Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Report Calls for Fresh Approach to Latin America

There are 55 days until Jan. 20, 2009.


Report Calls for Fresh Approach to Latin America


By Mark Landler


The New York Times


November 24, 2008


WASHINGTON - With the election of Barack Obama, the United States has a fresh chance to reinvigorate its relations with Latin America, according to a new report that recommends Washington overhaul its drug policies at home and pursue a rapprochement with Cuba.


The report, compiled by prominent former policy-makers from the United States and Latin America and scheduled for release on Monday by the Brookings Institution, called on the new administration to put Latin America at the center of its foreign policy radar screen.


Among the most striking recommendations is a near-total reversal in policy toward Cuba. The report advocates lifting all restrictions on travel by Americans, promoting more contacts with Cuban diplomats and taking Cuba off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.


'This may make the over-40 generation of Cuban- Americans in Miami jump-up-and-down mad, but there is a whole generation of Cuban-Americans who want to change this relationship,' said Thomas R. Pickering, a longtime diplomat and former under secretary of state.


Mr. Pickering, who once served as American ambassador to El Salvador, is co-chairman of a commission that produced the report, along with the former president of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo.


Younger Cuban-Americans, Mr. Pickering said, are less interested in isolating the Castro government than in bettering the conditions of their families still living in Cuba. Lowering barriers between Cuba and the United States, the report says, would enable other voices to emerge there.


The report sets out several other specific and general measures, including Congressional approval of free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and a re- evaluation of American counternarcotics policy - the war on drugs - which it condemns as a failure.


'We've been reluctant to acknowledge this in the United States,' Mr. Pickering said. 'We don't want to shine a spotlight on ourselves; we want to shine it on places where the stuff is coming from.'


Efforts to eradicate drug production in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia have become less successful as drug traffickers have moved their operations farther into the jungle, Mr. Pickering said. While these efforts must go on, he said the United States needed to stem demand at home.


The number of heroin and cocaine addicts in the United States, the report says, has not changed much since the mid-1980s, a fact that the report attributes to a failure to reduce production and to an ineffectiveness among American drug prevention and treatment programs.


Mr. Zedillo said in a telephone interview that drug trafficking, fueled by such a huge and hungry market, had spread throughout Latin America and should no longer be thought of as a Colombian, Mexican or Bolivian problem.


The report was equally blunt about trade policy, saying that Congress needed to pass the Colombia trade deal to maintain the credibility of the United States. Then, it said, the United States should de-emphasize bilateral deals in favor of reviving the moribund trade negotiations known as the Doha Round.


The election of Mr. Obama sends mixed signals on the Colombia trade issue. Some analysts said they believed Mr. Obama remained, at core, a believer in globalization and free trade. But as a senator, he resisted passage of the Colombia deal because of concerns about violence toward union officials there.


'How a President Obama, working with a Democratic Congress, reconciles those goals and principles is going to be tricky,' said Strobe Talbott, the Brookings Institution president.


Protectionist sentiment is likely to intensify because of the economic crisis, Mr. Talbott said. The crisis has already hit Brazil and Mexico hard, though Mr. Zedillo noted that they were better equipped to bounce back than during previous upheavals because of sounder economic policies.


If the Colombia deal dies, trade experts said, it will mainly penalize American exporters, since Colombian exports to the United States already enjoy favorable terms. But the experts said it could undermine Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, one of the region's most pro-American leaders.


Mr. Obama's election, experts said, could change the tenor of relations with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, whose periodic anti-American outbursts have poisoned ties with a once-reliable ally.


'Hugo Chavez is conscious of the fact that Barack Obama is on his side of the fence, representing the downtrodden side of American society,' Mr. Pickering said. 'Does he really want to take on Obama?'


The report does not criticize the Bush administration, though it says that relations with Latin America have languished in recent years because the White House has been preoccupied with other matters.


As it happens, President Bush made his last scheduled foreign trip over the weekend to Peru, for a meeting of leaders from Asia-Pacific countries. But in a sign of the White House's agenda, his crucial one-on-one meeting before the conference was with China's president, Hu Jintao.


China has established a foothold in several countries in Latin America as a trading partner and investor, according to the report, which predicted Beijing would vie with Washington for influence.


Thomas A. Shannon Jr., the assistant secretary of state responsible for Latin America, said the report was constructive, though its call for closer ties with Cuba did not confront the fact that this would depend on the Cuban government's moving toward democracy, something it has not done.


Mr. Shannon also disputed the contention that the United States had neglected Latin America, pointing out that Mr. Bush's trip to Peru was his ninth to the region as president.


Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


No comments: