September 10, 2005

A Bit on US - Latin American Relations

MABB © ®

The time is coming when Roger F. Noriega, current Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere at the Department of State (henceforth State), will be leaving his post and thus make space for the new appointee, Thomas A. Shannon (and here). Much has been said about the implications of this change. This issue is an important one for the US government, because it comes at a time when it seems that things are not just going as the US government would like them to go. Latin America seems to be veering in an increasingly opposite direction politically.

The departure of Noriega seems to bring a bit of relief to the current administration. Noriega has been, as of late, criticized for putting too much emphasis on voicing (unconstructive) criticism and engaging in a war of words with Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez. There have been people who have even suggested that Noriega was obsessed with Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Noriega himself takes time to refer to this criticism by the press in his speeches. In a recent speech given at CSIS on September 8th, he talks about his relationship with the press, his self described bluntness, and the successes of his time in office, but he aknowledges his public image as:

"if you follow only what you read in the newspapers, you would likely conclude that we have done little or nothing except to verbally spar with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. To be sure, Castro and Chavez represent the polar opposite of progress in the hemisphere. .... Most of this [his] message is missed by journalists who save their one question in a press conference to ask me about Chavez and then write that I'm obsessed with Venezuela. Most of them don't have the patience to study what we're doing at the OAS or in the Summit process to know that we're being good neighbors. If we don't solve a problem single-handedly we are accused of not caring, and if we dare to offer an opinion about another problem, they accuse us of interfering."

Noriega promplty admits his bluntness when relating to the leaders of Latin American countries and when talking about the issues. He says:

"That is the sort of blunt talk for which I have become known. I speak clearly for two reasons: first, my Spanish is not good enough for me to be subtle; second, I respect our friends in the region enough to shoot straight with them rather than condescend. Most of what I've said today I've said before."

Additionally, Noriega, in his speech, outlines the US' policiy towards Latin America and what he qualifies as his success by his office. He says that President Bush's policies towards the region seek to:

to advance freedom and prosperity in the region.

to work to bring peace and security to all countries in the region.

to get corruption under control and make governments more responsive and transparent.

to break down trade barriers and promote investment.

to raise education levels throughout the hemisphere.

to call for strengthened democracy and the rule of law in every country in the hemisphere.

to reward those countries that are adopting the responsible policies of fighting corruption and investing in their people.

to work alongside our neighbors to carry out these critical tasks -- using the multilateral tools available to us to organize our work and execute our plans.

Furthermore, Noriega assures that the US goal is "to promote democracy so every citizen is empowered to decide for themselves what is best for them. We promote free enterprise as a perpetual engine of growth. And we promote the rule of law so that each of us has the guaranteed right to demand our fair share of political freedom and economic opportunity. That is a formula for achieving a genuine revolution in the Americas."

Finally, Noriega sums up his perceived success as:

"Many of our friends in the Americas know that our vision works. The problem is, too many of them have had to leave their homes and families to find that out. I was in Miami just a few days ago, and it struck me driving around that fifty miles in every direction from where I was there is a thriving barrio made up of citizens of each of our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean. What they found here was a country that met them half way: that gave them little more than a level playing field and a fighting chance. And they have thrived. And they have prospered. And we're all better off for it. That is what we are working to replicate in every country -- near and far."

Personally, I am not crazy abou the guy. I am though, kind of glad he is gone. I did not mind much his bluntness or style, but his obsession with Chavez and Castro. I thought these personal attacks were not helpful at all. Especially at a time when the US needs to come closer to the average Latinamerican. The US needs to better its image in the region. There is tremendous hatred towards the US spreading all over the world and specially among the poor in Latin America. Noriega's comments were not helping America achieve its goals for the region.

I hope Shannon brings a bit of fress air and a more constructive and efficient approach to the region. Although, I have not been able to find much info on the guy. He seems to bring to the office as much bureaucratic experience as Noriega.

Note: As far as I can tell, Noriega mentions only two times Bolivia in the context of helping nations who are hoding elections this year to achieve democracy.