Now, before anyone says anything I am a great fan of Andres Oppenheimer from the Miami Herald whose columns and books on Latin America are a must read. But his latest OpEd piece has a je ne sais quoi off.
At first glance his argument is impeccable; Obama should use the next variety of meetings in the Americas to start a rapprochement with some of the countries in difficulty, mainly ailing Brazil (the biggie is OAS in Panama April 10) . Certainly since September 11 the US has been distracted from Latin America and others have step in to pick up the slack, namely China buying and pushing up the commodities market.
However if it takes two to tango, it also takes at least 2 NOT to tango. This blog has noted that the Afghanistan war and the much more questionable one in Iraq have been a huge distraction on what should have been the US real interests, namely South America its nearest neighbor. Certainly this helped a lot the chavista regime to take hold. But it was also good news for other assorted lefts that could count on US silence no matter what they did to reach office.
Yet the distancing of the US was also met by a deliberate distancing from the South. After all, someone like Lina Ron in Venezuela may not have risen to fame, and to perpetrate the damage she did, had she not been burning an US flag in front of the US Caracas embassy within hours of September 11. She was extreme but she was not alone in smiling at a US disaster. One could have certainly expected most of "the West" to participate in the anti Taliban operation, but that did not stop countries from other continents of Asia and Africa to send in some support. South of the Rio Grande I think only Salvador expressed support of any type. I understand that Afghanistan was more of NATO problem than an OAS problem but that Cardoso or Fox were not more participative is kind of a mystery. If I am wrong in my recollections, please, do correct me.
The fact of the matter is that the US did try to have some links. For example George Bush braved the continent to have diner at a Montevideo steak house while in Buenos Aires Chavez paid for an anti US meeting. But in the end people like Lula were delighted at the opportunity offered by US pusillanimity to flex Brazilian imperialism through proxies like UNASUR, Chavez and others.
Poor Obama did not have much of chance. He tried to ingratiate himself at first, even receiving an idiotic book from Chavez at the Trinidad summit. In the Honduras fiasco he tried to see things Latin America way. To which result? Now, in his lameduckness I suppose that Obama is recentering the US interests where they truly belong, or at least where the US can hope for some significant influence or even alliances. In 2015 what matters to the US are its partners Europe/Japan/Aussieland/likewise; middle East; and Central America and the Caribbean, the source of great immigration problems. Even Israel seems on its way to be demoted from numero 1. In South America the lone interest seems to be Colombia and I even start doubting it now that Santos seems to bent on sabotaging Uribe's successes while ignoring Venezuela narco state.
Obama's administration has the right perspective, at least it seems to be from this blogger point of view. In 6 years South America has been unable to make any significant rapprochement with the US (outside of the Pacific Alliance, still to prove itself, and a market thing rather than espousing US "ideology"). Not only that but Obama has found no support against the insults from Chavez, no understanding on how Venezuela having become a drug highway is damaging to US interests, no reprobation from the Venezuela financial corruption spilling over. Enough is enough and Obama has simply demanded that South America do its share, to straighten up their act. Meanwhile some political capital is spent, wisely or not, on Cuba and the Caribbean basin. The rest may go to hell. After all the rich in South America keep buying at a steady pace Real Estate in the US, so where is the problem?
That is why when I read Oppenheimer question: Has the United States given up on South America? I can only but smile. I think that it is too easy to put all the blame on the US. Indeed the guilt of the failed relationship is to be shared in equal parts (I think less on the US actually). And when I read "It’s a new regional scene. Obama should keep this in mind, and try to reset ties with South America — especially with financially ailing Brazil — at the summit." it sounds to me that the US should be the forgiving one, or that rather Oppenheimer in spite of, or because of, all his years in the US feels like the jilted party.
No matter what Caracas would like us to believe, the US is not anymore the imperial power it used to be. There is only so much resources available and it is fair for the US to start dealing only with amenable interested parties. If South America wants a better relationship with the US it is up to them, not to Obama or his successors. And it is not by promoting UNASUR, electing Almagro at the OAS or refusing to put pressure on Maduro that South America is acting like the responsible partner that the US need in this multipolar world.
In short, I have the feeling that Panama will be only another bust in the collection of failed OAS meeting. Unless of course Raul Castro decides it to be otherwise. If he reins in Venezuela, if he convinces Maduro to go somewhere else during the summit, the cameras will be fixed on Barack/Raul hug. If Raul is pissed at his shadow he can wreck the whole summit by letting loose idiot Maduro. After all that would be quite a triumph for Raul, to spit on the OAS when this one is starting to allow the Cuban tyranny to go back in the concert of democracies.
It is quite amazing to see how a whole continent is hostage to the most archaic regime left in the world after North Korea. Though I suppose circumspect Canadians probably think that their own huge country could qualify as a separate continent and they will pretend to be in Panama on holiday.