Most changes in U.S. relations with Latin America over the next decade will be driven by domestic changes in the United States.
As the U.S. Latino population grows and voter registration rises, Texas and Arizona will change hues from red to purple, becoming battleground states in presidential elections. Seeing the handwriting on the wall -- in Spanish -- Republicans will finally support comprehensive immigration reform, greatly improving U.S. relations with Mexico and Central America.
Following successful experiments in Colorado and Washington, most other states will legalize marijuana for recreational use, drastically reducing the profitability of this segment of the illegal drug trade. At the same time, Washington politicians will embrace the stance pioneered by Barack Obama's administration and treat narcotics addiction as a public health emergency rather than a "war on drugs." Gradually, the consumption of cocaine and heroin will decline, and the contraction of demand will put even greater pressure on the profitability of the trafficking cartels. That will enable governments from Colombia to Mexico to finally get the upper hand against the traffickers, reducing criminal violence and corruption -- just as the end of Prohibition in the United States enabled U.S. authorities to get the upper hand against the Mafia.
The resulting decline in violence and improvement in citizen security will reduce a key "push" factor for migration to the United States, although poverty and the lack of opportunity at home will still send many Central Americans and Mexicans on the dangerous trek to El Norte.
Climate change will emerge as a new driver of migration. As the oceans warm, feeding Atlantic hurricanes with ever-great energy, super storms will become more frequent and more devastating, wracking Central America and the islands of the Caribbean, demolishing homes, businesses, and jobs.
Cuba will continue to "update" its economy, moving gradually toward market socialism and attracting growing interest from international investors. Business interests in the United States -- especially Cuban American businesses -- will become increasingly envious of the opportunities they are missing. Corporate lobbies will convince enough Republican members of Congress to join with Democrats to repeal the embargo, opening the way for unfettered trade and investment in Cuba.
It's more likely there will be a Castro in the White House in 2015 (Julian), than in Cuba's presidential palace (Mariela or Alejandro). But Cuba's president will still be a communist. Cuban leaders will remain leery of letting the economy fall too much under the sway of U.S. interests, recreating Cuba's pre-revolutionary dependency. For U.S. enterprises in particular, doing business in Cuba will still be subject to a frustrating maze of prohibitions and regulations. But U.S. tourists -- between one and two million of them annually -- will be able to use their credit cards to buy as much rum and as many cigars as they please.
Venezuela's 21st century socialism will come to an ignominious end. In retrospect it will look a lot like 20th century Peronism -- a populist experiment unable to survive once the largesse runs out. But just as the Peronista working class movement mobilized by Juan Perón outlasted his government, permanently transforming Argentine politics, the Chavista movement will outlast the Maduro government and become a permanent fixture of Venezuelan politics.
With the victory of the Venezuelan opposition, ALBA will lose its principal benefactor and will quietly fade from the scene. But the new political power acquired by Andean indigenous communities will not, and the leftist governments in Ecuador and Bolivia will prove more durable than their Venezuelan progenitor.
Nicaragua's Grand Canal will end up costing not $50 billion but $100 billion, and a lot of the money will disappear mysteriously somewhere along the supply chain. Wang Jing's Hong Kong investment consortium financing the canal will declare bankruptcy, leaving the project unfinished. With no competitor, the new Panama Canal will dominate the market, once again dashing Nicaragua's dreams of a trans-oceanic waterway. Nevertheless, with well-financed campaigns, Daniel Ortega will be re-elected president for his fourth and fifth terms.
Brazil's stagnant economy and corruption scandals will sink the Workers Party's presidential hopes for 2018, but as the economy recovers, Brasilia will resume its leadership role in the region. Relations with Washington will improve as policymakers in both capitals realize that they can exert more influence in the hemisphere working in tandem than they can at odds, despite their continuing disagreements on trade.
The disgruntled Chilean electorate will turn again to a conservative coalition in the 2017 presidential election, but the conservatives will fail to satisfy popular demands for transparency and improved social services, setting the stage for Michelle Bachelet's election to third term in 2021.
Finally, Latin Americans will still complain that the United States does not pay enough attention to them, and the United States still won't.
This post is part of a series commemorating The Huffington Post's 10 Year Anniversary through expert opinions looking forward to the next decade in their respective fields. To see all of the posts in the series, read here.
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