Shortly before the end of the Bush administration in January 2009, I met with a senior official covering hemispheric affairs who said point blank, “You’re going to miss us when we’re gone. We actually accomplished a lot more than anyone gives us credit for.” The opening of the George W. Bush Library in Dallas today offers an opportunity for an early assessment of the Bush administration in hemispheric affairs, now that there is a little distance in time since the administration left office.
In hindsight, there is a lot to give the administration credit for doing.
Those who routinely dismiss the Bush administration’s efforts in the region as counterproductive or worse cite an overwhelming focus on the effort against Al Qaeda and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the facility at Guantánamo, and region-specific issues—such as the inartful steps by the Treasury that arguably contributed to (but did not cause) Argentina’s financial collapse, vocal support for a failed coup in Venezuela in 2002 and a proclivity to view hemispheric affairs through the Cuba lens.
I worked in the Clinton White House and have a certain sympathy for several of these criticisms, but a focus on this narrative to the exclusion of anything else is a caricature that begs a more even-handed historical assessment. Most significantly, it would be ahistorical to try to disaggregate policy toward Latin America from the global effort against terrorism in the wake of 9/11; virtually any administration faced with a similarly significant attack on the U.S. homeland would seek to mobilize efforts globally against the attackers. Meanwhile, the continued operation of Guantánamo as a terrorist holding facility deep into the Obama administration, despite efforts to close it, shows the vexing nature of the issue—and gives license to question the motivation of those who condemn Guantánamo as a stain on the Bush administration’s hemispheric record but have little to say about the matter under the Obama administration.
News that Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope yesterday set off wild celebrations in Argentina and give further support to the oft-cited sentiment that God is Argentine. How could He be otherwise?
Having come from seemingly out of the mix, new Pope Francis was not unknown but neither was he apparently a front-runner in the election to succeed Benedict. Of course, if you believe that the election was the pre-ordained manifestation of God’s sovereign will, then it hardly matters whether he was well-known or not.
What’s interesting from the Latin American perspective is that, as I pointed out in my blog post of February 13, the region is now not just a recipient of missionaries but a significant source of missionaries worldwide—both Catholic and Protestant—and arguably the most vibrant, growing region for the Christian faith.
That the new pope was drawn from the Americas is a recognition of these demographic trends, and acknowledgement that a new, non-European perspective would be valuable in addressing the concerns of the modern Catholic Church.
This week’s announcement that Pope Benedict XVI has resigned and will relinquish his official papal duties at the end of the month has brought into relief the important role of the Catholic Church in Latin America, and the important role of Latin America in the Catholic Church. Home to over 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, some Latin Americans are suggesting that the next Pope to be elected should—for the first time in history—come from outside Europe and, specifically, that he should come from Latin America.
Whatever the merits arguing in favor of a geographic approach to Church leadership, the discussion highlights an important point: increasingly, the vibrancy of the Catholic Church is coming not from its traditional base in Europe and North America, but from developing regions of the world.
Much as a shift in broader global governance is underway, with power diversifying from north to south, this pattern is being repeated in the religious sphere as well—not just in the Catholic Church, but even more so in Protestant evangelical churches.
For years, the growing influence of evangelicals across Latin America has been noted by observers. Adherents have multiplied dramatically, building on a base established primarily but not exclusively from North American missionaries working within the region. But the pattern of evangelization is rapidly changing. In fact, according to Dr. Rodolfo Girón, for many years a pioneer in Latin American missions, the mentality of Latin American evangelical churches is changing from being receivers of missionaries to being senders of missionaries.
Enrique Peña Nieto’s meeting today with President Obama and other senior U.S. government officials in Washington sets the stage for a productive and vibrant bilateral relationship, but challenges await. As expected, the atmospherics surrounding the brief visit are welcoming and congratulatory. Both leaders seek to establish a meaningful personal connection that will carry them through the coming years of inevitable ups and downs in a dense and fluid bilateral relationship—one of the most complicated, yet potentially rewarding, in the world. At the same time, they are anxious to discuss the outlines of the agenda anticipated under a Peña Nieto presidency, including energy and tax reform, social security, and security, all areas that impact Mexico’s global competitiveness and priority areas for reform.
Fundamentally, these are issues for Mexicans to address. The United States can nonetheless assist the new president by taking actions that are in our own self-interest. Foremost among these is immigration reform, which President Obama has promoted as an issue for 2013. The United States could also do more to promote the rule of law, first by curtailing our own demand for illegal drugs and also by curtailing the supply of automatic weapons and ill-gotten financial gains from the United States to Mexico.
But the real opportunity, as Mexico’s Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan has suggested, is to move from a transactional to a strategic relationship, much like the United States enjoys with Canada, especially in the economic sphere. The three nations of North America now make up an integrated platform for manufacturing and production; for example, it no longer makes sense to talk about cars that are “made in America.” Now, they are made in North America, as are numerous other products. Rather than resisting this trend, we should be celebrating and promoting it, because doing so makes our own economy more efficient and our people more prosperous, as it does with both Mexico and Canada.
