An elite inter-American commission sponsored
by a think-tank that is considered close to likely key policymakers in the
administration of President-elect Barack Obama is calling for sharp break in
U.S. policy toward Latin America, a substantial opening toward Cuba, greater
diplomatic engagement with Venezuela, and a major reassessment of its war on
In a 32-page report entitled "Rethinking
U.S.-Latin American Relations" [.pdf] released by the Brookings Institution
Monday, the 20-member "Partnership for the Americas Commission" is
urging Obama, among other things, to lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba
by U.S, citizens and take other steps to ease the nearly 50-year-old U.S. embargo
against Havana, and to put far greater emphasis on reducing demand for drugs
at home and the export of guns to Mexico.
The Commission, which was co-chaired by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo
and Washington's former ambassador to the United Nations, Thomas Pickering,
is also calling on the U.S. Congress to phase out tariffs on ethanol imports
from Latin America and subsidies on corn-based ethanol as part of a larger
initiative to develop sustainable energy resources, combat climate change,
and foster greater regional integration.
It also calls for the creation of a new "Americas Eight" (A8) that
would serve as an umbrella of eight heads of state in the region, including
at least the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil and other countries with the continent's
largest populations and economies, that would serve as a "steering committee"
to promote the "partnership" between the northern and southern subregions
and revitalize hemispheric institutions like the Organization of American States
"A valuable window of opportunity soon will open for the U.S. government
to rethink its relations with and policies toward the LAC [Latin American and
Caribbean] countries," the report declared, noting both the advent of
the Obama presidency and the bicentennial celebrations in 2009 and 2010 of
independence of many Latin American countries. Both should lead to "fresh
thinking and new policies."
Indeed, the Commission's membership and its sponsorship by Brookings, whose
staff includes many senior veterans of the Bill Clinton administration likely
to get key posts under Obama, especially in the State Department if, as reported,
Sen. Hillary Clinton, becomes secretary of state, suggest that the report's
recommendations will be taken seriously.
Aside from Pickering, prominent U.S. members of the Commission included Nancy
Birdsall, the president of the Washington-based Center for Global Development;
the assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs under Clinton,
Jeffrey Davidow; Clinton's U.S. envoy to the Americas Thomas "Mack"
McLarty; and Brookings president and Clinton's deputy secretary of state, Strobe
Aside from Zedillo, prominent Latin American members included former Chilean
President Ricardo Lagos, former Peruvian Prime Minister Roberto Danino, and
former Guatemalan vice president Eduardo Stein.
Although more detailed in specific recommendations in key issue areas, the
report's tone largely echoes that of a major report issued in May by the influential,
if somewhat more conservative, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), entitled
American Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality" [.pdf].
That report called, among other things, for engaging Cuba on a range of issues
of mutual concern with a view to ending the embargo, engage more with Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez, deepen Washington's strategic relationships with Brazil
and Mexico, establish a better balance between military and security aid and
economic and social assistance in its anti-drug efforts, and recognize once
and for all that, in its words, "If there was an era of U.S. hegemony
in Latin America, it is over."
That message was repeated emphatically in the Commission's report, which stressed
the degree to which Latin America's political and economic ties with the outside
world and internally have diversified.
"Their enhanced confidence and autonomy will make many LAC countries
much less responsive to U.S. policies that are perceived as patronizing, intrusive,
or prescriptive, and they will be more responsive to policies that engage them
as partners on issues of mutual concern," according to the report, which
also noted that, despite their own competition for regional influence, both
Brazil and Venezuela "agree that Washington should play a more limited
role in their part of the world."
The report identified four areas that "hold most promise" for forging
a "hemispheric partnership" developing sustainable energy
sources and combating climate change; managing migration effectively; enhancing
economic integration; and protecting the hemisphere from drug trafficking and
But it also stressed the importance of relations with Cuba which, it said,
"have disproportionately dominated U.S. policy toward the LAC region for
years [and] have hindered Washington's ability to work constructively with
"Political change in Washington, combined with demographic and ideological
shifts in the Cuban American community and recent leadership changes in Cuba
itself, offer a valuable opportunity to change course," the report stated.
It called on Obama to, among other steps, lift all restrictions on travel
to Cuba by U.S. citizens; remove caps on remittances by Cuban Americans to
their families on the island something Obama promised to do during the
campaign; take Cuba off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism;
end restrictions on humanitarian aid in cases of natural disasters; and reintegrate
Cuba into regional and global economic and political organizations.
"These recommendations will not be uncontroversial," noted Pickering,
who retired form the Foreign Service with the highest rank of career ambassador
in 2001. He added that Washington's decades-long efforts to isolate Havana
had helped its rulers "be the jailers of the Cuban people."
The report also called for easing its hostility toward Venezuela's Chavez,
urging a "calibrated, non-confrontational approach in its relations with
based on mutual respect and nonintervention in each other's
internal affairs and those of neighboring countries."
On migration, it called for establishing ministerial-level coordination between
the U.S. and key migrant-sending countries; establish a new visa system to
encourage circular migration patterns; enact legislation to provide a path
to legal status in the U.S. for undocumented immigrants without a criminal
record; and facilitate remittances.
The Commission, according to Zedillo, agreed that recent repressive U.S. actions,
including the construction of what he called the "abominable" and
"profoundly offensive" wall along parts of the U.S.-Mexican border,
"will make the problem worse."
On drugs and organized crime, the report called for a hemispheric dialogue
and evaluation of specific anti-drug measures; a substantial increase in funding
for programs to treat drug-offenders and reduce demand; a greater emphasis
on promoting alternative livelihoods for drug for those affected by eradication
"What we have been doing until now [has been] a total failure,"
Zedillo said, with respect to the drug war.
To promote the proposed partnership, the report called for the creation of
the A8 that would be modeled on the Group of Eight most powerful Western nations
and Russia that in recent years have set much of the economic and political
agenda for global institutions.
At a press briefing on the report, Pickering suggested that there could be
some permanent members, and others, including oft-neglected Caribbean nations,
which would rotate in and out.
(Inter Press Service)