Friday, September 14, 2012

Paying Attention to Latin America

In a seemingly endless cycle of uselessness, President Obama once again responds to critics who say he's not paying enough attention to Latin America by saying he is. This goes in permanent circles because no one agrees on what "attention" actually means.

Roughly speaking:

Conservatives tend to define attention in two ways. First, by working aggressively against Venezuela and Iran's presence in the region as well as the rise of countries like China (call it "Monroe Doctrine attention"). Second, expanding free trade agreements and capitalism in general. The Obama administration has already indicated that the former is an overblown threat, and argues that passing the Panama and Colombia FTAs is a sign of commitment to the latter. Conservatives disagree, saying Obama waited too long and now is passive.

Presidents often define attention as travel. George W. Bush--also often accused of "losing" Latin America--did the same. Obama's response yesterday was that "I expect to travel there again." Both White Houses periodically trot out the number of visits they've made to Latin American countries.

Liberals tend to define attention as  focusing on threats to democratically elected governments and human rights. The 2009 coup in Honduras is a prominent example for which Obama receives criticism. Of course, conservatives view this in diametrically opposed terms, by framing Honduras as a case where beleaguered and valiant democrats fought against the insidious and tentacle-like influence of Hugo Chávez.

What's notable here is that no one is happy with Obama's Latin America policy (or Bush's, for that matter). As with immigration, Obama's effort to chart a course down the middle ends up alienating all sides.


Eduardo Real 1:07 PM  

As an Argentinian, I beg and pray not to be in the crosshair of your attention.

Greg Weeks 1:25 PM  

Ha! I'm sure many people feel the same way.

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