Latin America remains missing in action in the battle for the White House.

A 16-second sound bite about boosting regional trade from Mitt Romney was all the candidates had to say about Latin America during the campaign's foreign policy debate. "Latin America's economy is almost as big as the economy of China," said Romney during the final debate in Boca Raton, Fla. Nonetheless, the region remained one of the night's most glaring omissions.

The lack of substantive engagement on Latin America is a rare area of bipartisan convergence between the candidates. Candidates Romney and Obama have basically called for more of the same for the region: More free trade agreements and more military aid for fighting the drug trade.

Both are bad ideas.

More free trade agreements with Latin American countries would sap jobs and investment from the U.S. economy.

Mitt Romney's call for a free trade "Reagan Economic Zone" is particularly out of touch. The Reagan era is known as the "lost decade" in Latin America -- per person income actually declined regionwide during this period. In fact, reaction against the free-market orthodoxy promoted by the Reagan administration in the 1980s is why left-leaning governments now rule most of Latin America.

Washington is more isolated than ever before. Obama has done little to change this, while Romney's proposals would actually make things worse, recasting U.S. foreign policy in the mold of the Cold War.

The candidates' positions on the fruitless policies of the drug war are even worse. The $51 billion of U.S. taxpayer dollars that Congress spends every year on anti-drug efforts have failed to put a significant dent in the production and consumption of illicit drugs.

The Obama White House has intensified the decades-long war on drugs, while Romney's campaign claims the military escalation has not gone far enough. Neither side has engaged in a serious evaluation of the drug war, despite the unprecedented human carnage south of the Rio Grande.

Drug-fueled violence has claimed some 60,000 lives since 2006 in Mexico alone -- a toll exceeding that of many conflicts. And the murder rate in Guatemala is now higher than it was during the country's 36-year genocidal war.

Amid the bloodshed, Latin American leaders -- surprisingly led by conservative U.S. allies -- have ratcheted up calls for fundamental drug policy changes. Reform is likely to move ahead with or without Washington's support.

The candidates should be engaging with these calls for change. But unfortunately, when it comes to Latin America, neither presidential contender is the "change" candidate.

Teo Ballve is a fellow of the Drugs, Security, and Democracy program of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). He can be reached at

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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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