This is a rush, unedited transcript of the presidential debate on foreign policy at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida on October 22, 2012:
Welcome and thanks, 50 years after the Cuban missile crisis and as a segue I want to ask about...Libya...talking point...Afghanistan in 2014, maybe, maybe not...talking point...Iraq!...horses and bayonets...Iran will never get nukes...talking point...the 1980s called and they want their foreign policy back...talking point...you want to cut defense...do not...do too...sequestration will NOT happen...liar, liar, pants on fire...talking point...Iran will NOT get nukes...the U.S. economy is bad...it’s better...it’s worse...I know how to fix it...you have never done foreign policy...Iran!...China is a big country far away, they do bad things to their money, it hurts us...it helps your off-shored investments...yours too...talking point...we are the world’s beacon of hope...did I mention Iran?...please vote for me...please vote for me.
This is only an approximation of how the “foreign policy” debate went. Still, the evening was a play for undecided voters in swing states—with the economy as the hook. An outside observer would be hard-pressed to believe that U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century had to do with anything beyond the Middle East; Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Iran, Iraq, and Syria were all discussed at some length over the course of 90 minutes. What about Europe? China was debated briefly at the end, and received what seemed like cursory attention especially since much of the viewing audience had long gone over to watch baseball and football games. Governor Mitt Romney purposefully brought Latin America into the mix on the trade and economic front, but the issues were not pursued and were quickly dropped.
Nuclear proliferation? Global climate change? The South China Sea? Japan? The use of force? Nothing.
Today in Los Cabos, Mexico, at the G-20 summit, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk welcomed Mexico into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement currently under negotiation by nine Pacific nations. Mexico is an obvious and logical country for participation, particularly given the NAFTA relationship with the United States and Canada, and expressed interest in joining last November at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Hawaii. Canada also expressed interest in the TPP at the same time, and will presumably be welcomed in the short term once last minute kinks in the pre-negotiation process are worked out.
Until today, Mexico and Canada were the two remaining APEC nations in the Western Hemisphere outside the TPP negotiations. Having them on board will strengthen the negotiations by bringing significant added economic heft, support increased hemispheric economic integration, and begin to build out a more strategic approach to hemispheric trade relations. In addition, there is no particular reason to believe at this point that the negotiations will be slowed appreciably by Mexico’s participation.
Making the announcement on Mexico today was an important step, given President Felipe Calderón’s hosting of the G-20 as well as the imminent elections in Mexico on July 1. At the same time, it is a signal to other prospective TPP participants that the process is open and welcoming to those nations willing and able to sign on to the high-standards, commercially-meaningful approach that has been set out by the original parties to the discussions. That is a critical incentive to encourage potential TPP nations to make the reforms that will position them to participate in the agreement.
Of course, this is only relevant for nations that would be allowed into the agreement in the first place even if they take such steps. At this point, only current APEC member nations are eligible to join the TPP negotiations. This unnecessarily binds U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere, because it means that countries like Colombia, which otherwise would appear to be excellent candidates, have little additional incentive to prepare themselves politically or economically to participate in the TPP. That in turn causes nations to seek other partners in order to achieve the same goals. Indeed, we are seeing exactly that phenomenon across Latin America.
The United States opens World Cup qualifying today against Antigua and Barbuda, a game described by the Washington Post as David versus Goliath and his two snarling brothers. There is little drama to the outcome or indeed purpose to playing the game. True, if the Faroe Islands can have a team in World Cup qualification (um, where ARE the Faroe Islands?), then certainly the micro-states of the Caribbean are entitled to contesting the tournament, too. And, also true, the game does mean that the country will receive some press outside of the travel section of the newspapers, albeit small articles buried in the sports section.
But, really? The entire population of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda is less than 100,000 and could fit comfortably into the Dallas Cowboys football stadium. In all of World Cup history, only four Caribbean nations have ever gone to the tournament itself, all of which, not coincidentally, are among the larger states: Trinidad and Tobago in 2006, Jamaica in 1998, Haiti in 1974, and Cuba in 1938. The Benna Boys effort is therefore not just quixotic, it is somewhat of a farce.
So here is a proposal for consideration next time: the Caribbean nations should band together to compete under one flag, much as the West Indies do within world cricket competitions. The West Indies, or “Windies,” are a sporting confederation of 15 mainly English-speaking countries, British dependencies and non-British dependencies, and, although their fortunes have lately waned, in the 1970s achieved status as the world’s best. Much sporting success has come to the islands by pooling their resources. More importantly, working together toward a common goal is one element that has contributed at least somewhat to broader regional integration efforts.
The comparison is not perfect: soccer and cricket are different games, of course, and not all of those involved in cricket are eligible to participate in World Cup qualifying. As well, nations including Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have achieved recent World Cup qualifying success on their own and may have little interest in participating as a group.
