Thursday, July 28, 2016

Does the Democratic Platform Matter for Latin America?

As I've been writing about the Democratic and Republican platforms (see a Spanish version here) I was asked about how much President Obama had adhered to the platforms written during his election campaigns.

I knew that in 2008 he had talked about opening up to Cuba, which he then later accomplished. But I hadn't realized the 2008 platform said almost the exact opposite.

And we must build ties to the people of Cuba and help advance their liberty by allowing unlimited family visits and remittances to the island, while presenting the Cuban regime with a clear choice: if it takes significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the unconditional release of all political prisoners, we will be prepared to take steps to begin normalizing relations.

Of course, normalization started without preconditions. The rest of the 2008 platform is really hawkish, all about war, toughness, and WMDs, as Democrats felt the need to avoid getting labeled as soft. The Latin America part is entirely platitudes, similar to 2016. Venezuela does not even get mentioned. Obama himself was pretty far ahead of (and more progressive than) the party.

In 2012, the platform writers forgot about 2008 and just talked about how Obama had done some bold things for Cuba.

Under President Obama, we have undertaken the most significant efforts in decades to engage the Cuban people. We have focused on the importance of the family ties between Cuban Americans and their relatives still living under oppression. Because of steps the President has taken, it is now possible for Cuban Americans to visit and support their families in Cuba, and to send remittances that reduce the Cuban people’s dependence on the Cuban state. We have taken additional steps to bolster Cuban civil society, expanding purposeful exchanges that bolster independent religious groups on the island and enhancing the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people. Going forward we will continue to support the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their own future. 

In Venezuela, Democrats would "promote" democracy, with no details. That also is the same as now.

So did the platforms matter? They're mostly useful for the tone they set. In 2008, the party began to distance itself from the Cuba policy orthodoxy--indeed, the 2004 Democratic platform was still talking about regime change in Cuba. Obama moved much faster than the Democratic Party itself, but they were moving in the same direction.

The 2016 platform reflects the division within the Democratic Party, especially with regard to free trade. Although Hillary Clinton has been strongly pro-free trade for many years, if elected her policies will have to take the division into consideration as she tries to get things passed in Congress.


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