Courtesy Reuters

The Forgotten Relationship


Free from the strategic and ideological rigidities of the Cold War, Latin America in the mid-1990s looked forward to a more realistic and constructive relationship with the United States. The first Summit of the Americas in 1994, which launched negotiations on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), symbolized the renewal of goodwill and cooperation in the region. The summit led to a series of hemisphere-wide meetings at various levels throughout the 1990s that offered a new model for political relations between the United States and Latin America (most notably the Williamsburg and Bariloche defense ministerial meetings). This new diplomacy for the first time presumed to treat all the region's nations (with the exception of Cuba) as equals. The summitry also sent a powerful message throughout the hemisphere by implicitly stating that the success of the entire endeavor depended on the coordinated progress of all nations in the Americas.

A sign of the times was the lessened rhetorical confrontation between most Latin American nations and their powerful northern neighbor. Some unilateral U.S. policies-such as the process of "certifying" countries' cooperation with the U.S. drug war or the Helms-Burton legislation, which placed sanctions on any country that traded with Cuba-faced firm regional opposition. But Latin American countries felt increasingly more at ease when discussing certain issues with Washington that in the past had been highly controversial, such as democracy and human rights promotion or combating corruption. A consensus developed, stronger than at any time in the past half-century, on what constituted a common agenda for hemispheric relations and how to address it.

By the end of the last decade, however, the progress seemed to wind down. And the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington sounded the death knell of what could have become the new Bush administration's more forward-looking, engaged, and enlightened policy toward the rest of the hemisphere. The resulting post-September 11 picture is not pretty from a Latin American point of

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