As the Summit of the Americas opens today in Trinidad, President Obama faces stark challenge in repairing relations with Latin America. When President Bush came to office, he pledged to engage and prioritize the hemisphere. He did neither. The Bush administration’s highly restrictive Cuba policy and abrasive diplomatic approach meant relations between the United States and Latin America drifted further apart, resulting in the loss of U.S. prestige and influence in the region. Although frustration with the US is intense, and progress will be slow, the Summit of the Americas provides an opening to build on these efforts, by seeking a coordinated approach to the global economic crisis and by beginning to address the common challenge of energy security and climate change in the Hemisphere.
President Obama embarks on his first trip to Mexico this week in an effort to warm up a cool relationship and turn rhetoric into substance on the shared challenges the two countries face. The Obama administration has recognized that the challenges facing Mexico are serious foreign policy concerns for the United States and that they can only be overcome by both countries taking shared responsibility to address them.
With America facing two wars and a global economic crisis of nearly unprecedented severity, it is tempting to relegate matters in Latin America to the back-burner. But for the last eight years, the Bush administration has pursued an episodic and ideological approach that ignored the concerns of countries in the regions. The consequences have been troubling. A new report from the Brookings Institution on the future of U.S. - Latin American relations argues that the U.S. must become a full partner in the affairs in its own hemisphere.