Obama and Latin America

A Promising Day in the Neighborhood

Closer, but no cigar: watching Obama on television in Havana, July 2015. Alexandre Meneghini / Courtesy Reuters

In April 2009, just three months after he took office, U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas. There, he told Latin America’s leaders that he wanted to begin “a new chapter of engagement” and an “equal partnership . . . based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values.” Most dramatically, he pledged to seek “a new beginning with Cuba,” which had not enjoyed diplomatic relations with the United States for five decades.

Six years later, at the April 2015 summit in Panama, Obama declared that he had met those commitments. Indeed, the previous December, Obama had announced his intention to normalize relations with Havana. The turnaround delighted Latin American leaders of all ideological stripes, who have long seen the U.S. embargo against Cuba and its exclusion from hemispheric institutions as counterproductive. In Panama, Obama sealed the new policy by sitting down for

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