In the post-Cold War world, Latin America and the Caribbean have emerged as more important than ever. The dynamism of the region's cultures, its prodigious agricultural capacity and vast energy reserves have made the region’s place in the global community more significant than at any time since the colonial era.
The relationship between the United States and Latin America, in particular, has changed, becoming both more symbiotic and extensive. While the profound asymmetries of wealth and power that characterized north-south relations in the Western Hemisphere during the 19th and 20th centuries have by no means disappeared, they have shrunk. The region is no longer as dependent on the United States as it once was and the countries of the region have increasingly acted independently of the the United States in international fora.
At the same time that free trade agreements between the United States and many of the countries of the region have permitted new levels of economic integration, alternatives to the U.S. market have also made the region less dependent on its northern neighbor economically. Forty-three percent of all U.S. exports of manufactured goods, for instance, now flow to the Western Hemisphere but China, not the U.S., is now Brazil and Chile's largest trading partner and Venezuela's largest creditor.
While migration has transformed the Hispanic population of the United States into the largest ethnic minority -- and the United States into the second or third largest Spanish speaking country in the world, the creation of multilateral organizations, like the Union of South American Nations and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (which do not include the United States) has signaled the determination of the region to conduct its affairs more independently than in the past. It is, nevertheless, true that the nations of the Western Hemisphere recognize that many of our most urgent problems are shared challenges. Poverty and income inequality still inhibit development in many places. Energy issues, climate change, transnational crime affect all of the American Republics, north and south. There is a deep and continuous two-way flow of influences between North and South America that has become a vital part of the cultures of the Western Hemisphere. At the same time, notwithstanding the fact that Latin America has become more democratic and prosperous than at any time in its history, important tensions remain between north and south.
Duke University programs and course offerings in Latin American and Caribbean Studies reflect the breadth, complexity and importance of the ties that bind the countries and cultures of the hemisphere we share.