“Who’s the Banana Republic Now?” Latin America’s Mixed Response to U.S. Election

Congratulations, silence, and passive-aggressive digs from across the region.
November 8, 2020, 10:01pm
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro is one Latin American leader who will be happy to see the end of the administration of United States President Donald Trump. Photo by Carolina Cabral, Getty Images.

MEXICO CITY - The delay in the announcement of a clear winner in the United States presidential election prompted a prominent Colombian newspaper to publish a frontpage headline that mocked the United States, asking:  "Who's the Banana Republic now?" 

But as the media across the region enjoyed poking fun at the U.S. vote-counting process following the elections, most Latin American leaders sidestepped questions about the election over the days-long waiting period. 

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All except for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who sardonically sang an off-the-cuff parody of the country's beauty pageant theme song on national TV about how on a beautiful night like this, "either of them could win.” Harsh sanctions from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump have failed to oust Maduro.

But after numerous U.S. media outlets called the election on Saturday, a flurry of tweets congratulating President-elect Joe Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris came from some of the more U.S.-friendly countries in the region like Argentina, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Colombia, and Chile.

But not all responses were positive.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez waited until late Sunday morning to acknowledge the election results but stopped short of congratulating Biden.

"We recognize that the U.S. people have chosen a new direction in the presidential elections. We believe in the possibility of having a constructive, bilateral relation while respecting our differences," he wrote.

The Cuban president also tweeted a more defiant message on Saturday of Fidel Castro, along with a quote that said: "There are those who still dream of bringing Cuba to its knees, brandishing the criminal blockade as an instrument of United States foreign policy against our homeland." Then he posted photos about his successful bilateral meetings to strengthen ties with Iran.

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Cuba wasn't the only country to take passive-aggressive jabs at the U.S. 

Recently elected Bolivian President Luis Arce also waited until Sunday morning to congratulate Biden and Harris, but only after posting the translation of a letter from his "brother", Chinese president Xi Jinping, and photos of himself meeting with the Iran delegation as well.

In Venezuela, where the U.S. and other countries controversially recognized opposition figure Juan Guaidó as the country's president in 2019, responses were mixed. Both Guaidó and Maduro congratulated Biden and Harris on Saturday, but Guaidó made the point to also thank outgoing President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence "for their firmness and determination in confronting the Maduro dictatorship."

Maduro certainly did not, having severed diplomatic relations with Washington after Trump recognized Guaidó in 2019.

In Maduro's congratulation to Biden and Harris, he said that Venezuela is "always ready for dialogue." How the new U.S. government addresses relations with Venezuela will be one of the top foreign policy agenda items in Latin America.

Venezuela is not the only country in the region where Biden and Harris will have immediate decisions to make.

In Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández also sent congratulations to Biden and Harris, although he must be nervously awaiting the change in government. The Trump administration was a supporter of Hernández's government and its efforts to curb migration, even though it’s also been embroiled in scandal after the president's brother was found guilty of drug charges in a U.S. court in 2019. Hernández himself has also been named as a drug trafficker by drug bosses on trial in the United States. 

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The new U.S government will also need to forge relations with several other strong Latin American allies of Trump, perhaps most notably President Jair Bolsonaro who followed a Trump-esque blueprint in his rise to power in Brazil. But Bolsonaro spent the past week caught up in his own scandals, as state prosecutors made public organized crime and money laundering charges against his son on November 4. Two days later, an aggravated Bolsonaro responded to questions about the U.S. election when it seemed it was leaning in Biden's favor, by saying that Trump is "not the most important person in the world." 

Bolsonaro has yet to comment on Biden's election.

El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, another leader whose rise has been compared to Trump's, congratulated Biden and Harris late Saturday with the photo of a letter he intends on sending to the two and has yet to mention his ally, Donald Trump.

But perhaps the oddest reaction came from Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who when asked over the weekend why he hadn’t congratulated Biden responded: 

"We are going to wait for all legal issues to be resolved. We do not want to be reckless, we do not want to act lightly and we want to be respectful of the self-determination of the peoples and respectful of the rights of others," said López Obrador.

While this infuriated several U.S. lawmakers like Joaquin Castro, López Obrador knows a thing or two about election fraud. He's long cried foul about his controversial loss in the 2006 Mexican election that declared Felipe Calderón the winner by less than a percentage point. In perhaps a preview of what the U.S. may see before inauguration day, López Obrador and his followers spent months in 2006 occupying public plazas and even held their own inauguration ceremony, before eventually conceding.