Monday, June 9, 2008

Obama: A Better Neighbor for Latin America

Barack Obama is now the presumptive Democratic nominee and is likely to defeat Republican John McCain in this year's race for the presidency. What type of friend will Mr. Obama be to our neighbors in the hemisphere? It is a good time to consider Mr. Obama's positions and statements concerning Latin America:

(Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
  1. Mr. Obama recognizes that we have neglected our neighbors. "As has been the case throughout the world, our standing in the Americas has suffered as a result of the misguided policies and actions of the Bush Administration. The United States can ill afford this deterioration of our standing. With each passing day, we draw closer together to our neighbors to the south. This convergence creates new challenges, but it also opens the door to a more hopeful future."

  2. Mr. Obama will make Latin American relations a higher priority; he sees Mr. Bush's declaration of 2007 as 'the year of engagement with the Americas' as too little, too late. "One year of engagement out of seven is simply not good enough. In light of the Bush Administration’s woeful record, creating false expectations does more harm than good. We must be realistic about the challenges we face, and what we are doing to address them. We must devote our full time, and our respectful attention to our relations within the hemisphere. "

  3. Neither of this year's candidates for President could have a weaker energy policy than Mr. Bush put forth. To his credit, Mr. Obama recognizes Latin America's energy policy successes. "Brazil’s more than 30 years of renewable fuel technology investments allowed it to achieve energy independence last year. Ethanol now accounts for 40 percent of Brazil’s fuel usage. More than 80 percent of cars sold in Brazil today are flex fuel vehicles—capable of running on gasoline, ethanol, or a mixture thereof. Greater Brazilian production of renewable fuels could boost sustainable economic development throughout Latin America, and reshape the geopolitics of energy in the hemisphere, reducing the oil-driven influence of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. The more inter-hemispheric production and use of ethanol and other biofuels occurs, and the more such indigenously-produced renewable fuels are used to replace fossil fuels, the better it is for our friends in the hemisphere."

  4. Mr. Bush has been a fair-weather neighbor. Mr. Obama envisons a more altruistic approach to Latin American relations. "In Uruguay, President Bush has the opportunity to forge closer ties with President Tabaré Vázquez, and to show that the United States is ready, willing, and able to work productively with democratic-left governments. The United States is seen as supporting democracy when it produces a desired result. It is vital to reverse that trend."

  5. Intelligent people realize the war on drugs is a poor use of taxpayer resources, as is building prisons to house nonviolent drug users. Mr. Obama understands that billions of dollars in US aid has gone toward war profiteering and the spraying of poisons on villages in S. America to kill crops such as coca. These herbicides poison local water tables. Mr. Obama is against Plan Columbia. He is not the first candidate to use drugs, but he is the first to be honest about it. Mr. Obama proposes giving first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence in rehabilitation programs rather than prisons. He understands that monies would be better invested in reducing the market in the US through prevention and recovery programs. Mr. Obama has pledged to fund job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, rather than militarization of Columbia and Mexico. Bill Clinton answered a question about his drug use by saying he had tried marijuana, but "didn't inhale." When asked, "Did you inhale?" Mr. Obama replied, "That was the point." It has been said that such honesty speaks to a generational change in politics, that new voters are more concerned with their leader's truthfulness than with their youthful transgressions. (John K. Wilson, 2007)

  6. Mr. Bush's solution to the immigration question is to build fences between the USA and Mexico. This appallingly short-sighted and damaging act is a return to backward Berlin-wall thinking (and a billion dollar gift to Mr. Bush's contractor buddies in Texas). Mr. Obama voted against the Coburn Amendment (SA 1311) to S. 1348 to increase border control by requiring construction of the border fence. He prefers a policy approach. "The relationship between the United States and Mexico is among our most important in the world. But our complex relationship with Mexico has become captive to a single issue: the immigration debate in our country. There is consensus that our immigration system is broken. It is past time to fix it, and I am proud of my own support for a workable solution."

In summary, Mr. Obama will be a much better neighbor than Mr. Bush. He should visit Latin America early in his administration, and often. Mr. Obama has pledged to do so, adding... "We ignore Latin America at our own peril."

What is the sense in ignoring our neighbors until they can help us? I submit that this is ugly behavior. Unlike Mr. Bush in Austin, Mr. Obama helped his neighbors in Chicago before being elected to office. I am confident that he will expand upon this neighborliness when he moves to D.C.

1 comment:

  1. A thoughtful post, Steve. I think the current evidence suggests that Obama's candidacy is causing global anticipation and a sense that the U.S. still possesses that inclusiveness and spirit of opportunity that still makes it a destination for most immigrants looking for a better life. If other nations including those in Latin America perceive Obama as a man they can deal with and one who is sensitive to their strengths and weaknesses then perhaps we will see a flowering of pan-American cooperation...if Barry indeed wins. Let's hope.