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The Next Four Years of the Western Hemisphere

Main Stage


  • For Carlos Curbelo, the Trump administration has distinguished itself by taking an especially hardline approach to the Americas. Perhaps the most prominent element of the administration’s policy in the Americas has been its recognition of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela. The administration has also tightened sanctions against Cuba and Nicaragua. Curbelo explained that the president’s confrontational approach has proved popular among various communities, especially some exile and immigrant communities, in Curbelo’s home state of Florida. He predicts that the Biden administration will take a considerably less confrontational stance and will roll back at least some of the sanctions that have recently been imposed. 
  • Curbelo noted that the Trump administration has been inconsistent when it comes to calling out and punishing autocracy in the region. While it has taken a hardline approach to Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan authoritarianism, it has largely turned a blind eye to President Nayib Bukele’s undermining of democracy in El Salvador. Curbelo predicts much more consistency with the advent of a Biden administration. 

“I think the Trump administration may have missed opportunities to expand commercial relations with the region,” Carlos Curbelo

  • Mark Feierstein predicts that the Biden administration will make solving the climate crisis a central feature of its foreign policy. It will also foreground democracy and human rights to a larger extent than did the Trump administration, make significant strides in tackling the root causes of migration (especially from the Northern Triangle), and expend considerable effort combating the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged the Latin American region. 
  • In the case of Cuba, asserted Curbelo, the Obama administration had enacted a series of unilateral concessions that went unreciprocated. Curbelo recommends that the Biden administration adopt a much more nuanced approach based on conditional engagement—it should signal the U.S.’ willingness to take positive steps, but only if Cuba does the same. 
  • When it comes to Venezuela, Curbelo favors a continuation of the Trump administration’s strong sanctions policy. Feierstein, however, opposes an approach based solely on sanctions; for him, such an approach amounts to nothing more than “pressure for the sake of pressure.” Feierstein believes that the Biden administration will work with its European allies to calibrate pressure in a more effective way. 
  • Feierstein and Curbelo agreed that a strengthened U.S.-Mexico relationship was possible and indeed highly favorable. Feierstein noted that the U.S.-Mexico relationship under the Biden administration will not be solely defined by the issue of border security; rather, the U.S. will collaborate with Mexico on a range of other issues, including trade, energy, and law enforcement.

“I think we’re going to see a Biden administration prioritize issues like climate change, democracy, and human rights […] I think we’ll see more consistency in the region,” Mark Feierstein

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • The Biden administration will take a much less confrontational and more multilateral approach to the Americas. How fruitful such an approach will be remains an open question.


Session Speakers