Obama pledges new direction on Latin America

We recently asked if the folks at the Council on Foreign Relations who want to remake US policy on Latin America have Barack Obama’s ear. Here’s a sign that they do. After a too-long period of annoying vagueness, he finally spells out some ideas. We’ll have to oppose that “regional security initiative” of course, and that “Energy Partnership for the Americas” is likely to mask some unpleasant development proposals. But this is tentatively salubrious—and speaking truth to the Cuban American National Foundation earns him a big C for cojones. Foon Rhee writes for the Boston Globe, May 23:

Courting another key constituency in the swing state of Florida, Barack Obama today outlined what he calls a new approach for Latin America distinct from the Bush administration’s failed policies.

Speaking to the Cuban American National Foundation, the Democratic front-runner called for direct diplomacy throughout the hemisphere to advance democracy and promote American values and ideals, to immediately allow Cuban Americans unlimited family travel and remittances to the island, to create an Energy Partnership for the Americas that would develop alternative energy, launch a regional security initiative to battle drug trafficking, to target development assistance for Latin America aimed at promoting bottom-up growth, and to reinstate a Special Envoy for the Americas in the White House and open more consulates and expand the Peace Corps in Latin America.

“If we don’t turn away from the policies of the past, then we won’t be able to shape the future,” Obama said in prepared remarks from his campaign. “The Bush Administration has offered no clear vision for this future, and neither has John McCain. So we face a clear choice in this election. We can continue as a bystander, or we can lead the hemisphere into the 21st century. And when I am President of the United States, we will choose to lead.

“It’s time for a new alliance of the Americas,” continued Obama, who spoke Thursday at a synagogue in Boca Raton, trying to reassure Jewish voters that he will defend Israel’s security. “After eight years of the failed policies of the past, we need new leadership for the future. After decades pressing for top-down reform, we need an agenda that advances democracy, security, and opportunity from the bottom up. So my policy towards the Americas will be guided by the simple principle that what’s good for the people of the Americas is good for the United States.”

John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, earlier this week criticized Obama for his willingness to talk to Cuba’s leaders and reaffirmed his support for keeping the economic boycott of Cuba.

UPDATE: The McCain campaign issued a statement in response. “Senator Obama promises a new day in the relations between the United States and Latin America,” said spokesman Tucker Bounds. “But he would begin that new day by undermining NAFTA and rejecting the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. President Uribe of Colombia is a reliable ally of the United States, and a strong partner in the war against drugs and terrorists. Yet, Senator Obama would reward President Uribe by refusing a critical trade agreement, and meeting with Hugo Chavez, the man who supports the terrorists trying to destroy Colombia.

“Senator Obama’s promises of unilateral concessions to Cuba’s dictators even in advance of an unconditional summit meeting with Raul Castro is exactly the wrong approach to free the people of Cuba. Senator Obama’s reckless judgment, and his pandering on trade will set back relations between the United States and Latin America for decades. That’s not a new day the people of North and South America want to wake up to.”

The Republican National Committee also sent a statement arguing that the group Obama is addressing does not represent most Cuban-Americans.

A look at the CANF’s “Policy Recommendations in a post-Fidel Castro era” finds that they now support lifting travel and money transfer restrictions for Cuban Americans—while calling for the indictment of Raúl Castro.

See our last posts on Barack Obama, John McCain, Colombia and Cuba.