 36 Senatorial seats will be decided in November. According to experts, nine races in states like Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina will be closely examined, as various incumbent Democratic senators will not have an easy time being re-elected due to the growing popularity of Republican challengers.
As for how the midterms will impact U.S.-Latin America relations, one name to keep in mind is Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, known as the most liberal senator. He also happens to be the chairman of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere and Global Narcotics Affairs, the Senate branch that deals with Latin America and the Caribbean.
Should Udall lose, or if the Republicans gain the Senate, we could see a drastic re-arranging of a legislative body that is critical to U.S. relations with the Western Hemisphere. Whether this is a positive or negative scenario depends on your point of view regarding Washingtons initiatives towards Latin America under the Obama presidency.
The future of the Senate is critical, as it will heavily influence the future of U.S. policy towards Latin America. For example, even though the U.S. is becoming militarily involved in Iraq (again), Washington must also promote a comprehensive hemispheric security policy to combat transnational crimes, particularly drug trafficking. Even with a reduced budget, U.S. security agencies have scored some important victories against regional organized crime. For example, in March, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian Navy seized two suspicious vessels in the Caribbean; hidden in both ships was a combined cargo of 3,300 tons of cocaine.
The aforementioned senate subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere and global narcotics is precisely the type of legislative body that must support security agencies like the Coast Guard so they have the necessary resources to continue carrying out successful operations.
Unfortunately, Washingtons focus in Iraq and Ukraine, we will not see major developments towards Latin America after the elections.
This is problematic given major issues dealing with the Western Hemisphere that must be addressed. Case in point is immigration reform, which enjoyed an important momentum this summer due to the ample media coverage of Central American minors who are trying to enter the U.S. via the Mexican border. Nevertheless, an important and timely issue such as this remains unchanged. According to The New York Times, President Obama has not addressed immigration because the issue is politically too hot. It is difficult to foresee the U.S. president addressing it after November since he will be focused on other issues to cement his legacy (i.e. leaving Afghanistan). In the meantime, the Republican Party will attempt to block major presidential initiatives before 2016.
As for the upcoming mid-terms, the Senate and House candidates have generally focused their electoral campaigns around domestic issues. In spite of this internal focus, Latinamericanist analysts will closely follow the fate of candidates like Senator Udall, as it will affect the composition of the Senates subcommittee for Western Hemisphere affairs.
After November: Where to Begin?
Ideally, the 114th Congress will address Western Hemisphere affairs as a whole, not solely drug trafficking and immigration; two topics generally regarded as national security problems.
The future of U.S.-Cuba relations is an obvious place of where the Senates subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere should begin. In 2011, President Obama managed to ease some restrictions on travel and remittances, but most of the decades-old embargo remains in place. In recent developments, Panama has pledged to invite Cuba to attend the 2015 Summit of the Americas (diplomatic tensions over this possibility occurred in the 2013 Summit in Colombia).
Ideally, in the coming months policymakers in the White House, State Department and Congress will have serious discussions on whether this upcoming gathering can serve as a launch pad to reinvigorate U.S.-Cuba relations. However, this will largely depend on the composition of the Senate after November. (A Republican-led Senate, or subcommittee, will probably support perpetuating the status quo).
While Latin America will certainly not be in the ballot on November, that does not mean that the region will not experience the repercussions, for better or worse, of the upcoming midterms.