Obama’s 2115 Words on Latin America


(Obama to Hillary: So you really, really think TV Marti is worth $200 million?!)
Sarah Stephens nudged Barack Obama the other day in a TWN guest blog post on the 13 scant words he offered on Latin America in his recent foreign policy manifesto (that the Washington Post applauded this morning. She otherwise seemed quite complimentary to him and, in my view, pushed her suggestion pretty politely.
A prominent Latin America expert working with one of the more significant progressive think tanks nonetheless considered Sarah Stephens’ remarks an unfair attack on Obama and asked me to give “equal prominence” to the Senator’s 2,115 words on Latin America on March 8, 2007 — when President Bush departed for a six-day, five nation tour in Latin America.
It’s a good speech — and this individual’s suggestion to print it in full is OK by me — though you’ll have to click the link to “continue reading” below to get it. I want to make clear that I was pleased both with Sarah Stephens’ piece as well as by the email that I received in reaction from an Obama fan, though I did write back and encouraged him to take another look at her post.
I think it’s a stretch to characterize her blog post as an “attack” — but such seems to be the general tenor inside some progressive circles who are stressed by the intense electioneering already underway. I hope he recharacterizes his view as “defensiveness” at this stage about healthy suggestions and commentary should be welcomed rather than zapped.
I think it’s also fair of any reasonable advocate to suggest that Barack’s floor speech on March 8th is not as prominent as his Chicago Council on Global Affairs speech that was designed to let us in on his strategic thinking and priorities as a package.
Before I post the speech, I was interested when reading it for any hint of Barack Obama’s views on US-Cuba policy because of my own interest in modernizing an anachronistic Cold War-sculpted relationship that needs review. Barack does not mention Cuba — but in a quick search — I learned that Obama in contrast to Hillary Clinton opposed further funding to the hugely wasteful and entirely ineffective TV Marti. While Obama said he opposed the expense for something ineffective, Clinton’s support of TV Marti is disturbing and seems to me to indicate satisfaction with the “status quo” in US-Cuba policy rather than incremental change.
So, I’m glad for the email and the debate here. Now for some insight into Barack Obama’s thinking on Latin America:

