The Obama Administration and the Americas

The Obama Administration and the Americas: Agenda for Change

Abraham F. Lowenthal
Theodore J. Piccone
Laurence Whitehead
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 235
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  • Book Info
    The Obama Administration and the Americas
    Book Description:

    The Obama administration inherits a daunting set of domestic and international policy challenges. It would be tempting to put Latin America and the Caribbean on the back burner, for their nations pose no imminent security threat nor do they seem at first blush critical to the most pressing problems of U.S. foreign policy.The Obama Administration and the Americas, however, argues that the new administration should focus early and strategically on Latin America.

    Our neighbors to the south impact daily on the lives of U.S. citizens, on issues such as energy, narcotics, immigration, trade, and jobs. And these are the countries most likely to partner with Washington on the basis of shared values, culture, and interests. Recognized experts from Latin America, the United States, and Europe suggest in this timely volume that the United States should seize an early opportunity to engage Latin America, recognizing the region's diversity but also its shared concerns and aspirations.

    The consolidation of stable democracies and rule of law in Latin America has long been an expressed goal of both parties in Washington, but the backlash from Iraq, the global financial crisis, and other recent experiences may discourage the use of U.S. influence and assistance to nurture democratic governance. The authors emphasize case-by-case, sophisticated, and multilateral approaches to dealing with such hard cases as Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, and Venezuela.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0352-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Strobe Talbott

    The Obama administration faces a difficult legacy when it comes to U.S. relations with its neighbors to the south. Often neglected, or other times viewed through the lens of global struggles against communism, terrorism, or narcotics, the Latin America and Caribbean region has not received the kind of attention it deserves. Looking ahead, if viewed only as a function of the urgent, the countries of the region are likely not to make the list of top priorities for the new president. Yet such a ”top ten” approach would sell short our own stake in a prosperous, secure, and democratically stable...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Abraham F. Lowenthal, Theodore J. Piccone and Laurence Whitehead
  5. Part I. Overview

    • one Renewing Cooperation in the Americas
      (pp. 1-21)
      Abraham F. Lowenthal

      The Obama administration faces daunting challenges at home and abroad, the most demanding agenda that any U.S. government has inherited in many decades.

      From the start it has had to cope with an economy in distress, reeling in the aftermath of the subprime mortgage meltdown, the broader financial turmoil, and the wider and deepening recession—while trying to prevent both the risk of rising inflation and the possibility of debilitating deflation. Beyond that immediate crisis, the new administration must deal with energy security, growing health care expenses, underfunded entitlements, the contentious impasse over immigration, and the massive fiscal and trade...

    • two Building a Constructive Inter-American Partnership
      (pp. 22-46)
      Daniel Zovatto

      In their limited discussion of Latin America, both of the U.S. presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, promised to pursue a closer, more collaborative relationship with the region. The question, now that President Obama has taken office, is whether the United States is ready, willing, and able to do so.

      In this chapter I urge the new U.S. president to reassess this country’s relations with Latin America. The United States has much to gain from a more constructive, collaborative, and respectful relationship with its hemispheric neighbors and partners, whose destinies are increasingly entwined and indivisible. This new relationship...

    • three Supporting Democracy in the Americas: The Case for Multilateral Action
      (pp. 47-66)
      Theodore J. Piccone

      The mere fact of Barack Hussein Obama’s decisive election as the first African American president can be a pivotal turning point in a much-needed repositioning of the United States’ role as an ally of democratic reform around the world.

      Of course, much more than an election and soaring rhetoric are needed to complete the revamping necessary to make U.S. policies to support democracy and promote human rights more credible and effective. This is particularly true in the Western Hemisphere, where democratization trends are fragile and U.S. influence is waning. The Obama administration needs to overhaul U.S. strategy for assisting democratic...

  6. Part II. Getting Down to Hard Cases

    • four Seven Steps to Improve U.S.-Colombia Relations
      (pp. 69-82)
      Michael Shifter

      The state of democratic governance and the rule of law in Colombia is decidedly uneven and remains marked by paradoxes and contradictions. Very positive trends coexist with notably negative ones, so sweeping characterizations of Colombian democracy should be greeted with skepticism. Unfortunately, however, Colombia’s highly charged political debate in recent years has discouraged a balanced understanding of the country’s many complexities. In this chapter, I first outline the contradictory currents within Colombian democracy, and then describe how external actors, particularly the U.S. government, can constructively support improved governance in the country.

      A Barack Obama administration and Democrat-controlled Congress offer an...

    • five Human Rights and Free Trade in Colombia
      (pp. 83-95)
      Rodrigo Pardo

      The Andean region is going through a very difficult, challenging period. The legitimacy of the democratic system is in grave danger. Neopopulism has sprung up in different forms in every country in the region (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia). Diplomatic tensions have called into question the countries’ ability to coexist peacefully. Institutions of integration, particularly the Andean Community (Comunidad Andina de Naciones, CAN), are on the verge of collapse.

