Courting Latin America

President Obama is in Latin America attempting to build economic bridges with that region of the world in the hope that it will boost his reelection prospects. He wants to convince voters in this country that our economy will recover as new trade relations are solidified with our neighbors to the South. The officials in that region of the world, meanwhile, are distressed over the fact that the U.S. is perceived as ignoring them out of a misplaced concern with the Middle East. Perhaps so. In any event, the President’s visit has been marred by a scandal involving eleven (at last count) of his security people who seem to have an uncontrollable urge toward promiscuity, and the fact that the U.S. has insisted that Cuba be denied involvement in the next Summit of the Americas.

The story begins: CARTAGENA, Colombia (Reuters) – A prostitution scandal involving U.S. security personnel in Colombia and an unprecedented regional push to end the isolation of Cuba threatened on Saturday to eclipse President Barack Obama’s charm offensive to Latin America.

I am less alarmed by the prostitution scandal — which is certainly disturbing on many levels — than by the fact that the U.S. voted to deny Cuba access to the Summit when 32 countries in that region of the world insisted that Cuba be invited to participate. A number of Latin American countries, including pro-U.S.A. Colombia, have said they will not participate in the next Summit without the involvement of Cuba. I realize that there are real-world political problems with cozying up to Cuba, but this is about sending messages to that part of the world and starting anew. Allowing Cuba to attend the Summit does not necessitate renewed friendship with that country and it just might help build those economic bridges.

Ours is a President, after all, who ran on a policy of open government, the desire to open lines of communication with others — certainly other nations. We should have learned by this time that turning a deaf ear to a country, any country, can be a mistake of gigantic proportions. It is always preferable to talk to people, even people with whom we are ideologically opposed, than it is to take a stance of hard-line opposition. Our acknowledgement of the importance of Cuba to that region is an important element in opening lines of communication with other nations in Latin America, and the resentment that our denial has stirred outweighs the sexual scandal that is grabbing most of the headlines around the world.

In any case, the prestige of this nation and the reputation of this President as a man with an open mind and a willingness to engage in dialogue with anyone may have been irreparably harmed. The scandal involving a group of men who surround the President and apparently can’t keep it in their pants didn’t help, either. In the meantime, China has stepped in and maintains the upper hand in the region with trade agreements that portend the continued economic ascendency of that country at a time when the prestige and economic clout of the United States seem to be in serious jeopardy.

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