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Obama Has Historic Opportunity to Improve Ties With Latin America

Obama Has Historic Opportunity to Improve Ties With Latin America

For Immediate Release: November 6, 2008
Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Center for Economic and Policy Research joins a consensus of experts on the region in welcoming the opportunity for improved relations between the United States and Latin America, which have deteriorated enormously over the past eight years.

“President-elect Obama is being welcomed with open arms and great hope from leaders across the political spectrum in Latin America,” noted CEPR’s co-Director Mark Weisbrot. “But he will face obstacles -- not from the South, but rather from influential sectors of Washington’s foreign policy establishment,” he added.

Weisbrot said that this establishment has been in denial about the political and economic changes that have been sweeping across the region over the past decade, in which voters have repeatedly rejected “Washington Consensus” economic policies in more than a dozen national elections.  He noted that the United States’ most influential periodical on foreign policy, the Council on Foreign Relations’ publication, Foreign Affairs, had not published a single article in the last decade that viewed Latin America’s shift toward left-of-center democracies in a positive light.

“If we look at how these people have treated the elected governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador . . . their writings range from criticism to outright contempt and condescension,” said Weisbrot. “They have also failed to recognize the root causes of the regional revolt at the ballot box – especially the failure of Washington-backed economic policies to deliver economic growth.”

President Lula da Silva of Brazil hailed Obama’s election as “an extraordinary event” and called on him to lift the embargo entirely on Cuba, saying “there is no explanation for that blockade,” as did Evo Morales of Bolivia. Last week the United Nations, for the 17th year in a row, called on the United States to end the embargo. The vote was 185 to 3.

Weisbrot said that, “Obama will need to look beyond most of the Washington foreign policy establishment and begin a dialogue with Latin America’s elected leaders themselves – in order to improve relations with our southern neighbors. But there is no doubt that the region is ready for a better relationship.”

Some 368 scholars who specialize in Latin America sent a letter to Senator Obama, calling on him to “Become a partner, rather than an adversary, concerning changes already underway [in Latin America].” The scholars noted that “Washington's tendency to fight against hope and change has been especially prominent in recent U.S. responses to the democratically elected governments of Venezuela and Bolivia.”

The Center for Economic and Policy Research is an independent, nonpartisan think tank that was established to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. CEPR's Advisory Board of Economists includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University; and Eileen Appelbaum, Professor and Director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.
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