As President Barack Obama sets out to renew relations with Latin
America, Spain is expected to take on a bigger role by using its
back-door diplomatic channels in countries like Venezuela and Cuba.
Spain, considered the second-most influential country in Latin
America after the United States, is taking the leading role in
developing a common transatlantic agenda - an effort that could
advance both nations' shared objectives of drug interdiction,
improved human rights, and the fostering democratic institutions,
diplomats and analysts say.
The Obama administration, mindful of the recent interest paid to
Latin America by China and Russia, has been eager to work with Spain
on a new partnership regarding the region, which could have profound
effects on US relations with its neighbors in the hemisphere,
including the prickly governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua,
Cuba, and, to a lesser extent, Ecuador and Argentina.
"There is a greater effort to talk about Latin America," says
Spain's ambassador the US, Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo. "When I
talk about other issues, [US officials] respectfully listen, but
when I talk about Latin America, they take out a pencil and take
Although the European Union and the US have broadly shared policy
goals toward Latin America, their tactics have differed, as was the
case last year when the EU unilaterally lifted sanctions on Cuba.
The effort toward a shared approach comes as Obama unveils his Latin
America policy at the Summit of the Americas, which begins Friday in
Trinidad and Tobago.
Spain is thought to be playing a strong role in boosting dialogue
between Cuba and the US. Spain has strongly supported the Obama
administration's recent decision to ease travel and remittance
restrictions, as well as opening the door to American investment in
the communist island's telecommunication sector. Cuba's President
Raul Castro responded Friday by saying his country was open to talk
"We have sent messages to the US government in private and in
public that we are willing to discuss everything, whenever they
want," he said while in Venezuela during a meeting with his
ideological allies, which include Nicaragua and Bolivia. US
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her way to Trinidad
and Tobago, said the US was also open to talks.
It wasn't clear whether Spain was a go-between for both
countries. But a diplomatic source in Spain's Foreign Affairs
Ministry, who asked to remain anonymous, said Obama and Spanish
President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero discussed US-planned
overtures toward Cuba during their first official meeting earlier
this month in Prague. President Zapatero has also met Vice President
Joseph Biden, and top ranking officials from both countries meet
regularly, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her
counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos.
Ambassador Dezcallar says that the US has in the past asked Spain
to intercede on its behalf when it clashed with Latin American
leaders, although he declined to cite concrete examples. "They
recognize our ability to pass along messages and to mitigate
diplomatic incidents, big and small."
A bridge to Cuba through Spain?
For now, at least, the talk between Cuba and the US remains just
that. Zapatero's leverage with Havana will be helpful for the tough
diplomatic work ahead, says Florida International University (FIU)
professor and Latin America policy expert Eduardo Gamarra. …