Every incoming U.S. president begins his tenure by seeking out opportunities to establish a foreign policy legacy; Donald Trump doesn’t have to look far to find them. In the United States’ own neighborhood, he has a chance to realign relations with two of most important and influential countries in the Western Hemisphere: Brazil and Argentina.
Besides being the largest and third-largest economies in Latin America, the two countries carry great political weight in the region. After years of tense relations, they could help the United States consolidate democratic and free-market development in the region. That would, in turn, enhance U.S. security and prosperity.
Brazil and Argentina are busy attempting to shake off the legacies of years of statist economics. Each now has a market-friendly president desperate to produce economic growth and less friendly toward the neopopulist authoritarianism of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro.
BRAZIL’S GROWTH PUSH
Hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics was supposed to be Brazil’s entry onto the world stage as a country of global consequence. But it was not to be. The boom times that preceded the events were fueled by China’s voracious appetite for commodities. Those ended as Chinese demand slowed, exposing structural flaws in the Brazilian economy that successive leftist presidents from the Brazilian Workers’ Party—first Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and then his protégé, Dilma Rousseff—had ignored.
In August 2016, against a backdrop of growing public anger over austerity and massive corruption scandals, Rousseff was impeached for cooking the books to cover up the parlous state of the government’s finances. (In truth, the punishment might not have fit the crime; Rousseff was more of a scapegoat for her government’s deep-seated corruption.) …