The Obama administration is not paying attention to Latin America

Glad to see that Andres Oppenheimer is also concerned that the Obama administration is not paying attention to Latin America.    Frankly, it is not, and it pre-dated all of the foreign policy headaches on the table, from Iraq to Ukraine.  

Don't tell me that there is too much on the president's plate because they were talking about this indifference in the first term.  The Secret Service/prostitute scandal in Cartagena 2012 overlooked that most Latin American leaders were complaining about indifference.

Mr Oppenheimer cites 3 points:

"First, the Obama administration should show the region that it cares. Everybody understands that Secretary of State John Kerry is tied up with more urgent matters in the Middle East and Ukraine, but so far this year only two of his 21 trips abroad were to the region.    

And for last week’s second-term inauguration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, which was attended by the presidents of Mexico, Peru and several other countries, the White House sent U.S. State Department counselor Thomas Shannon, a highly respected diplomat but hardly a celebrity.  

Second, Obama could build his legacy in the region by proposing a new plan to deepen trade and investment relations with the 11 countries in the region with which the United States has free trade agreements, including Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile.  

The White House is negotiating free trade agreements mostly with Asian Pacific Rim countries and the 28-nation European Union. Kerry told me in an exclusive interview in December that he is exploring a regional trade initiative in the Americas, starting with deepening ties with Mexico and Canada, but that’s the last I heard of it. 

Third, Obama should counter Petrocaribe with a U.S.-Caribe initiative, taking advantage of the fact that Venezuela has gone bankrupt and its oil facilities are crumbling, while the United States will soon become self-sufficient in energy, and may even become an oil exporter. 

Petro-diplomacy may be used by Washington, just as it has been used by Venezuela, some Washington insiders are thinking."

The first two points are superb but the third one is weak.  

Does Mr Oppenheimer want the US to subsidize oil for small countries in the Caribbean?    I don't like that.

The first and second points are excellent.

We did not show any respect for Colombia by sending a career diplomat to Mr Santo's inauguration.   After all, Colombia is a great ally.   We should have sent VP Biden or maybe a delegation of high ranking US Senators like McCain.

The issue here is trade, or  jobs in the US.  We've seen China step into the region and fill a vacuum, as Mr Oppenheimer points out:

"The U.S. share of Latin America’s trade has dropped from 53 percent of the region’s worldwide trade in 2000 to 35 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, China’s share has soared from 1.9 percent to 12 percent over the same period, according to Inter-American Development Bank figures. 

What’s more, if current trends continue, by 2025 Latin America’s trade with the United States will have declined to 17 percent of its total trade, while Latin America’s trade with China will have reached 17 percent, says chief development bank trade economist Mauricio Moreira.  

And these figures include Mexico, a huge Latin American economy that does relatively little business with China. If you exclude Mexico, China’s presence in the region will dwarf the United States’ by 2025, the projections show."

Why has President Obama chosen to overlook Latin America?  I don't know the answer but my guess is the Obama administration never saw the political value.  They never saw the political value of endorsing free trade agreements in Colombia or Peru, for example.

In Latin America, as just about everywhere else, the Obama administration is all about politics or pandering for votes.


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