Is the U.S. Asleep at the Wheel with Latin America?

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    The Costa Rica News (TCRN) – The U.S. has been distracted with other political arenas throughout the world, primarily stemming from the September 11 attacks which gave then President George W. Bush a green light against terrorism and a high speed chase to pursue dictators in the Middle East. While proving to be somewhat effective with their foreign policy it gave way for other countries within the region and elsewhere to gain momentum and thus consolidating a strong left coalition that has empowered Latin American countries in the last decade. Current foreign policy under President Obama has detoured by shifting its attention without losing site of the rear view mirror.

    • Obama announces energy deal with Caribbean ahead of Summit
    • China says Obama strategy in region is to oppose Venezuela
    • United States and Cuba had an “in-depth” meeting for the first time since 1961
    • Venezuela’s presidential office says Obama and President Nicolas Maduro met on the sidelines of the Summit

    The United States lack of presence and some say interest, in Latin America is not reflected in their message. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Latin America has never mattered more for the USA. Latin America is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the US. It is also the United States’ fastest growing trading partner. (Council on Foreign Relations)

    The Seventh Summit of the Americas 2015 closed out this past weekend in Panama, with mixed reviews and opinions on the United States relationship with Latin America. The Summit concluded on Saturday without any final declaration due to opposition from the United States and Canada. The U.S. and Canada opposed clauses in the draft document that made references to the strengthening of collective rights, thus preventing consensus. (

    Ahead of the Summit

    Ahead of the Summit, Obama’s announcements during a stop in Jamaica of new energy deals with the Caribbean, described as a “comprehensive” arrangement with the United States (US), which could see Jamaica’s North American neighbors providing substantial support for the regions energy security.

    Dr Jermaine McCalpin, associate director of the Centre for Caribbean Thought stated that in regards to the energy deal, “The question of energy requires us to move beyond Venezuela…”

    China saw Obama’s announcements and interpreted the new energy deals with the Caribbean as Obama’s way of opposing Venezuela. “Obama seeks to renew predominance over Caribbean through energy initiatives,” reported

    Cuba and the Summit

    In January 2015, defying hardliner critics in Congress, President Barack Obama announced sweeping changes regarding Cuba designed to opening up the country to expanded U.S. travel, trade and financial activities.

    With the participation of Cuba for the first time in the summit’s 21-year history, the leaders of the United States and Cuba had an “in-depth” meeting for the first time since 1961.

    Venezuela and the Summit

    United States faced other tensions at the summit over its recent sanctions against Cuba’s close ally, Venezuela. An executive order signed by President Obama last month sanctioned top Venezuelan officials over alleged human rights abuses and corruption, this coming after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the United States of trying to topple his government.

    Venezuela has been on the defensive ever since reaching out to oil controlled countries for their support and although some have pronounced themselves against these sanctions, others have refrained from even touching upon the subject. The rhetoric used by the Venezuelan president is that Venezuela does not pose a threat to the United States. This argument was squashed during the summit as the U.S. agrees that Venezuela is not a threat and that the sanctions are against some officials of the Latin American country.

    Venezuela’s presidential office says Obama and President Nicolas Maduro met on the sidelines of the Summit of Americas in Panama on Saturday. A Maduro aide tweeted that “there was a lot of truth, respect and cordiality” at the meeting.

    Long Term Neglect of Latin America

    In the 1980s, U.S. interests in Latin America were at the highest ever level but then lost power and steam throughout the region in preceding decades. Over the past 15 years, Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama focused on other parts of the world, primarily the Middle East. During this period, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the “Chavista” movement, seemingly in its death throes, had an impact on U.S. interests and initiative throughout the region, in the late 1990’s and 2000’s.

    This long term lack of focus on Latin America has allowed U.S. adversaries, such as Chinese and Russians, among others, to use their political capital and money to greatly influence the entire region.

    China entrance onto the Latin America stage has been intensive and there are worries that in the future China may apply pressures in Latin America to block US initiatives.

    China’s increased engagement in America’s own backyard is part of a more globally active diplomatic strategy. In February 2014, Beijing announced the formation of a new ministerial meeting with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC); the China-CELAC Forum convened for the first time in January 2015 attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping where he announced China’s goal of expanding bilateral trade to $500 billion with the region by 2025.

    Here in Costa Rica, China has invested billions of dollars. China is Costa Rica’s second-largest trading partner, just behind the United States. Two-way trade rose from $4.7 billion in 2011, when a free trade treaty took effect, to $6.2 billion in 2012.

    Many regional players consider the United States reduced influence in Latin America as a positive trend because they say; Latin American countries now are enjoying more sovereignty. Others believe it to be negative because it entails a threat to US security.

    Countries in Latin America (Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador to name a few), seems to be able to solve their own conflicts without American influence and intervention. The Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is good example; he won a Nobel Prize for efforts to end the Central American crisis in the 1980s while leaving out an aggressive US administration. He did this while the U.S was entrenched in the Nicaragua Iran Contra scandal.

    While the U.S. is seen as having largely ignored Latin America over the past 15 years, the U.S. has not lost Latin America. Latin American governments are now engaged with more international players than in the past, but US influence is still considerable and a sense of democracy has gained significant ground throughout Latin America.

    With more international political players now active in Latin America, the Unites States seems to be adjusting its focus. “The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past,” Obama said at a Summit in Panama.

    The Costa Rica News (TCRN)
    San Jose, Costa Rica

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