Sarah Stephens is executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas and sent this blog post in the form of an open letter to The Washington Note
Dear Senator Obama:
I just had the pleasure of reading your foreign policy address before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It was an eloquent statement about a post-Iraq foreign policy that can make our country safer, and win a new hearing from allies and adversaries in the world about our intentions and aspirations for the future.
While I realize that no speech can tackle every subject, and those that try will invariably fail, I still wondered why your address contained just thirteen words about the entirety of Latin America.
In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people. When narco-trafficking and corruption threaten democracy in Latin America, it’s America’s problem too. . .
And that was it.
To be sure, if one looks past our border — to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America — you will see corruption and an active trade in illegal drugs. But if that is all you see, you miss nearly 600 million people and how estranged we are from their problems due to the irrelevance of U.S. policy to their lives.
For more than a generation, the United States has failed to offer a constructive foreign policy in the Americas. Instead, we have diminished our country’s influence by demonizing leaders we cannot depose, railing against developments we cannot control, and hiding behind the false security of a wall that has deeply aggrieved our neighbors throughout the hemisphere.
There are better, more relevant answers to the problems of this region, and in a speech that is yet to be written, we hope to hear them echoing in your campaign.
For starters, we need to get serious about income inequality in the Americas, a problem which connects to everything from migration to instability and gangs.
We need a fast and thorough education about how our policy debates on issues like trade liberalization affect our image in the region and how votes in favor of constructing a wall reverberate and boomer-rang against us.
We need a new policy toward Cuba, one that reflects the national interest rather than the exaggerated strength of one Florida constituency. Make no mistake: reforming this policy will help reframe the image of the United States across Latin America.
Finally and more broadly, we need to stop dictating to the nations of the Americas and start listening to them as the neighbors they are and the partners they are largely eager to be.
More, of course, can be said and done. But let me close with this thought.
Senator, we share a common border and a range of common interests with the people of the Americas. Their problems affect our security and well-being, and they demand the attention of a foreign policy that has importantly addressed so many of the other challenges our nation is facing.
I hope you will consider these ideas and say more about the region in your next address.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas