Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Latin America and U.S. policy

Letter to President Obama on U.S.-Latin America Policy

The Honorable Barack Obama
The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
We, the under signers, leaders of prominent national Latino and Latin American/Caribbean immigrant organizations in the U.S., are writing to you in light of your current trip to BrazilChile and El Salvador.
First of all, we want to commend your Administration for the initiative to bring attention back to Latin America and the Caribbean, a region of the world with which the United States of America has had a long, often troublesome, relationship. Your victory in 2008 stimulated hope among Latin American societies that long for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations; an end to the so called "war on drugs"; a recalibration of U.S. trade and investment policies; and a firm commitment to nonintervention and respect for sovereignty in the region.
The choice of Brazil, Chile and El Salvador for your visit is poignant. The U.S. has a large moral debt to these countries: In each case past Administrations (early 1960'S through early 1990's) supported directly or indirectly the ascent and continuation in power of brutal dictatorships and later, in the case of Chile and El Salvador, U.S.-client states-regimes. The current Salvadoran and Chilean-origin populations in the U.S. are essentially creations of massive refugee-flows caused by gross and wide-spread human rights violation and political repression carried out by U.S.-supported regimes.
Indeed, given the fact that most of the foreign born population now residing in the U.S. happen to be people born in Latin America and the Caribbean, we believe that U.S.-Latin America relations should have a much higher level of priority than it has been given so far.
As you visit the three countries mentioned above, we would like to bring to your attention some of the most important changes in Latin America and the Caribbean, which in our opinion should be taken into account as your Administration considers new policy approaches towards Latin America and the Caribbean:

1. Although the lack of economic opportunities in many Latin American and Caribbean countries is a leading driver of migration, we should also acknowledge and validate the economic, social and cultural symbiosis between the U.S. and our neighbors in the hemisphere. The migration dynamic is complex and multifaceted, yet we continue to use an outdated paradigm of control, exclusion, and punishment, which leads to the vilification of immigrants and creates an unhealthy pattern of scapegoating here in the U.S.
2. While the U.S. economy has experienced a devastating economic recession in recent years, many Latin American economies are experiencing rapid growth. This asymmetry is not an accident. Instead, it is the result of increasingly different approaches when it comes to comprehensive development strategies. The experiences of Brazil, Chile,VenezuelaBoliviaArgentina, and other nations throughout the Western Hemispheredemonstrate that Latin America has much to teach the U.S. and other nations about sustainable, equitable development models.
3. Democratic rule has taken deep roots in Latin America and the Caribbean in the last two decades. In defiance of a history of dictatorial regimes, (a history in which the U.S. usually took the wrong side), numerous Latin America and the Caribbean societies have become examples of robust democratic/civic participation. In the two recent instances where democratic rule was interrupted, the cases of Honduras and Ecuador, Latin American and Caribbean nations remained united in opposing a return to past anti-democratic practices.
4. In spite of the progress in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years, there are serious challenges looming in the horizon. Among these challenges are the following:
a. The impact of climate change in the region, which threatens the wellbeing of wide segments of the population, particularly those still affected by poverty and exclusion;
b. The growth of powerful and transnational organized crime cartels dedicated to exploiting black markets -unintentionally fostered by current U.S. policies- for illicit drug production, weapons, and human migration flows. In the case of several nations, particularly Mexico, the power of these criminal organizations has already reached a crisis level that threatens the security and wellbeing of segments of their respective populations along the trafficking routes.
All of these should factor into consideration of how the U.S. might contribute to a mutually beneficial shared future. We would like to suggest the following proposals that taken together would revive the spirit of President Roosevelt's Good Neighbor era -arguably considered the zenith of U.S.-Latin America relations:
1. Organize a U.S.-Latin America and Caribbean Partnership, inclusive of civil society organizations (particularly those representing organized Latin American and Caribbean migrant communities) intended to educate the general public in the U.S. and Latin America and the Caribbean, about the multiple benefits rendered by migration and to promote the respect of the rights of migrant persons, irrespective to where they are and their migratory status. Regrettably, the predominant view about migrants that has come to dominate public discourse paints migrant persons as threats, or, in the best of cases, renders them invisible. Without a corrective intervention, it will be difficult to reach well informed and lasting policy changes. In addition, such a partnership should focus on working with national and international policymaking bodies in order to bring about modern, just, humane and functional policies to govern migration in the 21st century.
2. Conduct a thorough and public review of existing U.S. policies towards Latin America and the Caribbean, and to come up with a new generation of policy goals and practices intended to support the social, economic and political reforms carried out by different countries in this region in recent years, that have resulted in more equitable and sustainable societies. This includes the cases of nations often considered as adversaries to the U.S., such as Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. The goal of shared and sustainable prosperity throughout the Americas, that truly betters the life of the vast majority of people, is the best guarantee to ensure stable, mutually beneficial and ever more democratic societies in Latin America, the Caribbean and here in the U.S.
3. Recent events in the Middle East have taught us all how important it is to balance the relationship with government on one hand, and with key civil society actors on the other. In the case of U.S. policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean, we recommend a new emphasis on building relationships with key civil society actors. The case of Honduras is worthy of special mention. The current government, which manycivil society organizations in Honduras continue to see as an illegitimate government, needs to be held to high standards when it comes to respect for human rights. The wisdom of supporting the removal from office of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya remains to be seen. However, we respectfully urge you to take a leading role in holding the current Honduran government committed to unconditional respect for human rights and accountable for human rights violations committed under their watch.
In conclusion, your Administration has a window of opportunity to bring about a new day in the relationship between the U.S. and its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors. We invite you to seize the opportunity to bring about a post-modern "Good Neighbor" era that takes us away from a history of military intervention, and the advancement of economic policies that failed to create social, economic, political and cultural opportunities for the majorities. We urge your administration to reorient U.S. policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean in a way that enables a mutually beneficial future for all. Thank you for your consideration.
Oscar Chacon, Executive Director
National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities
Antonio Gonzalez, President
William C. Velazquez Institute
Nativo Lopez, President
Mexican American Political Association

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