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The Post-American Hemisphere
Power and Politics in an Autonomous Latin America
RUSSELL CRANDALL is Associate Professor of International Politics at Davidson College and the author of The United States and Latin America After the Cold War. He was Principal Director for the Western Hemisphere at the U.S. Department of Defense in 2009 and Director for Andean Affairs at the National Security Council in 2010-11.See more by this author
On August 18, 2010, a Venezuelan drug trafficker named Walid Makled was arrested in Colombia. U.S. officials accused him of shipping ten tons of cocaine a month to the United States, and they made a formal extradition request to try him in New York. Although the Venezuelan government had also made an extradition request for crimes Makled allegedly committed in Venezuela, senior U.S. diplomats were confident that the Colombian government would add him to the list of hundreds of suspects it had already turned over to U.S. judicial authorities in recent years.
So it came as a surprise when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced in November that he had promised Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that Makled would be extradited to Venezuela, not the United States. Colombia, Washington's closest ally in South America, appeared to be unveiling a new strategic calculus, one that gave less weight to its relationship with Washington. What made the decision all the more unexpected is that the U.S. government still provides Colombia with upward of $500 million annually in development and security assistance, making Colombia one of the world's top recipients of U.S. aid. For the United States in Latin America today, apparently, $500 million just does not buy what it used to.
Across the region in recent years, the United States has seen its influence decline. Latin American countries are increasingly looking for solutions among themselves, forming their own regional organizations that exclude the United States and seeking friends and opportunities outside of Washington's orbit. Some U.S. allies are even reconsidering their belief in the primacy of relations with the United States. Much of this has to do with the end of the Cold War, a conflict that turned Latin America into a battleground between U.S. and Soviet proxies. Washington has also made a series of mistakes in the years since then, arrogantly issuing ultimatums that made it even harder to get what it wanted in Latin America.