Statement of Senator Obama on Latin America
Thursday, March 8, 2007

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, later today, President Bush will start on a six day visit to five countries in the Western Hemisphere — Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico.
The trip comes at an important time for the region, and for U.S. relations with our hemispheric neighbors. In an historic convergence, during a 13 month period beginning in November, 2005, and ending this past December, a dozen countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean held presidential elections. Those elections are a testament to the tremendous democratic strides made throughout the Americas during the past two decades, and saw governments elected to power that span the ideological spectrum.
In many ways, the election results symbolize the important political, economic, and social change occurring throughout the Americas. As many have noted, the elections gave voice to a yearning across the hemisphere for social and economic development — a yearning among tens of millions of people for a better life. This is a welcome development, and a challenge to all of us who wish to see the Americas continue down a path of democracy with justice. Because while we should welcome this democratic call for change, we must recognize that hard and steady work lies ahead to make these hopes a reality.
That a desire for fundamental change has been expressed through the ballot box is an enormous stride forward. Too often, change in the Americas has occurred in an anti-democratic fashion. Those days must permanently be put to rest. All citizens of the Americas have a fundamental right to live in freedom, and to express themselves through robust democratic institutions.
That a desire for expanded prosperity has been given such clear voice raises the stakes. Governments must now do more to address the basic needs and aspirations of their people in an effective, democratic, and sustainable way. A failure to fulfill the most basic functions of government, and a failure to create the conditions in which tens of millions across the Americas can realize their hopes and break free of poverty could undo these gains. The denial of opportunity is now the most significant threat to the consolidation of democracy in the region.
Unfortunately, the elections and this desire for change have occurred at a time when U.S. prestige and influence have fallen to depths not seen in at least a generation. As has been the case throughout the world, our standing in the Americas has suffered as a result of the misguided policies and actions of the Bush Administration. It will take significant work to repair the damage wrought by six years of neglect and mismanagement of relations.
The United States can ill afford this deterioration of our standing. With each passing day, we draw closer together to our neighbors to the south. This convergence creates new challenges, but it also opens the door to a more hopeful future. If we pay careful attention to developments throughout the region, and respond to them in a thoughtful and respectful way, then we can advance our many and varied national interests at stake in the Americas.
I welcome the President’s decision to travel to five important countries in Latin America, and to reaffirm the importance of our relationship with the more than 500 million people who live to our south. I am, however, disappointed that the President has fallen so short in his promise to transform U.S. relations with the Americas. Our regional relationships cannot be properly attended to with one six-day trip, a series of photo opportunities, and some lofty rhetoric on collaboration.
Nor does the Bush Administration’s declaration of 2007 as the year of engagement with the Americas suffice. One year of engagement out of seven is simply not good enough. In light of the Bush Administration’s woeful record, creating false expectations does more harm than good. We must be realistic about the challenges we face, and what we are doing to address them. We must devote our full time, and our respectful attention to our relations within the hemisphere.
Earlier this week, President Bush spoke of a “social justice” agenda for the Americas. He was right to underscore the importance of addressing the basic needs of millions of our neighbors languishing in poverty. The primary responsibility for doing so, of course, lies with the governments and societies throughout the hemisphere. Yet helping to lift people out of widespread poverty is in our interests, just as it is in accord with our values. When instability spreads to our south, our security and economic interests are at risk. When our neighbors suffer, all of the Americas suffer.
The United States has an important role to play. Yet the President sends a mixed message when he makes his call for a social justice agenda after presenting the Congress with a budget for fiscal year 2008 that, with the exception of HIV/AIDS funding, slashes both assistance for economic development and health programs in the Americas. At a time when our standing in the hemisphere is so low, we cannot afford to send this kind of message. Our commitment to justice in the Americas must be expressed in more than one thoughtful expression in one pre-trip speech. Our commitment must be matched by our deeds, not just our words.
It is my hope that the President will break from his practice of touting the importance of the Americas during his travels only to turn his back upon his return.
Each stop on the President’s trip presents an opportunity to move beyond rhetoric, to renew relations in the hemisphere, and to set a new course for sustained follow-through in a way that advances important U.S. interests.
In Brazil, it has been reported that President Bush is expected to join with President Inacio Lula de Silva to announce greater ethanol cooperation between the United States and Brazil. Together, the United States and Brazil are the world’s largest ethanol producers and consumers. Brazil’s more than 30 years of renewable fuel technology investments allowed it to achieve energy independence last year. Ethanol now accounts for 40 percent of Brazil’s fuel usage. More than 80 percent of cars sold in Brazil today are flex fuel vehicles — capable of running on gasoline, ethanol, or a mixture thereof.
