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THE UNITED STATES AND LATIN AMERICA: THE OVERSTATED DECLINE OF A SUPERPOWER Tom Long University of Reading “Well into the 1990s Washington still exerted significant influence across the region. By contrast, today it exercises less regional influence , and conversely, Latin American states display greater autonomy than at any time in the last one hundred years. . . . By the end of the 21st century’s first decade, Latin American governments had stopped paying much attention to the United States.” –Mark Eric Williams, 20151 “[T]he United States and Canada are being virtually expelled from the hemisphere.” –Noam Chomsky, 20132 Introduction After emerging from the Cold War as the uncontested, unipolar power,3 the United States now sees itself beset by challengers. Its own power has been undermined by political paralysis, economic weakness, imperial overstretch, and costly bad decisions. In some cases, these bad decisions have spurred embryonic counterbalancing coalitions.4 The U.S. inability to respond has, meanwhile, allowed a resurgent Russia and growing China to enhance their positions at the United States’ expense. This adds up to a new conventional wisdom: the United States is a power in decline.5 For many analysts over the past decade, China is the power of tomorrow.6 For others, such as Charles Kupchan, we have entered No One’s World.7 By 2010, even the U.S. intelligence establishment had seemingly accepted the fact that U.S. unipolarity was nearing an end. Just 15 years hence, its Global Trends report proclaimed, the world would be an “almost unrecognizable,” “global multipolar” system, characterized by the “transfer of global wealth and economic power.”8 The message: goodbye “indispensable nation.”9 This argument has been frequently extended to the United States’ position in the Western Hemisphere, where its power was long unrivalled— or so many analysts still claim. An early period of consensus has collapsed : “The 2000s, in contrast, witnessed strong divergences between Latin American countries and the United States. The United States was no longer capable—perhaps unwilling—to shape and influence the regional system.”10 The United States faces new rivalries for Latin American C  2016 Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. DOI: 10.1111/tla.12094 497 The Latin Americanist, December 2016 loyalties. “Iran, Russia, and China have all significantly increased their economic and political footprints in the region,” Russell Crandall avers.11 That leaders from the United States’ supposed “backyard” now spearhead projects to counter U.S. influence seems like the coup de grace for a creaking heavyweight. The “pink tide” that took power starting with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in the late 1990s both took advantage of and contributed to “the waning influence of the United States.”12 Latin America now had the means, the motivation, and the leadership to increase its distance from Washington. Plus, it could now get a little help from rising friends. In early 2015, Argentine historian Leandro Morgenfeld cited ALBA, CELAC, and UNASUR to argue that, “During the 21st century, Latin America has advanced as never before in a process of regional integration outside of Washington’s orbit.”13 The United States was shunned from within and challenged from without. The Americas, it seemed, were experiencing a Copernican revolution. This decline is not what it seems. Too often, U.S. decline is assumed as a precondition for the study of other phenomena, such as the rise of the Latin American left or the role of China. Other arguments build on selective readings and oversimplifications of U.S. influence during the past. By foregrounding these assumptions, this article questions the idea that U.S. power in the hemisphere entered a phase of new, steep decline during the mid-2000s. While the hemisphere has experienced important changes, many of these precede the current declinist debate. Claims of declining U.S. power (or influence) in Latin America and the Caribbean have suffered from a lack of conceptual clarity. This paper places the debate about the U.S. position in the hemisphere in the context of broader discussions about power in International Relations. The remainder of the essay will be divided in several sections. First, it will survey the recent debate on the state of U.S...

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