Nonetheless, the time has come to reconsider regional qualifying. Why not put together the island nations of the Eastern Caribbean, as a start (with or without Trinidad and Tobago), and enter the next time as a group? There are no guarantees that the results will be different, although the odds would at least improve; even with pooled resources the countries would still likely struggle on the pitch. Ultimately, though, that is not really the point, because the real agenda has to do with economic integration in the Caribbean Basin which continues to be more aspirational than reality. Building a team to compete in the World Cup would contribute to this long sought goal.
Today marks the date of entry into force of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA). What a long, strange trip it’s been since the agreement was signed in 2006. The rear-guard action of those opposed to trade generally, those opposed to the United States in Latin America specifically, and those who sought to use the agreement as leverage to promote narrower special interests has been fierce. In the end, however, it became politically untenable and strategically short-sighted to continue to deny both Colombian as well as U.S. citizens the benefits of the trade agreement, and, as a result, today marks the beginning of a new chapter in U.S.-Colombian relations.
Nonetheless, amid well-deserved celebrations within the trade community, we should not lose sight of the fact that the current moment is just the next step. It is a critically important step, to be sure, one that should have occurred years ago, and one that, by its absence, held up much of the rest of the hemispheric agenda for the past several years. It is important that the U.S.-Colombia FTA be seen as a tool for the improvement of the lives of people in both nations, and that, together, we work toward that outcome through close attention to the implementation process. And it is equally important that the United States and Colombia begin now to work toward a broader trade agenda, one that would bring Colombia as a Pacific nation into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum as well as near-term participation in negotiations to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Colombia should also be invited to join the G20 as a permanent member, and, once all standards have been adequately met, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), too.
Colombia is a nation on the move, and an engaged, strategically-minded United States would seek to capitalize quickly on the success of the bilateral FTA by working with others to bring Colombia into the broader global trade and investment architecture. Colombia has a well-established and hard-earned record of success, and it has proven over the years to be a close friend of the United States. At a time when we need allies globally, we should do what we can to promote Colombia’s broader ambitions, consistent with our own interests, just as we are doing with nations outside this hemisphere.
On Wednesday, October 12, just in time for the October 13 State Visit of South Korean leader Lee, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The agreements were too long delayed, but the overwhelming margin of victory for all agreements in both chambers gives credibility to the argument that the Administration frequently made: to build sustainability for the trade agenda, broad-based political support was required, and political support had to be developed over time, with careful and methodical coalition building. In the end, Panama received 300 votes in favor of the agreement in the House, passing by 171 votes. The most controversial agreement, Colombia, received 262 votes and passed by 95 votes. Compare that to the passage of the trade agreement with Central America in 2004, which won approval by exactly two votes. This new margin of victory lays the groundwork for renewal of a politically sustainable trade agenda, and is a bright spot for those of us who believe trade remains one of the best tools that the United States has to support our security and economic interests abroad.
The agreements still need to be signed by the President and there will be a period of time before implementation actually occurs. But the biggest battle has been won. As a result—this being Washington—claims of credit abound. Indeed, there is much credit to go around. But some are more equal than others in this department, and deserve to be singled out for special praise.
The first, of course, is President Obama himself. At a yet-to-be-determined political cost, and little potential direct political benefit, the President defied the roots of the Democratic party to advance the agreements as part of his “doubling exports in five years” initiative. Unquestionably, his views on trade have evolved since the 2008 campaign, and by moving the deals forward, he has effectively neutralized trade as a potential wedge issue for the 2012 presidential campaign, which, importantly, will provide greater political flexibility to the President on these issues after January 2013. He got the deals done and moved them forward. He won’t get appropriate credit for it, but that does not mean he does not deserve it.
Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who renegotiated the agreements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who publicly set a deadline when she told the foreign minister of Colombia in June that the deals would be done by the end of 2011, and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley did much of the political heavy lifting to lay the groundwork for submission to Congress. They are all on the heroes list.
The U.S. Congress is as relevant as the executive branch on many specific issues that affect U.S.-Latin American relations, from trade to immigration. Yet individual Members of Congress rarely pay sustained attention to policy toward the region as a whole. Instead, Capitol Hill’s focus tends to be narrow, reflecting the domestic sources of foreign policy and the constraints of lobbying interests in the exercise of its oversight responsibilities.
There are of course exceptions to this congressional trend, and among them, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) stand out. That's why both received the Council of the Americas Chairman’s Award for Leadership in the Americas last week.
Senators Menendez and Lugar are both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—Menendez is the Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and Lugar is the Ranking Minority Member of the full Committee. It’s not easy to find bipartisan comity these days in Washington, but in fact these awards were richly deserved and widely praised.
Peruvians go to the polls June 5 for the second round of voting to determine their next president. Early handicappers have Ollanta Humala leading Keiko Fujimori and pulling away. Of course, anything can happen, and five weeks is an eternity in politics. Nonetheless, already a debate is raging whether Humala, should he indeed be elected, will be a Peruvian version of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or a Chávez acolyte, or perhaps some sort of hybrid nationalist.
