Obama’s Strategic Approach to Latin America


Sarah Stephens, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, got this fantastic clip of Barack Obama speaking about US policy towards Latin America at the TC Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia — and made some apt comments about Cuba and Venezuela.

This is a great clip and an example of Barack Obama-style foreign policy that I strongly support. I just haven’t heard much from him reflecting this kind of strategic sense of key factors and their synergies applied to other regions of the world.
But in this talk, he reiterates his intention to engage the world’s tough leaders — and mentions Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro as examples.
Obama emphasizes that we’ve been “neglecting” Latin America because of our distraction in Iraq — and he’s absolutely right. He weaves in China by suggesting that it is “sending the diplomats” and “building roads all throughout Latin America.” Again, he’s right on this.
In a perfect world I would have liked to hear him say that opening up travel with Cuba, and commerce, and exchange with Americans writ large — engagement in its fullest sense — would be the way to send a signal not only through Latin America but globally that America is ready to take a very different course in its relations with the entire world. The Cold War rages at its worst still in only one place and that is in US-Cuba relations. Even North Korea is rapidly thawing.
Furthermore, my own realist edge wants us to engage Cuba and Cubans — for our interests — as a warming on that front will put some speed bumps in the way of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez who has been trying to position himself as the inheritor of Fidel Castro’s mantle in South and Central America.
Obama has been great on US-Cuba policy generally, so my hopes to hear more on this — more regularly — may be misplaced.
But it is useful to hear this kind of detail from Obama about foreign policy — particularly his awareness of China’s global charm offensive and of the costs of American distraction in the Middle East.
— Steve Clemons


7 comments on “Obama’s Strategic Approach to Latin America

  1. JohnH says:

    What Obama said! The key to it: “what we want to develop is the kind of relationship of mutual dignity, mutual respect.” What is “the very different course in…relations” that Steve Clemens advocates? Is it mutual respect, or is it extensive engagement under US hegemony? The two are mutually exclusive.


  2. judec says:

    Wonderful! Thank you.


  3. questions says:

    Question for the day is why haven’t we always engaged constructively with Latin American countries and, come to think of it, with a lot of countries in the Middle East and in Africa? I think my answer is that economic concerns related to extractive industries get in the way of anything that is even mildly humanitarian. Put a leftist in power, one who wants to nationalize mines and wells and fields, and U.S. corporations are not going to be happy. Will any Dem be able to go up against industry and allow leftist governments to do their thing? Will industry be convinced that a “charm offensive” is the only counter we have to China’s gaining resources from “our” clients? And is it really the slightest bit humane to play this game?


  4. judyo says:

    Obama is “playing to the masses” … talking policy on the “stump”, especially foreign policy, doesn’t sell in Topeka. We got what we have because people would like have a beer with Bush. That’s the audience that the candidates have to play to, day in and day out. When we do hear policy discussion, it’s a relief to some of us but, unfortunately, it is no longer what gets one elected.


  5. Tom A says:

    Nice to hear him echo elements from Parag Khanna’s wonderful argument in the NY Times. I’m looking forward to the release of Khanna’s book – and to the possibility of a new foreign policy that recognizes essential changes in geopolitical alignments that have been neglected by the other candidates running for office this year.


  6. selise says:

    i’m no fan of bush’s cuba policy, his coup against aristide or support of the attempted coup against chavez, but it does seem to me that most of latin america has done much better with bush’s neglect than clinton’s enforcement of the neoliberal “washington consensus.”


  7. george says:

    I totally agree. He is actually way ahead of Senator Clinton on this who is for continuing President Bush’s policy of the embargo. I am a second generation Cuban American whom still has family in Cuba. After 40 years it is pretty evident that the embargo has not accomplished it goal. Additionally, the hypocrisy of keeping it in place when we do business with China and others is myopic in trying to engage the Cuban leaders and people. Also his foreign policy of engaging and talking to our enemies is something that has been missing here for 8 yrs. I had originally be leaning towards Edwards, however have shifted my support to Obama. We need more of this type of engagement to repair our standing in the world


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