A New Dialogue for the Western HemisphereA New Dialogue for the Western Hemisphere


The recent participation of U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden in the Progressive Leaders’ Summit in Viña del Mar and his official visit to Chile are examples of the strong signals that, in its first sixty days, the administration of President Barack Obama has sent to the Latin American region.

But what do these signals mean?

First and foremost, they are a clear message of engagement – a willingness to listen and to explain as well as a desire to develop joint solutions to challenges. This has clear implications for the region – the new dialogue is a partnership and, with such partnership, comes shared responsibility for developing and implementing hemispheric policy.

The United States wants to share leadership as a means to reach more effective long-term solutions based on mutual respect. It can learn about climate change from Costa Rica, managing economic crises or enhancing social inclusion from Chile, energy independence from Brazil, and how to jointly manage drug trafficking in order to contain violence in Mexico, Central America and northern South America.

This presents a great challenge to the region – a need to step up and assume the responsibility. That is particularly important given the impact the global economic crisis has, and will continue to have, on the people of the hemisphere. The social gains of the past decade must be maintained and strengthened in order to consolidate the hemisphere’s commitment to political and economic freedom.

The U.S. signals also demonstrate sensitivity to the needs of the people of the hemisphere. They include a strong commitment to human rights, as reflected in the decision to close the Guantanamo retention facility, and a respect for family ties through the lifting of certain travel restrictions to Cuba.

While many of the moves have been positive, it is unlikely that the dialogue will mean significant short-term changes in the relationship between the U.S. and the region. The U.S. faces critical internal economic challenges which must be addressed as a priority – not only for its own benefit, but also for the economic health of the world. There are also pressing challenges in the Middle East and Asia which must be wisely dealt with – again for the benefit of the world.

At its most basic, the result will probably be a willingness to let regional leaders participate more actively in setting the agenda for the relationship with the U.S. This implies a more flexible U.S. strategy – perhaps a focus on security with Mexico, energy with Brazil and Chile, economic aid to Haiti, and climate change with Costa Rica – rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Of greater interest – and perhaps offering exciting long-term potential – is the increased willingness to play in a multilateral world where Brazil has a pivotal role. Such a strategy could hold great benefit for the globe – perhaps a solution to climate change or a renewed Doha round of negotiations with impetus from Brasilia. The latter is clearly an important opportunity for Chile.

One area of concern is trade. The “Buy American” component of the U.S. stimulus bill, the closing of the pilot program for Mexican truckers, and the lack of clarity about the next steps for the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement raise questions regarding the U.S. administration’s trade strategy. The strong message from the Progressive Leaders’ Summit rejecting protectionist policies is a clear test of Washington’s willingness to engage on the basis of partnership.

We at AmCham Chile are excited about progress to date and look forward to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago later this month – an excellent opportunity to begin to define a hemispheric strategy based on the new dialogue.

The recent participation of U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden in the Progressive Leaders’ Summit in Viña del Mar and his official visit to Chile are examples of the strong signals that, in its first sixty days, the administration of President Barack Obama has sent to the Latin American region.

But what do these signals mean?

First and foremost, they are a clear message of engagement – a willingness to listen and to explain as well as a desire to develop joint solutions to challenges. This has clear implications for the region – the new dialogue is a partnership and, with such partnership, comes shared responsibility for developing and implementing hemispheric policy.

The United States wants to share leadership as a means to reach more effective long-term solutions based on mutual respect. It can learn about climate change from Costa Rica, managing economic crises or enhancing social inclusion from Chile, energy independence from Brazil, and how to jointly manage drug trafficking in order to contain violence in Mexico, Central America and northern South America.

This presents a great challenge to the region – a need to step up and assume the responsibility. That is particularly important given the impact the global economic crisis has, and will continue to have, on the people of the hemisphere. The social gains of the past decade must be maintained and strengthened in order to consolidate the hemisphere’s commitment to political and economic freedom.

The U.S. signals also demonstrate sensitivity to the needs of the people of the hemisphere. They include a strong commitment to human rights, as reflected in the decision to close the Guantanamo retention facility, and a respect for family ties through the lifting of certain travel restrictions to Cuba.

While many of the moves have been positive, it is unlikely that the dialogue will mean significant short-term changes in the relationship between the U.S. and the region. The U.S. faces critical internal economic challenges which must be addressed as a priority – not only for its own benefit, but also for the economic health of the world. There are also pressing challenges in the Middle East and Asia which must be wisely dealt with – again for the benefit of the world.

At its most basic, the result will probably be a willingness to let regional leaders participate more actively in setting the agenda for the relationship with the U.S. This implies a more flexible U.S. strategy – perhaps a focus on security with Mexico, energy with Brazil and Chile, economic aid to Haiti, and climate change with Costa Rica – rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Of greater interest – and perhaps offering exciting long-term potential – is the increased willingness to play in a multilateral world where Brazil has a pivotal role. Such a strategy could hold great benefit for the globe – perhaps a solution to climate change or a renewed Doha round of negotiations with impetus from Brasilia. The latter is clearly an important opportunity for Chile.

One area of concern is trade. The “Buy American” component of the U.S. stimulus bill, the closing of the pilot program for Mexican truckers, and the lack of clarity about the next steps for the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement raise questions regarding the U.S. administration’s trade strategy. The strong message from the Progressive Leaders’ Summit rejecting protectionist policies is a clear test of Washington’s willingness to engage on the basis of partnership.

We at AmCham Chile are excited about progress to date and look forward to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago later this month – an excellent opportunity to begin to define a hemispheric strategy based on the new dialogue.

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