Greater Brazilian production of renewable fuels could boost sustainable economic development throughout Latin America, and reshape the geopolitics of energy in the hemisphere, reducing the oil-driven influence of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The more inter-hemispheric production and use of ethanol and other biofuels occurs, and the more such indigenously-produced renewable fuels are used to replace fossil fuels, the better it is for our friends in the hemisphere.
As it relates to our country’s drive toward energy independence, it does not serve our national and economic security to replace imported oil with Brazilian ethanol. In other words, those who advocate replacement of US-based biofuels production with Brazilian ethanol exports however well intentioned they may be, are both misunderstanding our long term energy security challenge and ignoring a valuable foreign policy opportunity.
The U.S. needs to dramatically expand domestic biofuels production, not embrace a short term fix that discourages investment in the expansion of the domestic renewable fuels in industry. Also, accelerating technology advances and transferring the technology to our neighbors in the Caribbean and South America will help them employ their own resources to produce environmentally clean ethanol to reduce their imported oil bill, thereby promoting economic stability in the Caribbean and South and Central America and strengthen the U.S.-Brazil relationship.
Mr. President, it is vital that President Bush keeps the Congress involved each step forward in a U.S.-Brazil relationship based on renewable fuels. This relationship must be structured so as not to hamper the domestic production of renewable fuels, or the development of new technologies here at home that can enhance our energy security.
In Uruguay, President Bush has the opportunity to forge closer ties with President Tabare Vazquez, and to show that the United States is ready, willing, and able to work productively with democratic-left governments. That this ability is in question and that it requires explaining underscores how badly the President and his administration have misunderstood and mismanaged the political, economic, and social change occurring throughout the Americas. The United States is seen as supporting democracy when it produces a desired result. It is vital to reverse that trend. I hope the President can begin that process, even if we have a long way to go.
The United States has invested a great deal — nearly $5 billion during the past 7 years — to help stabilize Colombia. A more peaceful, just, and stable Colombia is undoubtedly in our national interest. It is imperative, however, that greater peace and stability contribute to a reduction in the flow of drugs from Colombia to the United States. Thus far, we have not seen the kind of drop off that the effective pursuit of our interests demands.
President Bush’s closest ally in the region — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe — is embroiled in a controversy that has led to the arrest of eight of his supporters in the Colombian Congress and his former confidant and former chief of Colombia’s secret police for ties to the country’s narco-terrorist paramilitaries. President Bush must be careful to keep the pursuit of U.S. interests in Colombia distinct from specific personalities, or personal relationships. The further consolidation of legitimate governing institutions in Colombia — and the extension of their reach throughout Colombia — are clearly in the national interest of the United States, and the interest of Colombia.
Guatemala shares deep connections with the United States. Nearly one in ten Guatemalans now lives in the United States. Nearly $3 billion were remitted from the United States to Guatemala in 2005, representing approximately 10 percent of that country’s Gross Domestic Product. Having emerged from decades of internal conflict that left as many as 200,000 of its citizens dead, Guatemala finds itself struggling with a new scourge of violence that is causing instability. Gang and drug-related criminal violence and the country’s staggering levels of poverty pose enormous challenges — challenges that affect our country as well. I am encouraged to see the Bush Administration’s new commitment to supporting a Central American regional approach to combat transnational gangs. This initiative should incorporate the most effective techniques and practices from the United States and from throughout the region. The United States must take the lead in rolling back the detrimental influence of these gangs in our own society, and in Central America.
The relationship between the United States and Mexico is among our most important in the world. Getting it right is vital to advancing our core economic and security interests. To do that, a great deal of work needs to be done. Mexico is making strong efforts to address the drug trade, and is working cooperatively with the United States on a number of security issues. But our complex relationship with Mexico has become captive to a single issue: the immigration debate in our country.
There is consensus that our immigration system is broken. It is past time to fix it, and I am proud of my own support for a workable solution. We need a comprehensive approach to illegal immigration that stops the flow of illegal immigrants across our borders, better manages immigration flows going forward, and deals fairly with the illegal immigrants already living and working in our country. A workable solution will require bipartisan support and I will work to build it. The President has consistently voiced his support for comprehensive immigration reform. It is my hope that upon his return from Mexico he will get to work, converting his words into deeds to help push comprehensive immigration reform forward.
Mr. President a great deal of work needs to be done. We need to restore U.S. relations in the hemisphere. We need to consolidate the gains that have been made in the sweeping change of the last few years. We need to sustain our commitment to democracy, to social justice, and to opportunity for our neighbors to the south. The western hemisphere is too important to our core economic and security interests to be treated with the neglect and mismanagement that have defined the past six years. It is my hope that President Bush’s trip marks the opening of a new chapter of cooperation and partnership — a chapter of partnership with our neighbors to promote democracy with social and economic development for the benefit of all of us who live in the Americas. It is time for the United States to reclaim and renew its historic role as a leader in the hemisphere, and an example of hope for all who seek opportunity in the Americas.
I thank the President and I yield the floor.

