Does that mean that the United States should send the Marines back as goodwill ambassadors? A closer look at the past 20 years of polling suggests not. The region-wide view of the United States has oscillated considerably, from a low of 38% approval in 1996 to a high of 74% in 2009. Virtually all of these ups and downs seem to reflect changes in foreign direct investment (FDI) from the United States and changes in Latin American GDP per person. The more that American firms invest in Latin America, and the wealthier its inhabitants grow, the fonder respondents become of the gringos.
These regional averages conceal wide differences between individual countries. In 2015 just 44% of Bolivians liked the United States, whereas 83% of Dominicans did. The strongest predictor of these gaps is distance: South Americans tend to dislike Uncle Sam, whereas residents of Central America and the Caribbean feel more warmly. Apparently, the easier it is for Latinos to get to know the United States, the more they like it. The next most important factor, unsurprisingly, is remittances, which make up more than 15% of the GDP of El Salvador and Honduras, for example. There is no better advertisement for the United States than emigrants sending cash back home.