New Approach Awaited on Latin America, Cuba
WASHINGTON – More than 150 years after the United States promulgated the Monroe Doctrine, Washington should recognise that its dominance over the Americas has ended and that it must “engage Latin America on its own terms”, according to a new report released here Wednesday by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), one of the nation’s most influential think tanks.
Among other steps, the 76-page report calls for repealing the economic and travel sanctions Washington has imposed against Cuba over the past 15 years and engage Havana on a range of issues of mutual concern and deal with a view to ending its 46-year-old embargo of the island.
The report, “U.S.-Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality”, also called for Washington to deal with its problems with the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in a mainly multilateral context without closing off bilateral channels.
“We should not try to isolate Hugo Chavez,” said Charlene Barshefsky, the U.S. Trade Representative under President Bill Clinton, who co-chaired the task force that produced the report. “That will only strengthen him.”
At the same time, the report calls for “deepening strategic relationships with Brazil and Mexico” as the region’s two most important leaders.
Washington must also assume that Latin American countries know what is best for themselves. In light of their rapidly growing ties with extra-hemispheric powers, notably the European and Union (EU) and China, they will not automatically accept Washington’s direction or advice.
“U.S. policy can no longer be based on the assumption that the United States is the most important outside actor in Latin America,” according to the report.
“If there was an era of U.S. hegemony in Latin America, it is over. Washington’s basic policy framework, however, has not changed sufficiently to reflect the new reality,” it added.
The CFR report, the work of a task force co-chaired by Barshefsky and former head of the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) Gen. James T. Hill, is designed primarily to influence the Latin America policy framework of the next U.S. administration.
And to the extent Latin America-related issues, such as trade and immigration, become an issue in the ongoing election campaign, the report is also aimed at influencing the terms of that debate. To ensure its appeal to candidates of both major parties, the CFR task force included a total of 19 members, many of them former high-ranking officials who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Just as notions of U.S. hegemony over the hemisphere have become outdated, Washington’s post-Cold War focus on trade, democracy and drugs in the region has become an increasingly inadequate foundation on which to build relations with Latin America, according to report, which accused the George W. Bush administration of having “ignored Latin America’s needs” after the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
But even before 9/11, U.S. policy had been operating on a kind of automatic pilot vis-à-vis its southern neighbours, according to Hill. “We’ve all taken a laissez-faire attitude toward Latin America. We viewed (ourselves) as the hegemonic power and that what we say should go. (But) the U.S. is not the touchstone of most Latin American countries that it has been…Over time, (our) influence eroded.”
While the three main concerns of U.S. policy toward the region remain relevant, the task force recommends reframing them around four key areas — poverty and inequality, public security, migration, and energy security — all of which, it says, not only “bear directly on U.S. interests”, but are also “of immediate concern to Latin America’s governments and citizens”.
Indeed, a key message of the report is that the integration between the U.S. and Latin America has reached such a point that “All of the big issues that are apparent in Latin America are U.S. domestic policy issues at the end of the day,” Barshefsky told IPS. “The reality is, we are integrated. The question is how to ensure that that integration is positive, and the hemisphere is lifted.”
On reducing poverty and inequality, the report recommends that the next administration convene a public-private summit to review “best practices” in the region and demonstrate its commitment to work with Latin America governments and other stakeholders to address the problems.
It also called for increasing aid designed explicitly for poverty alleviation, by fully funding the Millennium Challenge Account, a four-year-old fund that rewards governments that undertake major economic and governance-related reforms with hundreds of millions of dollars in new aid; expanding micro-enterprise; and directing more anti-drug assistance, which has been heavily militarised, to alternative crop production and rural development.
The report also stressed that anti-poverty programmes should “reflect the priorities of Latin American governments”. At the same time, it urged Congress to approve the pending freetrade agreements with Colombia and Panama and extend additional trade preferences to Bolivia and Ecuador “to encourage productive relations with these complex countries” whose close political ties with Venezuela have caused growing concern in Washington.
On public security, the report calls on the new administration to expand U.S. training for police, prosecutors and judges to increase their professionalism and strengthen the rule of law and promote greater intelligence cooperation within the region on drug trafficking and youth gangs.
While the report does not call for any major changes in the way the drug war is carried out, it hails recent efforts by Congress to establish a better balance between military and police aid and economic and social assistance under the eight-year-old Plan Colombia, and also notes that the Plan “has not stemmed drug flows into the United States (where) prices for cocaine and heroin are as low as or lower than ever.”
Washington, it said, should focus more on reducing demand for these drugs in the U.S. and should also do much more to control the flow of guns from the U.S. into Latin America which fuel violence in the region.
On energy, the report urges the U.S. to promote greater cooperation and investment in the oil and gas sector despite the growing concern over “resource nationalism”. In particular, Washington should focus on the prospects for boosting oil and gas production in Mexico by providing technology for deep-ocean drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Washington could be particularly helpful in developing alternative energy markets, notably in biofuels, particularly in removing tariffs and other obstacles to encourage their use here, according to the report.
The report stresses that immigration reform should be treated as top priority by the next administration. In addition to improving border security and regularising the status of workers already here, such a package should encourage circular migration that permits immigrants to come to the U.S. “for a set period of time and…then return home with new human and financial capital, creating for longer-term economic development in their home communities and countries.”
In addition, Washington should cooperate more closely with Mexican law enforcement authorities to interdict contraband and human smuggling networks and pursue accords with other countries to better regulate the flows of migrants.
This is, of course, the Trilateralist counter-offensive against the hegemonists who have been ascendant throughout the Dubya years. The Trilateralists would overcome “resource nationalism” with the Big Carrot of investment—the current political battle over Mexico’s oil being much to the point here—rather than Big Stick of gunboat diplomacy. But this approach will likely give Latin America’s new anti-imperialist bloc more breathing room—even if it raises the risk of co-optation.