Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is at the end of her first major tour through Latin America. Latin America watchers expected the region to be far more receptive to the Obama Administration than it was to the Bush Administration, but so far we’ve only seen mixed results. Given the amount of disagreements, Clinton may have her work cut out for her. Each country poses its own unique challenges to U.S.-Latin American relations.
The fence-mending mission hit a snag, barely six months into the Obama presidency, when in July 2009, Colombia agreed to expand America’s military presence in that country. Latin American leaders assailed the agreement — which gave the United States access to seven bases in Colombia. For its part, however, Colombia welcomed the agreement. Fortunately, President Uribe has since accepted a court ruling barring him from seeking a third presidential term, avoiding an awkward situation where the United States would have had to choose between promoting democracy and supporting one of its few staunch allies in the region.
Surprisingly, Buenos Aires was initially left off Clinton’s itinerary, but was added at the last minute. But even more surprising was Clinton’s unexpected push for negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the disputed Falkland Islands. Although Secretary Clinton can’t force either party to negotiate, the statement definitely raised eyebrows, in both London and Buenos Aires.
While Clinton originally planned a full-day visit to Chile, where she would have spent the night in Santiago, her trip had to be scaled back due to the earthquake that devastated the country. Clinton decided to press ahead with the visit as a show of solidarity, where she offered technical equipment and search & rescue teams to help the relief effort.
The trip isn’t exclusively goodwill. In perhaps the most important leg of the trip, Clinton visited Brazil to hold talks with President Lula, who has become increasingly important on both the regional and global stage. In particular, Clinton pressed Lula on Iranian nuclear proliferation. President Lula hosted Iran’s president in November, where he publicly supported the regime’s right to nuclear power and expressed his disapproval of sanctions. Lula will return the favor by visiting Tehran in May. As a temporary member of the UN Security Council, Brazil’s cooperation on this issue is absolutely critical. Despite Clinton’s efforts, though, it looks like Brazil rebuffed the Clinton’s overtures.
Maybe Latin America just doesn’t care what we think anymore?
David Perez is a third-year student at Yale Law School.