Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2015 SOTU Latin America Roundup

At least in recent years, Latin America does not get a lot of attention in the State of the Union. For the most part, this is a good thing. The region tends to be front and center when U.S. policy makers are hysterical about threats, which leads to bad policy (e.g. President Reagan's 1988 speech glorified the Nicaraguan "freedom fighters"). In past addresses from President Obama, the region has made an appearance primarily in terms of immigration and free trade. Once the Colombia FTA was went into effect in 2012, the latter fell off.

Obama did mentioned Cuba in last night's State of the Union address:

In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date. When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new. Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people. And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo. As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of “small steps.” These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba. And after years in prison, we’re overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs. Welcome home, Alan.

Nothing to argue about there. Nice job slipping in the Pope as well, in part a hat tip to the Vatican's role in getting the two sides together. I have to imagine this is the first positive mention of Cuba in any president's SOTU.

Compared to past years, immigration got relatively minimal attention but he was very direct:

Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is taken from her child, and that it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

The Republican shadow SOTU mentioned neither immigration nor Cuba. Indirectly there was one sentence: "We'll work to correct executive overreach." I wonder whether this is a bone to the right but an acknowledgment that openly opposing the executive actions for immigration and Cuba would be too politically costly.

Update: Dara Lind at Vox points out that the Republican response from Carlos Curbelo was different in Spanish. It mentions immigration reform approvingly, hedges on "correcting" executive overreach, and criticizes Cuba policy. He mentioned Cuba because he is the son of Cuban exiles (and is a Republican from Florida). It's worth mentioning too that sending a different message in Spanish has been common for Republicans in presidential races.


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