      Even in this troubled region, Colombia has achieved important gains in the past six years; much improved security and economic growth have bolstered democracy and the rule of law. There has...

    • six Haiti’s Political Outlook: What the United States Should Do
      (pp. 96-108)
      Daniel P. Erikson

      Haiti’s slow but steady climb out of its political and economic abyss was severely jeopardized in 2008 by a series of internal and external shocks. In the spring, escalating food prices prompted widespread riots as the population pushed back against a 40 percent rise in the costs of basic food commodities, which cut deeply into the standard of living in a nation where most people subsist on less than two dollars per day. The Haitian food crisis contributed to the ousting of Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis and the months of political instability that followed. After rejecting a string of prime...

    • seven Responding to the Challenges in Haiti
      (pp. 109-118)
      Juan Gabriel Valdés

      At the beginning of April 2008, as a result of the sudden rise in food prices, Haiti was engulfed by social unrest. By the end of October the country had been ravaged by three hurricanes that left hundreds dead and the city of Gonaïves completely covered by water and mud. The food crisis increased the suffering of the more than 6 million people who subsist on only two dollars a day, and the natural disasters once again pounded the morale of what are undoubtedly the people with the most tragic history in the Western Hemisphere. It is indeed unfortunate that...

    • eight Cuba in Transition: The Role of External Actors
      (pp. 119-135)
      Marifeli Pérez-Stable

      For the first time in fifty years, Fidel Castro is not presiding over Cuba. On February 24, 2008, the National Assembly named his younger brother, Raúl Castro, then seventy-six, president of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers. Since July 2006 Raúl had held interim power. Now he was formally in charge, and for the most part substantively as well. As long as he is alive and mentally alert, however, Fidel—el Comandante—will remain a potent symbol and an influential voice.

      Cuba is slowly starting down an uncharted path, not toward democracy but nonetheless toward something different...

    • nine Turning the Symbol Around: Returning Guantánamo Bay to Cuba
      (pp. 136-144)
      Bert Hoffmann

      As one of his very first steps in office, President Obama signed an executive order to close the detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba within one year’s time. Shutting the infamous facility is a crucial first step toward the restoration of the moral credibility of the United States: the use of the base as an extralegal detention center has made it a symbol of disrespect for the rule of law and the rights of detainees. But righting the wrongs represented by the U.S. presence at Guantánamo should not end there. The political symbolism of...

    • ten Engaging Venezuela: 2009 and Beyond
      (pp. 145-166)
      Jennifer McCoy

      Since his election in 1998, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has taken on the mantle of creating a new model of independent politics and economics, and of challenging U.S. dominance in the region and the world. Utilizing a strategy of intense confrontation with adversaries at home and abroad, combined with new foreign alliances globally and integrationist schemes regionally, the Chávez administration seeks to redistribute power and resources both domestically and internationally. In so doing, it has vexed the United States, exasperated neighboring Colombia, befuddled Latin American and European governments, and attracted support from those who feel exploited, marginalized, or impotent...

    • eleven The United States and Bolivia: Test Case for Change
      (pp. 167-182)
      George Gray Molina

      For more than a decade, U.S. engagement in the Andean region has concentrated on security and counter-narcotics issues and favored unilateral over multilateral intervention. In recent years the rise of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and, to a lesser degree, Rafael Correa in Ecuador has tested this approach. In the final months of the George W. Bush administration, U.S. relations with these countries, and especially with Bolivia, have gone from bad to worse. Developments at the end of 2008 included Bolivia’s expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, the tit-for-tat expulsion of the Bolivian ambassador from the United States,...

    • twelve The Rule of Law in Mexico: Challenges for the Obama Administration
      (pp. 183-200)
      Carlos Elizondo and Ana Laura Magaloni

      How should the Obama administration first assess, and then respond to, the evidently worsening crisis of governance, lawlessness, and large-scale criminal violence that has been gathering momentum in Mexico throughout 2008? This is shaping up to become possibly the most urgent policy challenge Washington faces in the Western Hemisphere in 2009. Given the extent of U.S.-Mexico interconnections on so many fronts—migration, trade, investment, energy security, environment, as well as cross-border illegal transactions of all sorts—the apparent disintegration of the rule of law is one challenge that cannot be postponed or sidestepped. Already, certain quarters of the U.S. press...

  7. Part III. Looking Ahead

    • thirteen A Project for the Americas
      (pp. 203-224)
      Laurence Whitehead

      As Abe Lowenthal states in his contribution to this volume (chapter 1), the Western Hemisphere is unlikely to be the source of the most serious and pressing challenges facing the new administration of President Barack Obama. His team will have to cope with worldwide financial disorders, not to mention security headaches in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. For Washington to regain lost capital and deal effectively with the urgent global economic and security challenges it faces, the new presidential team must rectify the unfortunate legacies of the Bush administration.

      A core decision is whether to shift emphasis from overreliance on ”hard...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 225-226)
  9. Index
    (pp. 227-236)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-238)