DIPLOMACY: The U.S. Knocks on Open Doors

By Starr, Joel E. | Americas Quarterly, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

DIPLOMACY: The U.S. Knocks on Open Doors


Starr, Joel E., Americas Quarterly


A new dawn may be on the horizon for U.S. relations in the Hemisphere. Fresh from meeting his hemispheric counterparts at the Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to use the political goodwill he has generated to revive existing partnerships or create new multilateral relationships. More dynamic and harmonious relationships would not only open areas for collaboration and provide the conditions for greater regional prosperity and growth, but also serve to blunt the worrying trend of cash-forinfluence politics.

United States efforts to engage in the Hemisphere continue to gain ground. In fact, the previous U.S. administration, while sometimes accused of neglecting the region, actually doubled foreign assistance to Latin America to $1.85 billion in 2009. Nine free-trade agreements (FTAs) were negotiated in the region and, of those, seven passed, and two-Colombia and Panama-are pending. The U.S. also forgave $19 billion in foreign debt to Latin America and the Caribbean's poorest countries, and Peace Corps funding for the region increased by 30 percent. Poverty rates, which had been inching up in 2002, dramatically declined almost 10 percentage points to 35.1 percent of the population by 2007.

But there's more work to be done. This is what I found during two congressional delegation trips in 2008, where we met with the presidents of Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. What struck me was how our conversations differed from their public messages-both about Venezuela and the United States. Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo shared with us a message for the new U.S. president: "Tell Obama that the President of Paraguay dreams of a different Latin America. Tell him we should have a relationship we dream to have."

In Ecuador, when the conversation turned to Venezuela, President Rafael Correa referred to President Hugo Chávez as his "friend," but noted that "Ecuadorian policy is done by Ecuadorians." In Chile, President Michelle Bachelet recalled to us that "Latin America has proved our democratic values and [it] must be a platform to build upon for all countries in the region. …

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