— Steve Clemons


15 comments on “Obama’s 2115 Words on Latin America

  1. Greg says:

    Hi Steve,
    I wanted to see if you had anything on the California State Democratic Convention. Being a delegate from the San Francisco/San Mateo region put me in a good seat for the show. It was a great show! I can answer some of your queries about Obama. He took the Convention,and it wasn’t created by the media. It’s actually very old fashioned; he has charisma! I think its been so long since anyone has had this kind of “cult of personality” that some analysts forgot their political science backgrounds. I am not saying that Hillary wasn’t fantastic or that Bill Richardson’s self-deprecation wasn’t well conceived, but I must say that I am looking forward to this presidential election. If Speigel is right, and policy is an extension of the leader, then I hope it is one of the Democratic Candidates I saw this weekend. (Except the congressman from Ohio…no offense)
    Your friend,


  2. Carroll says:

    Posted by Pissed Off American at April 28, 2007 09:57 PM
    Posted by marky at April 28, 2007 11:45 PM
    Right…Obama is a media creation. To me that is reason not to vote for him. Whoever the media promotes is automatically off my list.


  3. Steve Clemons says:

    pt — your comment and question fascinate me. first, let me make clear that I have “not” written any notes or briefs for Hillary Rodham Clinton. . .yet. I would love to — and I may self-initiate some kind of note. My counsel to her, if that is one wants to call it, has been entirely limited to cocktail chatter at a couple of receptions. but I would also write such a memo for Obama, for Joe Biden, for Chris Dodd, for Bill Richardson, for Chuck Hagel, even John McCain — though I think at this point the Senator from Arizona would toss it pretty quick.
    I am in no advisory role at this moment to any of the candidates.
    What fascinates me is that by highlighting some issues about Obama’s relative strengths, weaknesses, and priorities, that it conveys the impression to you that I must be working for the other side. If you familiarize yourself with my blog, you’ll see that I steer a pretty steady course on my national security/foreign policy views — and I try to be fair and even-handed in my commentary. That means I may critique negatively and comment positively on various views of all of them.
    Steve Clemons


  4. James says:

    Robert Scheer, fired from the Los Angeles Times by its Chicago Tribune owners for his consistent denunciation of the cheney administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, has an excellent post up.
    Scheer calls the liars liars. We have come to expect politicians to dissemble and distort. I hold Lieberman with a special degree of contempt, and his protege Barak Obama also. Obama is sufficiently tainted by his closeness to Lieberman, but even absent that baggage, has shown his lack of character and convictions.


  5. marky says:

    I agree that someone is behind Obama’s rise—hell, maybe he doesn’t even know who.
    Bush was anointed as next President way back in 1998, for those of you who remember—it was obvious back then he was the big money canddiate and would be almost impossible to beat.


  6. Pissed Off American says:

    The obvious question, when considering Obama, is who profits by the unprecedented marketing of a virtual unknown on such a scale that it has elevated Obama to his current status. These corporate whores in the mainstream media do not pimp a candidate for no reason. Remember, Obama is being media marketed by the same pseudo fourth estate fuckers that produced and directed the “Lets attack Iraq Show”. There is some major power behind the scenes pushing this guy. Who? And what for? One thing is for sure, if the mainstream media is pushing him, you know it has nothing to do with improving the lot of the average American. There is NO WAY I would trust, much less vote for, a virtual unknown who has suddenly been marketed into a best seller. Something stinks about his rise to popular recognition, and it doesn’t smell good for us peons that aren’t eating at the “Lets Fuck The Taxpayers Cafe”.


  7. pt says:

    Are you advising Hillary Clinton? Have you written memos for her foreign policy team or participated in her campaign in an advisory capacity? I think your readers deserve to know, as we do about all foreign policy experts who are commenting on the candidates.


