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 immigrationis 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 Senate’s composition is: 53 seats held by the Democrats, 45 by the Republicans while two are Independents who tend to favor President Obama’s 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 Washington’s initiatives towards Latin America under theObama 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, Washington’s 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 toThe 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 Senate’s 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 Senate’s subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere should begin. In 2011, President Obama managed to easesome 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.
Peru is experiencing an important momentum regarding economic development and infrastructural initiatives, thanks to which the Andean country’s airports are receiving much-needed upgrades. Apart from the expansion of major airports, like Lima and Cusco, smaller regional terminals are also being developed. Such projects are very important as they will transform Peru into a “hub” of regional air traffic, which will contribute to the country’s coffers.
In mid-September, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala visited Tacna, in Southern Peru, to declare that the city’s “CoronelFAPCarlos Ciriani Santa Rosa” airport will receive an investment of around S/. 50 million (slightly over US $17 million). The funds will be utilized to refurbish a landing strip and the terminal. The goal of the upgrades is to help the airport attract flights from Chile and Argentina, which will in turn help increase tourism to Peru’s Southern regions.
Additionally, the country’s main international airport, Lima’s “Jorge Chávez,” is slowly expanding its operations. On September 22, Interior Minister Daniel Urresti Elera announced that 24 new migration posts began operating in said airport and will continue to operate 24 hours a day in three shifts. Thanks to the extra stations, a larger number of travelers will be more promptly attended as they prepare to enter or depart from the country, which will hopefully help to prevent flight delays.
It is important to stress that upgrades to the airports in Tacna and Lima are not the only recent positive developments, as new air routes are also being created. In early October, the Peruvian airlineLANPeru announced that it will commence flights between Lima and the Andean region of Ayacucho. Specifically, the airline will have flights three times a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays) between Lima and Ayacucho’s “CoronelFAPAlfredo Mendívil Duarte” airport. The aircraft selected for this route is the Airbus A320 which, according to Airbus’s website, can seat up to 150 passengers in a two-class cabin. This will be the airline’s 15th route, and the newest once in years asLANPeru last inaugurated a route in 2008 (between Lima and Cajamarca, in the north).
As for new airports, a major development occurred in April, when the Consortium Kuntur Wasi (constituted by Peru’s Andino Investment Holding S.A. and Argentina’s Corporación America S.A.) won a contract to construct an international airport in Chinchero, Cuzco. The Consortium will control the airport for forty years. According to official information, the terminal will encompass 40 thousand square meters and will be capable of handling up to 4.5 million passengers per year. The estimated cost of the new airport is US $538 million.
Unfortunately, in spite of the aforementioned positive ongoing initiatives, other projects to upgrade airports have been slow to materialize. One prominent example of major construction problems is the delay regarding the new runway and terminal for Lima’s “Jorge Chávez” airport.
On February 14, 2001, the liability company Lima Airport Partners (LAP) signed a concession agreement with the Ministry of Transportation via which the former obtained control of “Jorge Chávez” for three decades. One of LAP’s major ambitions is to expand “Jorge Chávez,” but these plans have been delayed because the government has faced problems with securing the terrain that will be utilized for the new infrastructure. It is now expected that construction will (finally) commence on January 1, 2016 and, in the best case scenario, the project will be finished by 2020.
This presents a major obstacle for the Humala administration as it wants to transform Lima into a hub for flights over South America’s Pacific Coast. In an interview with the Peruvian daily El Comercio, Luis Sicheri, a dean at Peru’s Universidad Científica del Sur (a Peruvian university located in Lima’s posh Miraflores district), warns that Peru must significantly upgrade and expand “Jorge Chávez” in the near future “otherwise the hubs of Bogota (Colombia), Quito (Ecuador) and Santiago de Chile (Chile), will pass it over.”
In other words, it is a priority for Peru to upgrade its network of airports, not simply because it is a natural consequence of population growth, but also in order to become a regional leader in air travel. President Humala has less than two years left in office, and he should devote this time to further supporting the improvement of Peruvian airports, not just major ones in Lima and Cuzco, but also smaller ones like in Ayacucho and Tacna.