Morning Consult recently featured an opinion piece by GAIN strategic adviser Brigham McCown underscoring infrastructure deficiencies in Latin America and calling for the US to play a bigger role in responsible development. In emphasizing the lack of reliable infrastructure in the region, McCown points to a recent pipeline explosion that tragically killed more than 100 people in Mexico. As an energy-rich nation with extensive experience in infrastructure development, the United States is uniquely positioned to help our Latin American neighbors by investing through public-private partnerships.
McCown notes that Latin America spends the second-smallest share of GDP on infrastructure compared to any region in the world – and it’s starting to show. Despite the need for investment in infrastructure in the region, the US has tapered its involvement while China has scaled up investment in countries from Mexico to Argentina. It seems China is setting up camp right in our backyard. Regarding this, McCown writes:
Through Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, the communist government is paying for new roads, telecommunications equipment and energy systems in Latin America — not to mention a $50 million satellite and space mission station in Patagonia. The plan provides a path to increase trading opportunities between China and the region and is loaded with foreign policy implications and geopolitical advantages.
China is establishing stronger diplomatic ties in the western hemisphere while America’s influence is waning, defined more by wall-building rhetoric than opportunities for partnership and investment. Though diplomats say the United States is Latin America’s preferred investor, we’re just not offering the same support that the Chinese government is. Standing on the sidelines as China makes inroads in Latin America will complicate already growing tensions, threatening U.S. national security and foreign relations at many levels.
McCown concludes by arguing the US should play a key role in helping Latin America build out their pipelines and power grids – rather than other forms of largely undirected aid. He points out, “Over the last two years, the United States has given nearly $1.3 billion to Central America, largely to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. It’s time to include more-tangible infrastructure investments in our foreign aid plans with these countries.” Through public-private partnerships and sharing decades of experience in energy infrastructure development, the US can do its part. McCown writes:
Gaining access to more-affordable energy could greatly improve business activity and the overall quality of life in underdeveloped communities. Such important infrastructure updates have the potential to lift the working class and provide long-term economic revival in some of the most underserved regions in Latin America, while also providing important trade and other economic opportunities for the United States.
American leaders and private businesses have the unique opportunity to work together with their counterparts in Latin America to help modernize their critical infrastructure networks. With the resources and experience to provide these improvements, the United States should play a leading role in Latin American infrastructure investment and eagerly extend a helping hand to our neighbors in need.