Credit where it is due: Humala has effectively repositioned himself during the campaign as a moderate in the Lula model, rather than the populist authoritarian in the Chávez model who scared Peruvian voters and opened the door to a rehabilitation of President Alan Garcia during the last electoral cycle. Since then he has shed his military garb and taken to wearing suits, disavowed Chávez, and toned down the anti-business, class-warring rhetoric. Investors are not delighted by the choice between him and Fujimori and they are casting a wary eye, but neither are they—yet—running for the exits.
The president spoke at least three times this evening during his State of the Union on issues of importance to the Western Hemisphere: immigration, trade and his desire to travel to Latin America in March.
He was strong on immigration, saying he is willing to work with anyone to address immigration issues comprehensively as a priority. That's good news and shows that immigration reform isn't dead despite the failure of the Dream Act in the lame duck congressional session late last year. Hopefully Republicans will take him up on it, or else they risk losing Hispanics politically for at least a generation, perhaps more. 2011 could finally be the year, if republicans will play ball.
On trade, the president spoke of working with Panama and Colombia to get an agreement that supports U.S. workers. We already have such agreements, though, since the agreements as drafted would open markets to us in the same way ours is already open to them. It’s a matter of fairness, and also the ability to export more, consistent with the president’s goal of doubling exports by 2014.
Tuesday’s election results were not unexpected. The question now is what will they mean for U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere. The outlines are already clear: expect a sharper tone across the board of Congressional oversight and initiative toward the Administration in trying to impact policy. Here are a few predictions for regional policy based on the midterm election results.
The new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will be Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; the chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee will be Connie Mack. Together with newly-elected Senator Marco Rubio, this troika of Florida Republicans may well seek to reverse the Obama Administration’s slow motion liberalization of Cuba policy. Expect also a harder line coming from Congress toward Venezuela and the possible renewal of an effort to sanction Venezuela as a state sponsor of terror. As well, Chairman-To-Be Ros-Lehtinen has earned strong pro-Israel credentials and is a strong supporter of Iran sanctions; further moves of Brazil or Venezuela toward Tehran could well prove to be a point of friction between the Administration and Congress if the Administration is perceived as downplaying their significance.
Well, it was fun while it lasted. What was shaping up to be the year of Latin America in the early rounds of this year’s World Cup will see two European teams fighting for the championship on July 11. The best that Latin America can now hope for is a 3rd place finish for Uruguay. That'd be a terrific result for Uruguay, of course, the best finish for that nation since they last won it all in 1950. But for Latin America as a whole, the result is underwhelming.
Brazil’s surprising defeat at the hands of the Flying Dutchmen, Germany’s wipeout of Argentina and Spain’s close call with Paraguay ensured that Uruguay, which defeated Ghana in penalty kicks, would be the regional standard bearer in the final four. Tiny Uruguay outlasted the region’s soccer giants, and started off well in its semi-final match, tied 1-1 with the Netherlands at half time. Alas, their luck ran out with two superb quick strikes from the Dutch in the second half that put the game out of reach, despite an injury time goal that closed the gap to 3-2 and a furious final rush from Uruguay at the end. Throughout the tournament, Uruguay proved to be a highly skilled and creative team, particularly effective on dead balls in the final third of the field. For their part, Holland has tied its best previous finishes, in 1974 and 1978, when it lost championship games to West Germany and Argentina, respectively. Will they finally be successful in 2010?
Four chances, four victories. As predicted, all four original MERCOSUR nations have now gone through to the round of eight in the World Cup, joining three teams from Europe and one from Africa. Only one team from South America has been eliminated (Chile), and it was bounced by another team from the region (Brazil). Head to head against competition from outside the hemisphere, South America continues to impress. From the opening round, the region has been a dominating presence in this year’s tournament.
It wasn’t always easy or pretty, witness Paraguay’s shootout victory over a motivated Japanese team, but to this point, South America has gotten the job done. Moving forward to the final four, however, will be another thing altogether. There are no “gimme” games at this point; both the Brazil-Netherlands and the Argentina-Germany games could be legitimate championship games this year, were the teams not destined to meet in the round of eight. It’s possible that the winners of these two games could well meet up in the actual final.
When the knock-out round of the World Cup begins Saturday morning, the Western Hemisphere will have almost half of the final 16 teams in contention, and at least two teams (the winners of Argentina vs. Mexico on Sunday and also Brazil vs. Chile) guaranteed in the final eight. Even more compelling: both 2006 finalists, Italy and France, will be watching the games from the sidelines, the first time that’s ever happened. Other European teams that were early on picked to outperform have struggled; so far Holland appears to be the strongest European team although Slovakia has certainly surprised and Spain has finally recovered from an early setback to Switzerland. Latin America and also the United States have acquitted themselves well so far.
