U.S. disregarding Latin America

Candidate Obama pledged to pursue aggressive diplomacy in Latin America from day one. President Obama has failed on that promise.

In developing AmericaâÄôs foreign policy over the last few months, the Obama administration has extended its hand to a number of different countries. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already made two trips, the first to Asia and the second to Europe, to assure nations of continued alliance with the United States. This pursuit of closer global ties is promising and will start the crucial process of mending the rifts created by the previous administration. Conspicuously lacking in AmericaâÄôs foreign-policy plans, however, is its own neighbor: Latin America. In a speech at a Cuban American National Foundation luncheon in May last year, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to âÄúpursue aggressive, principled and sustained diplomacy in the Americas from Day One.âÄù As he explained then, âÄúMy policy towards the Americas will be guided by the simple principle that whatâÄôs good for the people of the Americas is good for the United States.âÄù Since then, plans for diplomacy in Latin America have largely fallen by the wayside. The first Western Hemispheric country to receive attention from the United States was not Mexico, but Canada. It is questionable as to why Obama chose to personally acknowledge the needs of Canada first when other countries in our part of the world have much more pressing needs. Indeed, AmericaâÄôs track record in Latin America leaves something to be desired. The recent expulsion of a U.S. diplomat from Ecuador is a case in point. The diplomat was expelled on the grounds that his alleged interference âÄúundermine[d] the jurisdiction and powers of national authorities able to make decisions regarding who should lead a special investigations unit.âÄù The U.S. Department of State countered that the United States has had peaceful, nonintrusive relations with the country. Regardless of whether the United States is guilty of the accusations, the scandalâÄôs message sends negative signals to the rest of Latin America. This is not the kind of positive image the United States ought to be cultivating with Latin American countries. At any rate, helping its southerly neighbors is in AmericaâÄôs own best interests. In a dramatic turn of events, MexicoâÄôs drug war seems to be spilling over into Arizona. Recent Mexican-linked abductions in Phoenix are clear examples of the consequences of failing to stabilize the region. Reuters reported that Washington has pledged to give Mexico helicopters, surveillance aircraft, inspection equipment and police training under a $1.4 billion plan to beat the cartels in Mexico and Central America. Such supportive acts are the type that Latin America needs. America should not wait to intercede in Latin American affairs until it directly affects the United States. Latin American leaders are willing to work with Obama. Even President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has been overwhelmingly positive, saying that, âÄúIf he wants to converse with the Venezuelans, we are here at the order without conditions.âÄù And, in a recent letter to Obama, 300 regional experts wrote that âÄúU.S. prestige in the region is now at a historic low âĦ Our hope is that you will embrace the opportunity to inaugurate a new period of hemispheric understanding and collaboration for the common welfare.âÄù There is therefore no reason for U.S. diplomacy in Latin America to be withheld. Obama should send diplomats to Latin America to capitalize on the goodwill Latin American leaders have evinced toward Obama and to assure the people there that they are, indeed, important to U.S. foreign policy. It is in the best interest of both the United States and Latin America that cooperative measures are taken to strengthen Latin American economies and reduce crime. That said, a deeper dialogue between the nations should begin with all due speed. This column, accessed via UWire, was originally published in the Harvard Crimson at Harvard University. Please send comments to [email protected]