Obama's Latin American Legacy

In 2009 I wrote that: "a progressive U.S. policy agenda toward Latin America should express support of and solidarity with the region’s left-of-center governments themselves." And central to that agenda was the need for: "would be reversing the corporate bias of the free trade agreements (FTAs) that have been signed over the past decade and a half." How well has Obama done in his almost 8 years by that yardstick, you ask. Not very well.

Obama never cozied up to the left of center governments in the region, even though they promoted an improvement in income inequality, which has no other parallel in the world in the 2000s, when inequality increased in almost every region. Worse it is very clear that his administration was close to several groups that tried undermine the left of center governments. His role in the 2009 coup in Honduras against democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, for example, is now plaguing his ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As noted by Marc Weisbrot a while ago: "both under Clinton and Kerry, the State Department’s response to the violence and military and police impunity has largely been silence, along with continued U.S. aid to Honduran security forces." Which, by the way, makes any claims about human rights violations, including Obama's complaints, during his historic visit to Cuba, seem somewhat hollow.

There is obviously the opening up of relations with Cuba, certainly the highlight of his two terms regarding relations with Latin America. While Obama should be praised for at least not saying openly that the US seeks regime change in the island, it is hard not side with those in Cuba that are skeptical about American intentions. In particular, because the main guidance of American policy in the region remains the defense of the economic interests of its corporations, rather than the improvement of social conditions in the region, which should be a central concern, not just for the obvious humanitarian reasons, but also because in the long run socioeconomic conditions are central for immigration flows.

In fact, Obama, who had campaigned as a critic of the effects of NAFTA going so far as promising to revise it, signed two Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with countries in the region, Colombia and Panama, and is pushing, with Republican support, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which includes Chile, Mexico and Peru. And Obama's visit to Argentina, which follows the one to Cuba and starts today, is basically about free trade, and perhaps opening up Mercosur (the regional bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela), and perhaps implementing a regional FTA. Latin America does not need a pro-corporate foreign policy, at least not from a Democratic president, which does not serve the region, or the working class in the US. However, a significant change in the relations with the region must wait for the next president.

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