  8. Zathras says:

    Steve, who wrote Obama’s Latin America statement?
    Most of it is boilerplate that could have been written by any one of dozens of people in Washington, some of them employees of the State Department. Democracy in the region is important, we must respond to developments in a thoughtful and respectful way, our relations with Latin America need more than one six-day Presidential trip, and so on and on. Not many people (including me) will argue with any of this, but there is enough of it here to provoke the thought that some of it was intended as filler, giving the impression of careful thought to people who register the length of the statement but don’t actually read through the whole speech.
    On specifics: Obama’s comments on Brazil boil down to a rejection of importing ethanol from that country, a position one might expect from an Illinois Senator (though some Illinois farmers I’ve spoken with say they’ve never detected much interest in agriculture on Obama’s part. Illinois is a big state, so they may not be representative). This is also President Bush’s position. He doesn’t mention the American sugar program — relevant because Brazil is both a major producer of sugar and makes most of its ethanol from sugar cane. Oddly at a time when climate change as an issue is becoming more salient, Obama doesn’t mention the vast carbon sink in Brazil’s Amazon basin, or a significant (and perfectly valid) reason greater ethanol production in Brazil could be undesirable. This is that deforestation in the Amazon could accelerate if demand for sugar cane to supply the ethanol industry increases.
    Obama mentions the name of Uruguay’s President, but has little else to say about that country. His comments on Colombia attack the administration’s anti-drug policy in that country for not reducing drug shipments to the United States enough. He supports administration efforts to defeat transnational gangs in cooperation with Guatemala and other Central American governments. Finally, Obama agrees with President Bush on immigration.
    At least, that is the suggestion given by this statement. Immigration is a complex and difficult issue; there are probably aspects of it about which Obama, or at least Obama’s supporters, and the administration do not agree. Obama does not address any of them here, and though he nods in the direction of America’s important and complex relationship with Mexico, he has next to nothing to say about any of the subjects affected by that relationship.
    About Cuba, as Steve says, Venezuela, the difficulties these countries create for American policy in the region, the entire Caribbean, in fact about any of the countries Bush was not scheduled to visit, Obama is silent. I don’t point these things out to suggest that I think Obama is a dope. I would suggest that after actually reading the statement one is left with the impression that when the White House announced President Bush was to visit six countries in Latin America, someone in Obama’s organization thought it would be a good idea for Obama to get himself on record giving the statement about Latin America. I don’t object to this at all, in principle. However, after actually reading the speech one is forced to conclude that there isn’t really much there.
    I’d still be interested to know who wrote the statement.


  9. Kathleen says:

    Let’s not forget Ron Paul. It would serve RNC/DNC right if millions of us registered as Repugnicans and nominated Ron Paul. Two Goliaths with one stone, so to speak.
    In the meantime, let’s all call Pelosi and Reid and support HR 1234 to end the war by replacing our troops with UN PeaceKeepers. Perfect Exit Strategy, if you ask me.


  10. Kathleen says:

    Don’t forget Ron Paul. It would serve the RNC/DNC right if millions of us registered as Repugnicans and nominated Ron Paul. Two Goliaths with one stone.
    I wish we could draft Russ Feingold.
    In the meantime, let’s all call Pelosi and Reid and support HR 1234 to end the war.


  11. Carroll says:

    Everyone, including those who promote it, knows that Radio Marti is useless and nothing but a sop to the exile community in Maimi.
    Hillary – NO
    Obama- NO
    Richardson-remains to be seen
    Edwards – has lost his vigor
    Biden – No
    Gravel – only one to tell the truth, good for him
    Dennis – nice but no chance in this society
    Dodd – remains to be seen
    Where is Clark?
    I have joined Unity’08.
    I am done with the establishment unless a miracle occurs.


  12. marky says:

    I don’t have a preferred candidate now, nor do I particularly dislike one now. Even my opinion of Hillary is softening after taking a dive in the last few months. However, out of the top six candidates, Obama is the one with the least experience. Except for Edwards, the other candidates have a long track record. When it comes to Obama, I don’t have any strong sense why he is running now, besides his popularity. He has a lot of intelligence and political ability, but I don’t see anything distinguishing about him yet. Sure, he’s trying to help solve the Iraq problems, but so are Edwards and Hillary, in their own ways. Richardson’s blunt opinions about the war are refreshing too.
    I don’t know exactly what would make me feel more confident about Obama’s qualifications to be President, but I sure as hell know that a dozen more diaries on DailyKos about why experience doesn’t matter (only when you’re considering Obama, of course) will only make me less enthusiastic.
    Without a compelling reason to disregard his age and lack of experience, I don’t see why I shouldn’t vote for any of the other 5.


