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Obama Must Look South

La Opinin, Editorial, Staff Posted: Jan 17, 2009

Relationships between the U.S. and Latin America are complex and always changing. Political swings in each nation affect the nature of the bonds between countries in the region. The election of Barack Obama as President is a fresh opportunity for better communication with the rest of the hemisphere.

President George W. Bushs Texas background, along with with his familiarity with the Latin culture, led to thinking that his administration would have a good relationship with the rest of the Americas. The 9-11 terrorist attacks changed the course of his presidency, bringing the Middle East and weapons of mass destruction to the center of attention of foreign policy.

Concerning foreign relations, Obama begins with the advantage of the worldwide good will generated by his election victory. This stands in sharp contrast to Bushs unpopularity in the rest of the world as a result of his aggressive foreign policy.

In this regard, the most important relationship in Latin America for the United States is with Mexico, the next-door neighbor as well as a leading partner in trade. Bush had a close relationship with Mexicos panista presidents as a result of shared conservative outlook and, prior to the terrorist attacks, he placed security issues at a high position on the list of bilateral priorities, along with trade, borders and immigration and other matters.

Obama needs to further firm up relations with Mexico, especially in security oncerns, given the growing threats from the drug cartels. Regardless of the border wall now under construction, Mexico and the U.S. are more interdependent than ever, and good communication is of vital importance.

In Central America, support for democracy, which is threatened by corruption and violence, is crucial. In particular, help in the form of Temporary Protection Status (TPS) is needed for citizens of Guatemala who are in the U.S.

Trade and investment, together with respect for democracy, should form the foundation for a durable relationship. Colombia deserves approval of the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. The harrassment of Hugo Chvezs Venezuela is favoring that head of state who loves to boast about his anti-imperialism crusade. This follows the footsteps of the embargo of Cuba. The way to promote change in that island is by building relationships.

In Latin America there are many different countries which quite properly are concerned with their own interests. They have things in common and points of divergence, different views on trade; some are richer, others poorer; nevertheless, they have similar aspirations for development and growth.

The incoming Obama administration needs to accept this diversity and, from a regional viewpoint, to negotiate with respect. It must defend American interests, while recognizing that among them is the progress of the Western Hemisphere in general. This is a great time to rediscover Latin America.

Related Articles:

Our Man Obama -- The Post-Imperial Presidency

New America Now: A Cuba Special

Obama: Face of Americas Mestisaje

Will Obama Make the Mistake of Latin American Leaders?

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