Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Visit Latin America
February 26, 2010
Q1: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit five Latin American countries next week. What explains the timing of the visit? What are the U.S. objectives?
A1: The visit comes at a time in which observers in both the United States and Latin America are speculating about the administration’s policy toward and commitment to the region. During their first months in office, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and key cabinet officials travelled to the region—above all to Mexico—leading many to conclude that the administration would give uncharacteristically high priority to relations with Latin America. Subsequent events—exacerbated by long delays by Congress in confirming several key administration appointments in the region—caused a reconsideration of this outlook. Secretary Clinton’s visit is designed to underscore U.S. commitment to the region in general, with emphasis on a number of key variables, including support for democracy, economic development and poverty alleviation, the bilateral relationship with Brazil, security-related issues in Central America, and Iran.
Q2: What is the significance of the choice of countries visited?
A2: Three of the countries on the trip agenda recently elected new presidents: Chile, Uruguay, and Costa Rica. All three have particularly strong democratic traditions, with effective institutions of government and a commitment to sound macroeconomic policies, as well as excellent relations with the United States. Secretary Clinton’s visit is meant to underscore U.S. support for representative democracy in the region, regardless of whether elected leaders come from the left—like President-elect José Mujica of Uruguay—or from the right—like President-elect Sebastián Piñera of Chile. She is also expected to hold other meetings with regional leaders on the margins of the Mujica inauguration in Montevideo. The visit to Guatemala has a regional dimension: the secretary will meet with Central American leaders during her stay there. However, the choice of Guatemala highlights the Obama administration’s concern about the destabilizing effects of drug trafficking and crime in that country, as well as the regional dimension of such problems in Central America and Mexico.
Q3: What is the particular significance of Brazil?
A3: Secretary Clinton’s visit reaffirms the importance to the United States of the bilateral relationship with Brazil, a regional leader in South America and an aspiring world power. The likely agenda for discussions with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his government will include a mix of bilateral, regional, and international issues—including, among others, regional security, energy cooperation, economic and trade topics, and Haiti (where a Brazilian commands the military forces in the UN Stabilization Mission [MINUSTAH]). The secretary will raise U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and seek support for further UN sanctions against Iran, which Brazil opposes. The visit also comes as Brazil gears up for general elections in October, with President Lula’s chief of cabinet Dilma Rousseff and governor of São Paulo José Serra the likely rivals in the race for president.
Peter DeShazo is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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