The United States is rapidly losing influence over Latin America.
At a historic summit during the end of February, more than two dozen leaders of Latin American and Caribbean countries decided to form a new organization to strengthen their political and economic cooperation and to leverage their power in dealings with the United States.
The leaders agreed on strategies to address immigration among the countries. They expressed solidarity with the people of Haiti still reeling from the earthquake there. They backed Argentina’s rights to the Malvinas (also known as the Falklands) in its dispute with Great Britain. And they condemned the United States for its continued blockade of Cuba.
The news of Latin American and Caribbean nations developing a united agenda was not welcomed in Washington. Much of the focus was on the inclusion of Cuba – and the exclusion of Canada and the United States.
Washington needs to realize that there is a changing political reality in Latin America.
President Obama paid lip service to this last April, when he told Latin American and Caribbean nations: “I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations.”
But that is not how the Obama administration has acted. While Obama himself spoke against the coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, the State Department failed to exert pressure to reinstate him. The United States continues to impose its tried-and-failed embargo against Cuba. And in Haiti, Obama has sent an unprecedented number of troops – a decision that makes many Haitians feel like they are being occupied again.
On the economic front, the U.S. government continues to push for an archaic policy that prioritizes the rights of private corporations, fuels inequity, displaces millions of people and leads to political instability. Washington still seems unable to grasp the rise of leftist governments in the region or to appreciate their social justice agenda.
To be a real leader, the United States must stop making policies to fit the demands of a few corporate lobbyists – and start tailoring policies to the needs of the hundreds of millions of people in this hemisphere.
Ana Perez is executive director of the Central American Resources Center in San Francisco and president of the Salvadoran American National Network. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.