In soccer terms the Western Hemisphere has appeared to equal its former colonials overseers. The United States tied England 1-1; Brazil tied its “second team,” Portugal, 0-0. For good measure, even Mexico defeated its one-time colonial aspirant, France, 2-0. Mexicans should consider adding June 17 to their holiday calendar, to compliment Cinco de Mayo which celebrates the defeat of the French at the Battle of Juarez. Only Spain was able to prevail against its former colonies, defeating hapless Honduras, 2-0, and Chile by 2-1. (Honduras did eke out a tie in its last game.)
Each World Cup brings a new storyline, and this one is no different. The rise of African football, the year that Spain finally met expectations, the return of England to World Cup prominence; all of these and others have been mooted as possibilities for 2010. But to this point, all have proven a bust. In fact, having just watched Chile defeat Switzerland, the real story of this year’s competition is the dominance of the Western Hemisphere.
Latin American nations, as well as the United States, have not lost one game yet in the preliminary rounds, except for Honduras’ 1-0 defeat by another Latin American nation, Chile, and 2-0 to Spain. With the final game left to play in the opening round, it’s likely that no fewer than six or even seven of the eight Western Hemisphere representatives will go through, almost half of the final 16 in the quarter finals. This contrasts with the underperforming Europeans, only one of which (Holland) is at the top of its group. England, Germany, and Italy have all underperformed, whereas the French have just been inept, poetic justice for the handball that brought them through qualifying against the Irish. Portugal looked languid until a wipeout of North Korea; Spain needed to play the weakest team in the tournament from the Western Hemisphere to notch its first points.
Head to head, Western Hemisphere against Europe, the results have so far been amazing. Chile has knocked off Switzerland, which earlier beat Spain. Paraguay defeated Slovakia and tied Italy; Mexico defeated France; the United States tied both England and Slovenia.
Some good news for Colombia on the trade front: Canada’s House of Commons passed the pending free trade agreement with Colombia on June 14, by a better than 2-1 margin. The Senate will now vote on the accord for final approval. Nonetheless, this is an important step for both countries, and a signal of support—both from Prime Minister Harper’s governing Conservatives and the opposition Liberals—for the priority effort to build Canada’s ties with the hemisphere.
Two-way trade between the countries is already over $1.25 billion each year; expect that to expand, especially in agricultural products, now that Canada has a privileged position in Colombia’s economy vis-à-vis other trade partners, including the United States. Expect the United States to continue to lose market share in Colombia, a market we have traditionally dominated, even as the White House calls for a doubling of U.S. exports over a five-year period.
Many observers have complained that there is no trade agenda in the hemisphere. In fact, that’s incorrect. There is a huge trade agenda in the hemisphere. It’s just that, for the first time in history, the United States is sitting on the sidelines. Not only are we not leading the effort, we’re not even playing. It’s difficult to win at anything, in fact, if you’re not in the game, which is where we are right now with U.S. trade policy in the Americas.
Word from the annual OAS General Assembly in Lima this week is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appealed to the hemispheric community to re-instate Honduras to full membership, but that a number of other hemispheric countries, notably Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, demurred. After a year wandering in the hemispheric wilderness since being expelled from the OAS in 2009, Hondurans are wondering what they need to do, to paraphrase BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward, to get their lives back. Indeed, duly-elected Honduran President Porfirio Lobo must be thinking right about now that he faces political difficulties approximating the Gulf oil spill, and that the clean-up efforts from last year’s coup ousting then-president Mel Zelaya are just as oily.
Once all the post-mortems of the just-completed Olympic Winter Games in
Apparently, the third time is the charm. At the final bell,
I was in Madrid for our major conference on U.S.-Spain-Latin American relations the day that the White House announced President Obama was going to skip the U.S.-EU Summit scheduled for May, and it went over like a lead balloon. Subsequently, the Financial Times (editorial of February 3), Anne Appelbaum (op-ed in the Washington Post) and others opined that it was in fact the right decision. Their reasons: Europe still doesn’t have its act together, Europeans have generally been churlish in support of U.S. priorities in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and, in fact, Europe still lacks a structure whereby the U.S. president can confidently engage its “leadership.” Or, as Henry Kissinger famously quipped, when you want to talk to Europe, whom do you call? So the lack of White House interest in the May summit was perhaps unsurprising, and was less of a snub than some have portrayed it.
More surprising, however, was the apparent lack of interest of the White House in meeting with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero when he was in Washington last week for the annual Prayer Breakfast. It’s a tried and true tactic of foreign leaders to come to Washington for other activities, and then attempt an unscheduled courtesy call on the U.S. leader—I’ve seen it myself from both in and outside government, and sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t, and the risk is all the foreign leader’s. If it always worked, the U.S. president would face a constant stream of global leaders, some invited, many not, and as short-sighted as it may seem, it’s simply impossible to meet with anyone who shows up.
