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My fellow Americans

By Rodrigo Acuña - posted Thursday, 11 December 2008


The former Cuban leader Fidel Castro once said that when it came to Washington, he preferred the Republicans in power because with Democrats it was difficult to know who he was dealing with.

Despite Castro's semi-favourable comments on US President-elect Barack Obama, who he described before the election as "no doubt more intelligent, educated and level-headed than his Republican rival", his past remarks on the unpredictability of Democratic administrations may still be relevant for Latin American countries.

South of the Rio Grande, Obama's victory has certainly been welcomed as a change from eight years of George W Bush's diplomatic and economic bullying. In Colombia, the number of human rights abuses increased during the Bush years. A brief military coup against Venezuela's democratically elected president Hugo Chávez in 2002 was also publicly supported by the Bush administration. In 2004, the neoconservatives in Washington were again up to more tricks, occupying Haiti militarily after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in questionable circumstances.

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According to most polls, throughout Latin America Bush will be remembered as one of the most loathed US presidents in history, with the invasion of Iraq touching a particularly raw nerve.

In contrast, during his presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly portrayed himself as a man of consensus who would seek to build better diplomatic relations with the rest of the world. Liberal commentators - whether in the US, Europe or the Hispanic world - could not praise Obama enough.

A more critical look at the policies on Latin America likely to be adopted by an Obama administration suggests that the current optimism is unwarranted. Yes, relations will hopefully improve, but a sharp break with the past seems unlikely - especially in view of the number of ex-Clinton officials Obama has thus far signed on board.

Latin American leaders have already clearly articulated their priorities to the President-elect. Following Obama's election to the White House, Brazil's President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva stated "I hope the blockade of Cuba ends, because it no longer has any justification in the history of humanity".

An hour later in La Paz, Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, who earlier this year expelled the US ambassador for his alleged support for local opposition groups made his own statement: "My greatest wish is that Mr Obama can end the Cuba embargo, take troops out of some countries, and also that surely relations between Bolivia and the United States will improve."

Hugo Chávez and Cuban president Raúl Castro have both indicated they will be willing to engage in dialogue with a new Democratic administration in Washington.

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Unfortunately, although Obama has promised he will close down Guantánamo Bay as a detention camp, and is even - under certain circumstances - willing to open a dialogue with Havana and Caracas, there is little evidence to suggest he will lift the embargo on Cuba. The embargo has now endured for close to half a century; in the aftermath of the island's recent hurricanes, the consequences were particularly devastating.

In a speech delivered on May 23, 2008 to the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, Obama said that while he would not lift the embargo on Cuba he would as President "immediately allow unlimited family travel and remittances to the island".

Furthermore, the senator from Illinois described Hugo Chávez as a demagogue and stated that he would "fully support Colombia's fight against" the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) while working with the government "to end the reign of terror from right wing paramilitaries". There will, however, be some problems pursuing the latter given the vast body of evidence linking the incumbent president of Colombia Álvaro Uribe Vélez to paramilitaries and the drug cartels.

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First published in New Matilda on December 3, 2008.
 



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About the Author

Rodrigo Acuña is a PhD candidate in International Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. A recipient of Benchmark Prize in Hispanic Studies by the University of New South Wales, he was also runner up for Open Prose in the Unsweetened 2007 Literary Journal. He writes regularly on Latin American affairs and has presented seminars at various Australian universities on political developments in Venezuela, as well as other Latin American countries.

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