The president spoke at least three times this evening during his State of the Union on issues of importance to the Western Hemisphere: immigration, trade and his desire to travel to Latin America in March.
He was strong on immigration, saying he is willing to work with anyone to address immigration issues comprehensively as a priority. That's good news and shows that immigration reform isn't dead despite the failure of the Dream Act in the lame duck congressional session late last year. Hopefully Republicans will take him up on it, or else they risk losing Hispanics politically for at least a generation, perhaps more. 2011 could finally be the year, if republicans will play ball.
On trade, the president spoke of working with Panama and Colombia to get an agreement that supports U.S. workers. We already have such agreements, though, since the agreements as drafted would open markets to us in the same way ours is already open to them. It’s a matter of fairness, and also the ability to export more, consistent with the president’s goal of doubling exports by 2014.
What's needed now is a specific timeline for action, and a deadline for completion. Hopefully these, too, will be done this year.
Finally, the president spoke of his plan to travel to El Salvador, Brazil and Chile in March. There's nothing like a presidential trip to focus the bureaucracy. This is a solid initiative, and timely. The three nations selected are worthy choices, given new presidents in each and the storyline each respective nation is writing.
Colombia would also have been appropriate, and perhaps Peru. They should certainly be included in the itinerary of the president’s next trip to the region if there is one. In the meantime, this will be an important opportunity to recharge and reset U.S. relations with the hemisphere.
All in all, Latin America did well in this year’s state of the Union address. Now, the hard work begins.
*Eric Farnsworth is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org. He is Vice President of the Council of the Americas in Washington DC.