In Miami recently, Barack Obama called for new Latin American policies in his first major policy declaration towards the region. The speech was classic Obama: substantive, centrist, subtle and pragmatic, above all drawing a sharp difference between Obama’s support for “direct diplomacy” versus John McCain’s status quo policies towards Cuba and the region. As a measure of how far the anti-Castro Cubans have shifted towards the center, Obama’s speech was praised by his hosts, the Cuban American National Foundation.
As a measure of Obama’s own evolution to the center from the left, however, Obama committed himself to maintaining the economic embargo of Cuba which he questioned when he ran for the US Senate in 2004. Nevertheless, the speech will be well-received in progressive circles as a breakthrough from past policies aimed at isolation and undermining of the Cuban government.
Obama also cited Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency and “good neighbor” policies several times, a course proposed by the Progressives for Obama network*:
What all of us strive for is freedom as FDR described it. Political freedom. Religious freedom. But also freedom from want, and freedom from fear. At our best, the United States has been a force for these four freedoms in the Americas. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that at times we’ve failed to engage the people of the region with the respect owed to a partner….
We cannot ignore suffering to our south, nor stand for the globalization of the empty stomach. Responsibility rests with governments in the region, but we must do our part. I will substantially increase our aid to the Americas, and embrace the Millennium Development Goals of halving global poverty by 2015….
We cannot accept trade that enriches those at the top of the ladder while cutting out the rungs at the bottom. It’s time to understand that the goal of our trade policy must be trade that works for all people in all countries.
Yet while there has been great economic progress, there is still back-breaking inequality. Despite a growing middle class, 100 million people live on less than two dollars a day, and 40 percent of Latin Americans live in poverty. This feeds everything from drugs to migration to support for leaders that appeal to the poor without delivering on their promises….
That is why the United States must stand for growth in the Americas from the bottom up.
This rhetoric is sure to be welcomed as well, after many years of failed US efforts to impose corporate trade policies on Central and Latin America through NAFTA, CAFTA and the derailed FTAA. However, in the absence of government spending and regulatory measuresfrom Latin America, the US and wealthier nations–the Obama proposals imply a continuation of private sector economic development and modest proposals of micro-loans, education and job-training and small business development.
But while these are positive, if cautious, policy steps, the dangerous flaw in Obama’s speech was his apparent commitment to supporting the US counterinsurgency war In Columbia, secretive drug wars across the continent, and a veiled threat against Venezuela:
We will fully support Colombia’s fight against the FARC. We’ll work with the government to end the reign of terror from right-wing paramilitaries. We will support Colombia’s right to strike terrorists who seek safe-haven across its borders. And we will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments. This behavior must be exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation and–if need be–strong sanctions. It must not stand.