Obama Should Make a Clean Break With the Past on Latin America

Obama's historic triumph was welcomed in Latin America by
left-of-center governments who saw it as a continuation of their own
electoral victories. Even before the election President Lula da Silva
of Brazil said: "Just as Brazil elected a metal worker, Bolivia elected
an Indian, Venezuela elected Chavez and Paraguay a bishop, I think that
it would be an extraordinary thing if, in the largest economy in the
world, a black man were elected president of the United States."

Obama has an opportunity to forge a new relationship with the region
after his predecessor drove U.S.-Latin American relations into a ditch.
But it will require a major change in Washington's attitude toward our
southern neighbors.

Most importantly, as the Brookings Institution recently noted, the
Obama administration will have to abandon Bush's efforts to divide the
left-of-center governments into a "good left" and "bad left," rewarding
the former and punishing the latter. Most recently, the Bush
Administration decided to punish Bolivia by suspending their trade
preferences and threatening tens of thousands of jobs there -- allegedly
for not co-operating in the "war on drugs."

Bolivia's President Evo Morales was in Washington this month and met
with Senator Richard Lugar. Senator Lugar is the most influential
Republican on foreign policy issues and is very close to
President-elect Obama -- who, according to rumors here, offered him the
position of Secretary of State. Lugar issued a very positive press
statement on the meeting with Evo: "The United States regrets any
perception that it has been disrespectful, insensitive, or engaged in
any improper activities that would disregard the legitimacy of the
current Bolivian government or its sovereignty," he said. "We hope to
renew our relationship with Bolivia, and to develop a rapport grounded
on respect and transparency."

Although Evo Morales handed this statement to the Washington Post,
neither the meeting with Lugar nor Lugar's statement made it into the
print edition of the Post's article on Evo's visit. This indicates that
the Obama administration will have to confront not only the State
Department but also some of the major media if it wants to change
relations with Latin America.

Bolivia expelled the U.S. Ambassador in September because of
Washington's support for opposition groups there. The US State
Department spent $89 million in Bolivia last year. Some of it went to
opposition groups; we don't know exactly how much because our
government does not provide full disclosure. Washington is also
supplying millions of dollars to undisclosed organizations in
Venezuela, where it supported a military coup in 2002. Imagine if
China or Russia were pumping $100 billion (the equivalent here) into in
the United States, and some billions went to undisclosed groups. We
would not allow that.

The consensus in Washington is that we have the right to do all kinds
of things in Latin American countries that we would never permit here.
The new governments there do not agree. They also think they have the
right to an independent foreign policy. Brazil's foreign minister went
to Iran this month, where he publicly defended Iran's right to enrich
uranium, and announced that expanding commercial and other ties to Iran
were "a foreign policy priority" for Brazil. The State Department and
U.S. media ignored these statements because they came from Brazil, but
when Venezuela does the same thing it is considered impermissible.

These are the kinds of double standards that the Obama administration
will have to abandon if it wants a new relationship with Latin America.
The left governments of Latin America have all reached out to our new
President-elect with great hopes and expectations. It will now be up to
our new government to break with the past, and respect the sovereignty
and dignity of our neighbors to the south. That's all they are asking

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