Friday, November 28, 2008

About Latin America

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.

1 comments: 10:52 AM  

Well done, Greg, great article and filled with excellent points and advice that the Obama team should look to in formulating policy. The only quarrel that I have is the comment on Chavez.
While I agree that the long-term policy must look beyond any single individual, including the US President, any sort of fresh start in Latin America must look to the leaders there with influence. Like it or not, Hugo Chavez has significant influence throughout Latin America. Whether it is from his petroDollars or his fiery anti-US voice, it is signficant in its influence.
To try to do anything without Hugo Chavez' influence would, in all likelihood, convince most Latin Americans that this is just another US imperialist stab at Latin America. One could hope that our foreign policy folks have the insight to use whoever is available to renew the disasterous state of relations that the US currently has with Latn America. Cynical as it may be, you need to use the tools you have when the lifeboat is sinking and the bailing scoop just broke.

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