  13. Corinne says:

    Unfortunately Steve, you’re going to see a lot of that Pavlovian-type response whenever Obama’s name is mentioned: any questions about Obama’s positions are immediately perceived as “unfair attacks.” It’s as though we’re supposed to accept whatever he says uncritically and unquestioningly.
    Here’s a question I’d like to see answered: Why is Obama going to Robert Rubin for economic policy advice when Rubin presided over the layoff of tens of thousands of employees? [Robert’s son Jamie Rubin, is a major Wall Street fund-raiser for Barack Obama. His former deputy chief of staff, Karen Kornbluh, is Obama’s chief domestic policy adviser, and Rubin is also close to Obama’s chief of staff, Steve Hildebrand.]
    Barack Obama should be held to the same standards and scrutiny that other candidates are and this sense that somehow he shouldn’t by characterizing any questions as being “unfair” is ridiculous.


  14. David N says:

    Speaking of not reading the fine print.
    I read the WaPo article on the voting records of Obama and Clinton, and a finer reprint of an RNC press release I have not seen. Another example of the so-called liberal press carrying water for Republicans.
    Point one: I am automatically suspicious of using votes by themselves as an indicator of a Senator or Representative’s stance. From the vitriol spouted by Zell Miller at the 2004 Repubican convention, to the slander used to defeat Max Cleland in Georgia, the Republicans have distorted votes and their meaning, and they clearly will not stop doing it in this election cycle, since with the MSM’s help it has been such an effective lie.
    Thus, when Republicans and the media — same thing — talk about what votes mean, I just ignore them, and all thinking Americans should do the same.
    As to TV Marti. I worked in the Television Division of USIA during the Charlie Wick (Reagan’s best friend) era, so can speak to this with some knowledge. At the time it was established, with the radiosonde derrigibles borrowed from the Air Force, this was an attempt to placate the Florida Cuban bloc on the cheap. Everyone involved in the effort knew it was mainly a jobs program for Miami Cubans, and nothing more. Even Radio Marti, marginally more effective, had trouble getting through the interferance; the TV signal was completely blocked from day one. Washington management in either USIA or the TV Division never had any say in what went on with either TV or Radio Marti, whose studios and management were located in Miami, far from any effective oversight.
    One of the many inaccuracies in the WaPo article is that the Congress has been trying to kill TV Marti; the fact is that it was a Congressional initiative from the beginning that USIA and the Reagan administration never wanted. Even Wick was against it, but knew that it was not a fight worth waging against the Congressional interests who were willing to throw money at this boondogle. He needed Congressional support to get money thrown at his own boondogles, such as “America Today” and the entire WorldNet TV system.
    What amazes me is the continual attempts by Democrats to suck up to the Miami Cuban community, even though it is a given that these people are not going to vote for a Democrat in a national election. If there ever was a chance for that, Janet Reno ended that in her entirely correct but badly mismanaged decision in the Ellian Gonzales case. However, Clinton again saw this as a losing battle over an insignificant program that gained him nothing, so he let the Florida Congressional delegation have its way with this program.
    If there is now some chance that TV Marti will be zeroed out, great. But given the trillions being wasted by this administration over the last six years on far more disastrous matters, the couple of millions saved by killing this useless program — or by killing the several thousand other useless programs that Congress has created over the last sixty years — is meaningless.
    The only purpose of the WaPo article is to provide cover and citations for the Right-Wing Republican Propaganda Machine in its attacks on whoever the Democrats nominate next year. Shame on any of us who take this seriously.


  15. Kathleen says:

    It’s all well and good for Obama to claim he was against the war in Iraq from the beginning, before he was in any hot seat, but judging from his comments on Iran at the debates this week, I’d say he’s ready to gobble up the same kind of B.S. on Iran. He mentioned that he knew of no scientitific experts who disclaim that Iran is developoing nuclear weapoons. Helooooo, Obama? Ever heard of the UN? El Baradei, head of the UN IAEA has been saying all along that Iran is NO developing weapons grade uranium and is years away from that capablility. In fact Iran has voluntarilly submitted to UN Weapons Inspections. I can only assume that Obama doesn’t bother reading the fine print. Why would I trust his to research thoroughly his positions on Latin America?
    I’m sorry, but while I think he has tremendous potential, he’s an acorn and I want an oak tree.


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