This is not another posting about Honduras. We’ve had enough of those and the back and forth. This is broader: about the general sense of drift of this administration’s policy in the region. (Warning: this is a précis of a future article.)
Is partnership really possible today in the Americas? For all the rhetoric and desire for collective action, the hemisphere is too divided, U.S. politics too polarized, and a number of Latin American countries too willing to shirk responsibility for that to happen.
President Barack Obama’s administration walked into office and the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago talking about partnership in the hemisphere—a welcome refrain from recent years. But if current events are any indication, the region doesn’t want partners it wants a punching bag. Partnership assumes a level of shared values, responsibility and future. The last eight months demonstrate everything but.
First, the sad debate at the Summit of the Americas in April. President Obama came armed with public adulation, a global honeymoon and a promise of partnership. All the presidents of the hemisphere united; the first regional meeting with the newly elected President Obama, and what do the Latin American countries put on the agenda? Cuba.
For months, the Senate has unnecessarily held up President Obama’s appointments for the U.S. ambassador to Brazil and the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. These actions have prevented the administration from assembling its Latin America team and have held hemispheric policy hostage to a few, lone voices.
We are stuck in gear. But if some conservative Republicans get their way, we risk being thrown into reverse, back to the Cold War. This time instead of communism, it’s through the prism of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
A more conspicuous and tangible evidence of the Cold War revival has been the recent campaign by some conservative Republicans against the nomination of Tom Shannon as ambassador to Brazil. This is the same Tom Shannon who was appointed and served as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs under George W. Bush.
The closed-door briefings and talking points that circulated in Congress are narrow and hollow criticisms of the United States’ Latin America policy over the last four years and are specifically tailored against Shannon.
Because the talking points are dangerous without context, I want to share them in full as they arrived to me. A major part of their context is this underlying partisan intent:
“In Honduras, Shannon remained silent as Manuel Zelaya attempted to subvert democratic institutions and the Honduran Constitution. But as the Congress and Supreme Court worked to remove Zelaya legally from office, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa and Shannon worked diligently to dissuade the Honduran Congress and protect Zelaya (3 July Washington Post, columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner).”
“In Venezuela, Mr. Shannon constantly promoted narcotics cooperation with Chávez despite evidence—and objections from other U.S. agencies—that the Venezuelan government itself was facilitating narcotics trafficking. Mr. Shannon also denied support to Venezuela's civil society and sat by as Chavez dismantled the country's democratic institutions. Today, the Mayor of Caracas still cannot get into his office to perform his duties. In all this, Mr. Shannon’s rationale for shunning Venezuela's civil society has been that the U.S. and Venezuela have a strategic relationship based primarily on energy.”