I get tired of reading op-eds on U.S.-Latin American relations these days, as they all seem to be about the same:
1. Assert the U.S. is losing influence
2. Make reference to left-right split in the region
3. Say we need to "engage"
4. Give 1-2 policy examples
Some of that is in Peter Hakim's op-ed at Reuters but he adds a good conclusion that moves away from platitudes and gets to important things like incentives.
Recent developments suggest, however, that for Washington to regain clout in regional affairs, it must it end its standoff with Cuba. U.S. policy toward Cuba sets Washington against the views of every Latin American and Caribbean government. Long-standing U.S. efforts to isolate and sanction Cuba, have, counterproductively, brought every country in Latin America to Cuba’s defense with a general admiration of Havana’s resistance to U.S. pressures.
Because this U.S. policy is viewed as so extreme, no Latin America country is willing to criticize Cuba — almost regardless of its words or actions. Chavez, with his close association with Cuba, possessed some of that immunity — with his neighbors leaving him unaccountable for his violations of democracy, human rights and decency.
From a policy perspective, this gets to the heart of things. It's not that we should change policy to achieve some vague ideal of "engagement" or to do the right thing. We need change because it will alter the incentives of Latin American leaders. We need it because our current policy hurts us more than anyone else.