Yesterday, Nelson Cunningham, one of the panelists at a Hudson Institute conference on Latin America’s “Radical Populism Challenge” commented that it is better that the presidential campaign and debates don’t even mention the region. He said that speaking of Latin America would only bring bad news: illegal immigration and drug-trafficking.
As a Latin American myself, I could not disagree more. The region is one of the United States’ most important commercial partners, with U.S. exports valued at more than $150 billion a year, almost as much as its exports to the European Union, as Inter American Dialogue President Peter Hakim notes.
A more balanced argument was delivered by Jaime Daremblum, director of Hudson’s Center for Latin American Studies, who moderated the panel, but didn’t argue with the speaker. In his article, “What Will the Election Mean for Latin America?,” he shows how the 9/11 terrorist attacks pushed Latin America to the background of the U.S. foreign policy discussion. Meanwhile, Russia is gaining ground exploring oil fields in Venezuela.
The same controversial panelist also commented that Senator Barack Obama, if he becomes President, would probably enjoy future good relationship with Latin America—because of his Indonesian background. It is not clear how his Indonesian experience can increase his interest in a region he didn’t consider visiting during his international campaign.
In contrast, his opponent, Senator John McCain visited Cartagena, Colombia, last July, the same day the renowned hostage Ingrid Betancourt, who was being held by leftist FARC rebels, was freed by the military. Obama’s fans are certainly not in Latin America, but in Paris, where his image is fashionable.
Whoever wins the presidency should include this agriculture- and energy-rich region in Washington’s agenda. Otherwise, America’s biggest rivals, such as Russia, will gain enormous leverage in Latin American through a range of agreements, while radical populist leaders brainwash their people with fantastic fables of the “Empire.”