Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Obama's Not-So-Excellent Latin American Adventure

By now you've probably heard about the Secret Service prostitution scandal that has totally overshadowed President Obama's trip to participate in the Summit of the Americas, a gathering of the nations of Latin America – plus the United States and Canada, this past weekend in Cartagena, Colombia.  After reading this report from Reuters, maybe the Secret Service distraction isn't a bad thing.

While the White House is touting the signing of a free-trade agreement between the United States and Colombia as an accomplishment from the Summit, most of the focus seems to be falling on the United States increasingly diminishing role in Latin American affairs, quite a step back for the US, which since the time of the Monroe Doctrine has considered Latin America to be our backyard.  But that attitude may be part of the reason for the split.  Latin American governments are finding the United States to be increasingly more arrogant and demanding in its bilateral dealings with them, and indications are that they are growing tired of the long-standing status quo.

The most visible sign of this split is the public rebuke suffered by the US and Canada over Cuba.  The two nations pushed a motion to bar inviting Cuba to future Summits unless Cuba engaged in massive political reforms. None of the Summit's other 32 participants signed on to the resolution.  The nations of Latin America meanwhile are charting a course that isn't dependent on the United States.  China is pouring money into investments in a host of Latin American nations, while Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has been promoting the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), as a US-free alternative to existing regional bodies like the Organization of American States.

Critics will likely be quick to blame the failure of the United States at the Summit on Pres. Obama, but as one State Dept. official noted to Reuters, many of the wedge issues between the US and Latin America have been brewing for decades.  And a number of Latin American leaders said that they truly appreciated President Obama's attendance at the Summit and his apparent interest in the discussions and decision-making process, even if they disagree with the official positions of the United States.  And a major driver of the US-Latin American split is the growing economic clout of a number of nations in the region, particularly Brazil, which is a member of the BRICS group of the world's top-performing emerging economies.  Brazil's statue will be boosted by their deepwater oil reserves, which could net the country vast amounts of money from crude oil exports, and Brazil's hosting of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.
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