This weekend, President Obama will be heading to Cartagena, Colombia for the Sixth Summit of the Americas. The Summit of the Americas, which occurs every three years, will bring together national leaders from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean to discuss a varying list of issues from poverty and economic development to regional cooperation.
Given that the theme of the Sixth Summit is “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity”, the United States has a tremendous opportunity to re-work and strengthen its relationship with Latin America for the future. Latin America should continue to be a significant region of consideration to the US because Latin America is a growing region with significant opportunities for both the US and Latin America to benefit from the partnership. Furthermore, it is an important region because a significant amount of remittances flow from the US to Latin America and millions of US citizens trace their heritage to Latin America
However, some changes in the relationship between the US and the Latin American region should be noted to enhance the partnership.
One way to improve the relationship between the US and Latin American countries is that US must recognize that its influence in the region has waned over the years and the growth of other global players in the region has coincided with that decline. The US should recognize the influence that China and Iran maintain within the region via growing economic ties. In addition to these countries, the US should recognize who the regional leaders are such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Mexico. By recognizing who the regional leaders are
, the US can work with these nations to build stronger economic and security partnerships instead of crafting unilateral policies. The US has already begun this process by establishing strong ties to Brazil as economic and energy partners and is planning to create similar ties to Colombia.
Another way to improve the relationship would be for the US to re-examine its policy decisions within the region. It is important the US create strategic policies that complement the policies that are being used by Latin American countries rather than creating policies that are solely focused on achieving US tactical interests. Policies that solely focus on achieving US short term interest have often come at the expense of the region. These policies and other historical events have made the US unpopular within the region.
On another note, one possible policy that should be re-examined is the US anti-drug policy. The current policy has been effective in some areas but the growing violence is something to be of note. The US must craft an anti-drug that focuses on attacking both the demand and the supply of the drugs. The US should also create policies that target the underlying poverty and lack of legal employment opportunities which force people to turn to drug cultivation as a means of income.
The Sixth Summit of Americas is an important opportunity for the US to confirm its commitment to the region as the US role changes in other parts of the world. Latin America is a potentially strong partner and the US would be remiss to not reaffirm its ties to the region.