Yesterday’s election in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat had little to do with Latin America, but the implications of Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley will nonetheless resonate across the region. That’s because the victory of the Republican candidate breaks the Democrats’ super majority of 60 votes in the Senate, and will likely require renewed negotiation and accommodation in order to pass the massive health care bill that has been the top priority of the White House and Congressional leaders since early 2009. Further delay on health care means that other agenda items will have to wait even longer for the political attention required to address them, and the mood on Capitol Hill could well become still more partisan and sour.
That’s doubly true for controversial legislation, particularly as we move further into 2010, which is a midterm election year. Since President Obama was inaugurated one year ago today, three out of the four special elections have been won by Republicans (the Massachusetts Senate seat and the Governorships of Virginia and
Latin America is losing another champion in the Senate, Chris Dodd (D-CT), who has announced that he will not seek re-election in November. The five-term Senator was facing a tough fight and soft poll numbers, and the announcement was not really unexpected by political observers. Nonetheless, coupled with the recent passing of Senator Ted Kennedy, the Western Hemisphere is losing another strong voice for the region. Senator Dodd is the Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee, and both formally and informally he has played an important role regarding U.S. policy in the region.
It’s true that over the past couple years a presidential run and then the financial crisis diverted the Senator’s attention somewhat away from the region. Then again, the presidential elections and the financial crisis diverted everyone’s attention away from other priorities. But at a time when Western Hemisphere issues are not prominent in the Washington policy-scape, Senator Dodd’s retirement will leave a void, and it will be noted ruefully by many across the hemisphere.
*Eric Farnsworth is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org. He is Vice President of the Council of the Americas in Washington DC.
Sunday marked the three-year anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA). The signing provided a tangible signal of U.S. support for the U.S.-Colombia relationship broadly, and, more specifically, for job creation in the United States through export expansion to a large and growing Latin American economy. On strategic, foreign policy, counter-narcotics, and economic grounds, the deal appeared to be a no-brainer for the United States to conclude. It still does. Unfortunately, that’s not how many policy and interest group advocates see it, raising one objection after another in an attempt to derail the agreement.
And derail it they have. Despite its many advantages, and the fact that our market is already open to Colombian products through unilateral trade preference programs while theirs remains closed to ours, the agreement remains stuck on high center, without any action taken until Colombia reaches some undefined, and perhaps indefinable, level of development and progress. Such an approach is unjustifiable, given the dramatic, sustained progress that Colombia has already made in virtually every area. Equally importantly, U.S. actions have been strategically shortsighted, as many across Latin America—friends and foes alike—take note of the way that we continue to treat an erstwhile friend and ally.
In Singapore recently for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting, I was reminded again of the global influence, for good or ill, of American politics and culture. Given the 13 hour time difference, one wakes up in the morning just as U.S. television is in prime time. That means that if you turn on the hotel television to CNN, Fox, or in my case, in Singapore to CNBC, one is treated to the daily shout-fests that now pass for political dialogue in the United States.
In this case the topic happened to be the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed, or KSM for those who want to portray themselves as insiders, in a U.S. court in New York. Turning on the television to Lawrence Kudlow (host of CNBC's The Kudlow Report) prior to my first cup of tea (this was Singapore not Lima), I was verbally and visually assaulted by Ann Coulter screeching at some deer-in-the-headlights type about the decision by the Attorney General. Honestly, I didn’t even listen to what she said other than to note that she was against it. And loudly against it.
Here’s the thing. I don’t know whom Ann Coulter speaks for other than herself, although she must have a following if she keeps getting invited to express her views on cable shows. But is this really the face of America that we want to show to the world, especially so early in the morning? I don’t know what she said and I don’t really care that much, but it’s not even the substance it’s the tone: mocking, irreverent and dismissive of alternative views.
If we want to abuse ourselves domestically by watching these programs in the United States, so be it. But why do we need to export the loudest, most aggressive aspects of American politics and culture to the rest of the world? Why not, for example, run a short camera shot for international transmissions of a burning fireplace or waves gently lapping at the seashore whenever these sorts of programs come on, like some people do on Christmas morning as the children tear open presents. Or even a test pattern. Goodness knows, that could do more for our standing overseas than even the closing of Guantánamo. For one, it would ensure that those who live in or travel to Asia would be able to wake up in peace.
*Eric Farnsworth is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org. He is Vice President of the Council of the Americas in Washington DC.
The news today from
This is important, because as I’ve noted many times, including in The Christian Science Monitor and other blog postings here, it is the elections that provide the surest, most appropriate escape valve for the crisis that has threatened to overwhelm
Some analysts suggest that the trip should have been taken and heads banged earlier to get an agreement even before today. But that would not have allowed the Arias process—which the United States conceptualized and mid-wifed—to run its course. How ironic it would then have been for the
Honduras' soccer win in San Salvador on October 14, guaranteeing a World Cup berth for the Catrachos in South Africa in 2010, has potentially muddled negotiations to resolve the political crisis that erupted on June 28. As I noted in this space last week and also in Sports Illustrated, the prospect of a Honduran berth in the World Cup would provide the de facto government with the opportunity to use the result to rally the population around the flag, potentially providing an excuse to remain intransigent in the face of immense international pressure.
