Latin America After Hillary Clinton

voxxiBy Christopher Sabatini, Voxxi

In her four-year term, Hillary Clinton has not only been the State Department’s most traveled secretary of state in history, she’s also been a frequent flier to Latin America and the Caribbean. In 22 trips to the region (including Canada), she traveled to 31 countries.

Can we expect the same level of attention from secretary of state nominee, Senator John Kerry? Not likely, though that may not be a bad thing.

hillary clintonBy 2008, U.S. political capital in the region was badly damaged. In the first four years of President George W. Bush’s administration, a number of high-level government officials made little effort to hide their preferences for specific candidates or parties in elections in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela, violating a long-standing policy—in place since the presidency of President Bush’s father—to support the process of democratic elections regardless of their outcomes. Moreover the brief embrace of the seizure of power in Venezuela during the confusion that erupted on April 11, 2002 after troops, acting on orders from President Hugo Chavez, fired on protestors—further inflaming regional suspicions that the U.S. was up to its old habits of interventionism in the region.

While the Bush Administration course-corrected in its later years, the perception and lingering suspicion remained.

For many, inside and outside the United States, the election of President Barack Obama was an opportunity to reset the relationship. But politics in the region had changed too much. A new generation of populist presidents in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, the so-called ALBA alliance, (largely as a means to assert their own sovereignty) refused to let the old suspicions die. At the same time, concerns about their intentions, within their own countries and outside of it, remained, irrespective of the party in the White House.

Hillary Clinton’s role in Latin America

President Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, did bring a new tone that helped smooth over relations, especially with the other countries in the hemisphere, but there was no going back to the days of regional consensus and partnership with the United States that had marked relations under President George Bush (father) and President Bill Clinton.

In the early years of the administration, Clinton tried. She traveled with President Obama to the Summit of the Americas in April 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago and went to the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in June the same year. But these high-level efforts did not reward her efforts, nor did the subsequent trip to the Summit of the Americas in Colombia last year. Chavez and several other countries friendly to his project turned these into platforms to embarrass the United States rather than focus on concrete problems such as security and development that were on the agendas. Most of the real work on issues near and dear to her heart was done on her bilateral trips.

It was Secretary Hillary Clinton’s personal interest and dedication to development and social inclusion that drove her engagement in much of the region and will differentiate her foreign policy from any future tenure under Senator Kerry. Since her time as First Lady, Hillary  Clinton has shown a deep commitment to health, women’s rights and economic empowerment issues. Development issues became a centerpiece of her visits whether it was women’s leadership in Peru, economic empowerment in Colombia and of course Haiti, which she visited four times. Her commitment to social inclusion also led to the creation of a social inclusion division within the Western Hemisphere Bureau.

In contrast, Senator Kerry has shown little interest in the sorts of development issues that would make him look south. While on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in his capacity as a special emissary for the Obama administration, his focus has been on the traditional areas and themes of U.S. foreign policy, the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China.

None of this is to say that, should he become Secretary of State, Senator Kerry will ignore the region nor that he won’t bring special skills that are relevant to the hemisphere. For one, it is quite likely that several crises in the region will force him to become involved, among them the challenge of narcotics trafficking and security in Mexico and Central America, the complex political transition in the midst of high levels of polarization in Venezuela and the process of change in Cuba—coming in part from the possible (though never certain) death of Fidel Castro (who is 86) and/or Raul (who is 81).

For another, the prism of development may not be the most appropriate approach to a changed region. The existence of the Venezuela-led ALBA countries and the economic and diplomatic rise of Brazil could well benefit from diplomatic tools and approaches from other regions. The question then is: Given all the pressing issues on any secretary of state’s agenda, when and why will he need to look south?

This article was first published in Voxxi.

Christopher Sabatini is Senior Director of Policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, Editor-in-Chief of “Americas Quarterly” and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

[Photo courtesy The White House]

Subscribe today!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Must Read

Rosca de Reyes – A Slice of Gospel and Tradition #Recipe

Victor Landa January 4, 2018

Often used as evangelizing tools, celebrations in Mexico feature elements that are charged with symbolism. Take the piñata, for example, used as an allegory of sin (colorful and appealing on the […]

How ‘One Day at a Time’s Diverse Writers Room Creates Authentic Latino Narratives

Victor Landa January 26, 2018

Much like the loving Alvarez family they created, the writers of One Day at a Time work closely together, don’t always agree but love each other anyway. Their collective family experiences helped […]

Mexican-American medic who documented Nazi camp horror dies at 93

Victor Landa March 12, 2018

Riverside, California (CNN)Two dozen veterans held US flags and stood at attention as they and dozens of family and friends bid farewell to Anthony Acevedo, one of the nation’s great […]

Latinos outraged as national news outlet labels nopales as ‘hottest food trend of 2018’

Victor Landa January 8, 2018

Nopales are a tried and true treat for generations of Latino families, but it seems to the wider internet they may become the “new avocado toast.” And people aren’t happy. […]

A New TV Show Inspired by the Life of Selena Quintanilla Is Coming to ABC

Victor Landa January 19, 2018

Selena Quintanilla lives on. Just two months after the late legendary songstress received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, ABC has announced its plans to commemorate the Mexican-American star’s life […]

Dashed hopes, upended lives as Trump ends protection for Salvadorans

Victor Landa January 10, 2018

WASHINGTON – Hopes were dashed Monday for tens of thousands of people from El Salvador with Temporary Protected Status who have lived more than a decade in the U.S., but […]

Expansion of AP computer science courses draws more girls and minorities

Victor Landa

Ten years ago, girls were so scarce in high school computer science classes that the number of female students taking Advanced Placement tests in that subject could be counted on […]

2018: a year for the Latino Vote

Victor Landa January 8, 2018

We have said it before: being a minority does not mean being powerlessness, especially when a large part of the outcome of an election could be transformed thanks to the mass […]