U.S.-Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality; Re-thinking U.S.-Latin American Relations: A Hemispheric Partnership for a Turbulent World; "Memos to the President-Elect"

In This Review

U.S.-Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality
By Charlene Barshefsky and James T. Hill, eds.
Council on Foreign Relations Press, 2008
108 pp. $15.00
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Re-thinking U.S.-Latin American Relations: A Hemispheric Partnership for a Turbulent World
By Ernesto Zedillo and Thomas R. Pickering, eds.
Brookings Institution Press, 2008
30 pp.
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"Memos to the President-Elect." Special issue, Americas Quarterly
By Christopher Sabatini
Americas Society and Council of the Americas, 2008
132 pp. $9.95
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These three compilations of recommendations for the incoming Obama administration suggest broad, although not unanimous, agreement among policy elites in the United States and Latin America on specific steps to repair inter-American relations and to help Latin America better manage and safeguard its democracies. Nearly all the voices urge a more humble, multilateral-minded Washington that listens respectfully to its neighbors, even as many convey a deep yearning for renewed U.S. leadership. Common recommendations for U.S. policy include intensifying energy cooperation, especially in biofuels and other alternative technologies; passing comprehensive immigration legislation and linking visa quotas and temporary-worker programs to U.S. labor-market needs; approving the pending free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and exploring other instruments for hemispheric economic integration; and seriously reviewing failed counternarcotics policies. Significantly, virtually all agree that Washington should gradually lift the embargo against Cuba, beginning with allowing more travel and remittances, while working multilaterally to promote civil society and democratic reforms on the beleaguered island. (The three publications generally skirt two politically sensitive matters: the price tag for U.S. reengagement and Brazil's drive for hegemony in South America and preference for less, rather than more, U.S. activism.)

The Council on Foreign Relations report is distinguished by its emphasis on the need to address chronic poverty and inequality. To this end, Washington is advised to significantly expand its development assistance, including targeting microenterprises and small businesses, and to encourage countries to institute more progressive tax systems. The report also urges the United States to promote law enforcement through judicial reform and police training. Most of this would build on existing U.S. and multilateral programs.

The 20 signatories to the Brookings report include ten Latin American leaders, among them three former presidents. It strikes a distinctly realist tone, focusing more on interstate issues than on (what is perhaps more controversial) domestic reforms, and is purposefully modest in its proposals. It seeks concrete progress through smaller groupings of major or interested nations, although it does not adequately explain how reducing the number of participants -- from the 34 countries in the Organization of American States to the proposed "Americas Eight" -- would overcome the obstacles raised by Brazilian resistance or Venezuelan obstructionism. The Brookings report is refreshingly bold in one regard: it goes beyond merely criticizing current antidrug policies and calls for pilot projects based on promising harm-reduction approaches and for more funding for domestic drug courts. The report also calls for a study of law enforcement and interdiction policies that minimize violence and corruption.

In contrast to the two consensual commission reports, the postelection edition of Americas Quarterly, a publication of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas, offers unfiltered memos by 31 Latin American, Caribbean, and Canadian leaders. Paradoxically, many of these foreign voices plead for greatly enhanced U.S. leadership. Others, less surprisingly, call for much more U.S. technical and financial support. Country differences emerge: the Mexican diplomat Arturo Sarukhan advocates building a bilateral strategic partnership, whereas the Brazilian foreign minister, Celso Amorim, warns of perceptions of undue U.S. interference; the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, strikes a decidedly self-confident, optimistic tone, whereas the Nicaraguan Cristiana Chamorro and the Peruvian Pedro Pablo Kuczynski are alarmed by the thrusts coming from Hugo Chávez. Ultimately, the trick will be to creatively fit U.S.-Latin American initiatives into the broader context of the Obama administration's domestic and global priorities. In fact, there may be significant overlap between the many reasonable recommendations in these three publications and the emerging new characterization of the U.S. national interest.