Indeed, with the declaration of yesterday as a national holiday, that is exactly what the Micheletti government did. But wait, it gets even more cynical, because just as the determining game was getting underway in San Salvador, a Micheletti spokesman was walking away from an apparent agreement in principal that had been struck by the opposing parties earlier in the day to resolve the crisis. The calculation now appears to be that the Honduran win will buy additional time for the de facto government in its efforts to keep the deposed president Zelaya holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.
Micheletti’s gambit is only the latest example of a well-worn path in Latin America of attempting to transfer good feelings resulting from international sporting victories to support the government in power. One need only think of the World Cup in Argentina in 1978, for example. More broadly, former Eastern Bloc nations routinely used sport to promote the legitimacy and superiority of their systems internationally, and Cuba continues to do so to this day, though with less overt success. It may be cynical and heavy-handed, but it apparently still works.
This Saturday the eyes of much of the hemisphere will be on
In soccer terms, the game is important because a victory by the
A valid case can be made that the game should be played at a Central American venue outside Honduras (or even in the United States: to be honest, the last time Honduras played in the United States it was a virtual home game for los catrachos given the number of national supporters in the stands). Be that as it may, the key now will first and foremost be to ensure the safety of the players and spectators. It will also be to ensure that the excitement surrounding the game remains self-contained. As the brief "soccer war" between Honduras and El Salvador showed in 1969 (also in a World Cup qualifier prior to the 1970 World Cup finals held in Mexico City), soccer games have the potential to ignite passions that simmer over other issues, causing an eruption of popular emotion that could potentially get out of control if not adequately contained. Anyone seeking to stir things up in Honduras—from within or without—might-well attempt to use the passions surrounding the game as a way to provoke an over-reaction by the security forces, which will quickly be condemned by the international community and give the de facto Micheletti government yet another black eye while deepening the crisis further.
The announcement today by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Rio de Janeiro will be the host of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games is a fitting acknowledgement by the international community that Brazil’s time has arrived. It is also a bouquet to the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and an effort to get the Games—finally—to South America. Beating out Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago (my hometown), the Rio selection was immediately hailed by many across the region and offers the opportunity for Brazil to showcase itself to the world, much as China used the 2008 Games in Beijing.
The Olympics are part of a strategic approach to sport that Brazil has recently employed as yet another means to raise its international profile. Starting with the XV Pan American Games in 2007, also held in Rio, and the upcoming World Cup soccer championship in 2014, the Olympics offer Brazil the crown jewel of international sport, a trifecta only accomplished once before over such a short period of time (the United States also achieved the feat, with the Pan Am Games held in Indianapolis in 1987, the World Cup in 1994 and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics).*
Much will be made of the fact that President Lula’s star power apparently eclipsed that of President Obama, as well as the new Prime Minister of Japan and the King of Spain and Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, all of whom dutifully traveled to Copenhagen to implore the IOC to select their respective bid cities. And, indeed, President Obama’s riding in on Air Force One to rescue the bid for Chicago was a high-risk strategy that, had it not been his own home town, the White House might very well have chosen to bypass.
Even in the best of times, under Democratic and Republican Administrations and Congresses alike, Washington’s appetite for things Latin American is limited. On occasion, a crisis breaks through the public consciousness and attracts top-level attention for a period of time, but the ability to sustain a policy that does more than just lurch from crisis to crisis really doesn’t exist. When such crisis does occur, however, Washington becomes fixated on the issue and almost completely neglects other issues in the hemisphere.
Such is the case right now. Since June 28, Washington’s primary focus on the region has been on Honduras. Even the confirmation of the U.S. ambassador-designate for Brazil, Tom Shannon, has been held up by the Senate over dissatisfaction of U.S. policy actions to sanction the government of de facto Honduran President Roberto Micheletti. The Senate hold on Tom Shannon, a highly-regarded career diplomat who has served both Democratic and Republican administrations with distinction, was placed back in the summer, even before the September 3 State Department announcement that pre-emptively sought to delegitimize Honduras’ scheduled November 29 elections. Since then, Washington has become even more polarized, so it’s unclear why a hold that was placed before the September 3 announcement would be lifted after the announcement without some compromise on the issues. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Tom for over 15 years and worked with him in the White House, and I consider him to be a personal friend.)
But the practical implications of this stalemate mean that the United States has no ambassador in the largest Latin American country, and may not for some time—even though the issues surrounding Brazil's emergence on the global scene are compelling—all because we continue to wrap ourselves around the axle on Honduras. It’s all so depressingly familiar, particularly for those who went through the 1980s. In fact, some of the Washington players are exactly the same ones who were involved in the 1980s disputes, from both sides. But 2009 is not 1982; and the shape of the hemisphere has changed dramatically. The longer we focus on Honduras, the longer we unilaterally decrease our footprint even further in the rest of Latin America, creating even more of a vacuum for others to fill.
