President Obama’s whirlwind tour of Latin America this week delivered some good news and bad news for Latin American watchers. First comes the bad the news, which I don’t think was all that bad in light of the milestone trip. The visit, rightfully positioned as a trade mission to help create American jobs given the anemic state of the U.S. economy, was cut short and proved uninteresting to American media. No one besides the host countries seemed to care.
This media neglect was understandable given the pressing developments in Libya and Japan but it still serves as a reminder that Latin America is nowhere near the top of priorities for Washington. Instead the U.S. is pushing its multitasking skills addressing the geopolitical challenges in the Middle East and Afghanistan, while exploring the economic and business potential posed by India and China. It’s hard to argue against those priorities.
What does this mean for Latin America and its more than five hundred million people? The good news is that Washington’s imperfect and somewhat indifferent foreign policy for Latin America might actually serve as a compliment to the region’s growing stability. Latin America used to get a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons. Many of its countries were the Libyas and Afghanistan of back in the day, and by that I mean the cold war period when we chased communists in the Central American jungles. Things have changed.
Latin American countries have come a long way since the eighties with many of them making a full transition to democratic systems and growing economies. Notable exceptions abound in the form of Chavez and the Castro brothers, but they are in the minority. Most of the Latin American left skews centrist and pro-trade. The result is a more democratic and stable region. And that’s part of the reason why Latin America has somewhat fallen off Washington’s red hot geopolitical radar, and is now slowly coming back for trade and economic reasons.
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