Obamas tango

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Obama´s Tango
Escrito por Christopher Sabatini and Jason Marczak
Viernes 22 de Enero de 2010 00:00
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The Obama administration has pursued a Latin America policy based on the idea of partnership. But a number of recent crises in the region have shown that what the hemisphere needs from the United States is, in fact, more forceful leadership.

Since he tookoffice, U.S. President Barack Obama has articulated a policy toward Latin America that is centered on the idea of partnership. As he said last April, there would be “no senior or junior partner to this new engagement.” The United States, in other words, would be but one actor on the regional stage, not its director. But recent crises -- from the coup in Honduras to simmering tensions in the Andes --have revealed a fundamental weakness in the Obama administration’s nascent Latin America policy.

Without strong U.S. leadership, partnership in the Americas risks inertia or, even worse, an escalation of tensions on many of the hemisphere’s critical issues, such as transnational crime, democracy, and security. Although some countries -- including Brazil and Chile -- have been willing to take ondiplomatic responsibilities commensurate with their economic status, they remain averse to conflict with neighbors, even to the point of deliberately downplaying existing disagreements.

Such an approach may have served Latin American governments well in the past, when a unified front helped to push issues such as debt relief and alternative thinking on antinarcotics policy. But the failure ofany one country to assume a larger regional profile -- especially with regards to protecting norms and security -- has allowed problems to fester. Yet again, the United States has been forced into a position of default leadership.

But simply reasserting U.S. leadership will not be easy. For one, distrust of Washington’s motives still runs deep in the region. The George W. Bush administration washampered by missteps and its perceived unilateralism and interventionism. Allegations that the United States supported a coup attempt against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2002 have proven hard to shake. Although general suspicions have since softened, skepticism and latent resentment of the United States remain potent forces.

Partnership alone cannot be the fulcrum of the U.S.relationship with Latin America

Second, nearly a decade of strong economic growth -- real GDP growth in Peru, for example, rose from five percent in 2004 to nearly ten percent in 2008 -- has stoked ambitions and ideological assertiveness in the region. This, in turn, has made the interests of individual states increasingly diverse and complex.

The boom in goods prices that began in 2000 benefited twogroups of Latin American countries: the economically and politically moderate (Brazil and Chile) and the erratic and profligate (Venezuela under Chávez). When countries have failed to fall in line with his self-proclaimed “Bolivarian Revolution,” Chávez has resorted to name-calling and bullying. Although these dramatic and undiplomatic scenes may seem ridiculous at first blush, they have served adeeper purpose: in a region where countries stress solidarity and are historically loath to appear subservient to the United States, Chávez’s brand of nationalistic baiting has cowed more moderate governments.

Brazil and Chile represent the opposite of Venezuela. In Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, himself a former union leader, has become a symbol of Latin America’s new pragmaticleft. His policies combine responsible macroeconomic management -- Brazil was one of the first countries to bounce back from the global economic recession -- with a broader agenda of social inclusion and poverty alleviation. Similarly, in Chile, the government of President Michelle Bachelet has overseen an extended period of economic expansion and was able to save much of the windfall from the...
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