Prior to the economic crisis that began exactly one year ago with the Lehman Brothers collapse, Latin America was on an economic tear. For over five years the region had enjoyed historic economic growth, reducing poverty and building the small but growing middle class. Growth was based primarily on the commodities trade; Asian nations, particularly China, were sucking up virtually everything Latin America could grow, mine or drill. Many Latins are now looking at the prospects for renewed mid-term growth in Asia as the key to restoring their own economic fortunes. On the surface, that makes sense. But if the idea is simply to return to the previous model exporting primary commodities, with a healthy dose of politics thrown in, the result may not be as lucrative for Latin America as the immediate past proved to be.
Primary commodities face competition no matter where they come from; there is generally little product differentiation absent efforts to add value through processing and refinement, technology, manufacturing, branding, or other knowledge-based inputs. This is particularly true in energy, and a major new project off the west coast of Australia could, in extremis, challenge Latin America’s development model.
The Gorgon Project, according to the Financial Times, among the world’s most ambitious and costly natural gas projects, is set to be given the official go-ahead this week. Once fully on-line, the project will catapult Australia to the top ranks of global producers, changing the pan-Pacific energy profile, particularly with reference to liquefied natural gas, or LNG. The project will help China and Japan reduce their dependence on coal while amplifying Australia’s role in supplying the Asian nations—China, Japan, India, and South Korea—that Latin America has targeted for commodities exports. In contrast, Latin Americans continue to tie themselves in knots over basic questions of ownership, production and basic supply arrangements in the natural gas sector, even to the point of foregoing uncertain gas supplies from immediate neighbors such as Bolivia and Argentina to import LNG from Asia.
Honduras’ deposed President Mel Zelaya was here in Washington the week prior to Labor Day urging the United States, without a hint of irony, to re-install him in power as soon as possible. At the same time, he told a late summer audience that as the diplomatic process grinds on without clear prospects for resolution, he was building support for another attempt to re-enter Honduras. His last two attempts having failed, first by air and then by land, his next option would appear to be by sea, a la Fidel’s famous journey in the Granma. At the very least, this would do away with a reprise of the Honduran version of the hokey-pokey (you put your right foot in, you take your right foot out, you put your left foot in and then you shake it all about….), or the Python-esque flying circus aspects of his first attempt in July. On a more serious note, though, during his visit Zelaya also pointedly refused to speculate to the Washington Post’s Mary Beth Sheridan whether or not violence would be a part of his ramped up strategy of return.
Nonetheless, on September 3 the State Department announced the termination of assistance to Honduras and revoked additional visas. Prejudging the November elections, Department spokesman Ian Kelly also said that the United States would not be able to support their outcome, suggesting that they would be illegitimate unless a positive conclusion of the Arias process had already occurred.
What is it about South American leaders and public gifts to President Obama? In April, we were treated to the spectacle of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez giving a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins to the U.S. President at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad—a disingenuous publicity stunt that backfired and stole the headlines from other, more substantive and important issues. And now we have Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the G8 summit in Italy giving Obama a soccer jersey signed by all the members of the Brazilian national soccer team.
Now, as a soccer head myself, I can think of no better gift to receive from the Brazilian President than a signed jersey. I certainly hope that it is displayed properly in the White House, and even though there is no record of the First Family having any particular interest in or affinity to soccer, nonetheless this is quite a cool gift. No complaints there. Except one. It was barely a week ago that the United States and Brazil played the championship game of the Confederations Cup in South Africa, the 2010 World Cup host. This was the first time in history that the United States men’s soccer team made it to the final of an extra-regional international soccer tournament. For Brazil, this was old hat, a big yawn, which paled in comparison to their five (yes, five) World Cup Championships. But for the upstart Americans, this was a big deal.
Secretary of State Clinton’s meeting today with deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was intended to show the support—visibly—of the United States for a return to the status quo ante, but it also served a more important purpose: by getting Zelaya on board with the idea of allowing Costa Rica’s President and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias to mediate the constitutional crisis, the United States buys time to consider all appropriate options and actions. Cooler heads can now prevail, because we’ll presumably be spared additional acts of the theater of the absurd that saw Zelaya circling high above
Now, everyone can take a deep breath and attempt to resolve the crisis away from the
That includes the
It’s a shame for the people of Honduras that the country’s supreme court and military acted so clumsily to bundle the president, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, off to exile in the middle of the night almost a week ago now. There is no getting over the visual images, which call to mind the worst excesses of extra-constitutional government across Latin America’s tumultuous history, leading directly to the vociferous and sustained outcry from across most of the political spectrum worldwide.
Those arguing that the Hondurans acted within their rights under their constitution miss the point. This is a fruitless line of argument that competes against every latent emotion now bursting to the forefront on Latin America. Whether or not it was technically legal, the coup in Honduras was ill-considered at best, and dramatically limited the options available to those seeking to shine the spotlight where it should be shone, squarely on the erratic and increasingly anti-democratic behavior of President Zelaya.