There has been a flurry of policy papers, reports, and editorials with suggestions for Latin America policy (just a few days ago, I took a look at the Brookings Institution). Today it is the New York Times' turn, with an editorial.
This editorial, like all the rest, emphasizes our "unique opportunity" to improve relations. But none of them offer much beyond bromides and well-worn policy recommendations. Yes, I agree that the embargo doesn't work, and I am very glad that this is now finally becoming conventional wisdom*. But we need to step back and really rethink relations.
From the NYT:
For starters, the Obama administration could gain a lot of good will by supporting more aid, mostly from the International Monetary Fund, for Latin American countries sideswiped by the financial meltdown.
I don't get it. We have a "unique opportunity" and start by inserting the IMF, which is ridiculously unpopular in Latin America? It moves on to "dialogue" and free trade. Worst of all, it spends several paragraphs on Hugo Chávez, evincing the same obsession with the Bush administration.
Any serious effort to take advantage of this "unique opportunity" should make sure it doesn't mention Hugo Chávez, who as an individual is irrelevant to a broad vision for Latin America policy. He is only relevant to the degree that he reflects divisions within the region that the United States government steadfastly refuses to acknowledge.
This refusal means that we continue to have blanket policies (especially free trade) that may or may not be appropriate in any given circumstance. If anything, we need to inject a more flexible mindset into policy making that recognizes difference. Our current stance immediately forces leaders into unnecessary defensive positions when they disagree on particular issues.
* Incidentally, studying how it became CW would be a fascinating research topic.