There has of recent been a flurry of reports suggesting that Obama change course in Latin America. This is generally a good thing.
The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) wrote an insightful analysis. They say that we have a “unique window of opportunity” and note that Obama’s positions on Latin America range from the good to the quite bad:
We face what could be the most important moment in hemispheric relations in nearly a decade. Obama has made it clear that he will move decisively to re-engage with a Latin America that he sees as having been ignored under eight years of Bush. But the Obama campaign was a constant source of contradictions when it came to the Americas: He indicated a willingness to be more open toward Cuba, but reiterated his support for the embargo; he indicated that he supports a humane policy toward undocumented immigrants, but he wants to further militarize the U.S.-Mexico border; he supports human and labor rights in Colombia, but is unambiguous in his support for Plan Colombia and its counterpart in Mexico, the Mérida Initiative. These equivocations indicate that a range of actual policies is possible under Obama, presenting both an opportunity and a challenge: We must push the Obama administration, as well as the national conversation, in a more progressive direction on hemispheric relations. Now is the time to make our voices heard.
In fact, NACLA is working with the Latin American Solidarity Coalition (LASC) to build a nation-wide network to push Obama in a more progressive direction in the region. According to NACLA editor Christy Thornton, “We felt strongly that if we ignore the policy issue, we are ceding the debate to the Beltway think tanks, and we think that the grassroots Left needs to be involved.” Look out for teach-ins in Washington DC, Chicago and the Bay Area starting in February.
And as I have previously noted in this blog, a group of pretty darn (pardon the Palinism) prestigious Latin American studies scholars have encouraged Obama to engage with the new Latin American Left, rather than vilifying it and using extra-legal methods to remove it from power.
And then there is the recent Brookings Institution report. The report merits some attention given that it comes from an institution that is a political anchor of the center-liberal establishment, the sort of group that Obama is likely to listen to. The report has some bright spots, such as encouraging better relations with Cuba and Venezuela. The report goes on, however, to push for the quick passage of a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia—a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.
It is unclear how pushing “free” trade policies, the rejection of which has been the center of Latin American politics for the past two decades, is going to win us any new friends in the region.