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Obama Doesn’t Understand Latin America

The president’s recent comments about Venezuela reflect a larger problem.

by
Jaime Daremblum

Bio

July 19, 2012 - 12:00 am
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Indeed, time and again, President Obama has made the United States look unreliable and/or uninterested in Latin American affairs. To cite just a few examples:

(1) During his first two years in office, when union-friendly Democrats controlled Congress, Obama refused to show real leadership on the Colombia and Panama trade accords, because that would have meant standing up to Big Labor.

(2) His administration initially demanded that Chávez acolyte Manuel Zelaya, an aspiring dictator, be restored as president of Honduras following his removal from office in 2009. This was profoundly discouraging to the Honduran democrats who had saved their country from Venezuelan-style radicalism.

(3) By officially taking “no position” on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands (which have been a British possession since 1833), the Obama administration effectively sided with Argentina against the United Kingdom in the ongoing dispute. Nile Gardiner called it “yet another display of disdain for the Anglo-American Special Relationship.”

(4) Obama has repeatedly declined to speak out forcefully against attacks on democracy and press freedom in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Argentina.

(5) Finally, as demonstrated by his recent comments, Obama seems utterly nonchalant about Iran’s burgeoning strategic alliance with Venezuela and its broader penetration of Latin America, even after learning that Iranian agents were plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington with the help of Mexican gangsters.

“It is time for the United States to reassess its priorities in international relations and turn its eyes to its own hemisphere,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said at Brown University last year.

For its own sake, the United States cannot — and should not — continue to ignore the enormous economic, political, environmental, and human potential that exists south of the border. While the rest of the world, while Europe and Asia, are strengthening their ties to our region, the U.S. is passive, is disengaged (emphasis added).

The costs of U.S. passivity and disengagement may not be readily apparent, but they are growing larger every day.

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Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.
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