"¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!"
"Poor Mexico! So far from God and so close to the United States!"
Mexican strong man Porfirio Díaz is credited with these words that describe the 20th Century U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Latin America relationships as the Roosevelt Corollary (Monroe Doctrine on steroids) brought Central and South American nations into the U.S. sphere of influence.
This week, President Obama toured a region transformed in one century: military invasions and roles in coup d'états during the 20th Century gave way to a largely hands off approach at the beginning of the 21st Century, in part because the U.S. has dealt with one major crisis after another: 9/11, the global economic meltdown, now the "Arab Spring" marked by so much promise, but also instability as demonstrated by U.S. involvement in the Libya air strikes President Obama directed from South America.
Latin America's transformation is significant, as are some issues that directly impact the U.S. Democracy painfully has taken root and sprouted in Southern cone nations, nurturing the growth of the Brazilian and Chilean economies despite recession, which through robust trade, the President hopes eventually creates jobs for Americans. Petro-bully Hugo Chavez has virtually anointed himself the region's ideological revolutionary (even though Fidel Castro and his revolution remain feebly in power) and is reportedly assisting Iran secure uranium. The clashes between drug cartels, and military forces are gutting border cities in Mexico, evidenced by bodies riddled by bullets from U.S. semi-automatic weapons, in some cases steps away from U.S. communities.
Although President Obama outlined points where relations will draw the U.S. and some Latin American nations closer, he fell short on specifics of his strategy to:
- ratify the Colombia and Panama trade pacts because of union opposition, a needed voter block if he is to be re-elected.
- implement an energy policy that weans the U.S. and the region away from fossil fuels and toward energy that is cleaner, renewable, and addresses safety concerns of nuclear power which Chile is eager to pursue.
- counterbalance the growing Chinese footprint in Latin America as evidenced by the Asian giant's gargantuan investments in infrastructure, primary products such as soybeans and copper, and industries that supply insatiable Brazilian and U.S. markets with goods including vehicles and electronics.
- comprehensive U.S. immigration reform that includes investments in economic development, public safety, and government transparency to give people a future in their countries--the best deterrent to immigrate illegally to the North.
- force the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to fast track the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm's (ATF) request for stricter reporting requirements in several U.S.-Mexico border states on sales of multiple semi-automatic weapons.
Throughout his visit, President Obama repeated the term "equal partners," a sign of respect but also acknowledgment of Latin America's ascendancy. Now that he is back in Washington, Mr. Obama will be besieged by the interrelated issues of economic recovery, geo-political instability in the Middle East, emboldened non-state actors such as drug cartels, and emerging China, to name a few current challenges. The President is best served by a partnership, not based on geographic chance or rhetoric, but on substance. After all, it's your true friends who have your back.