The Colombia and Panama free-trade agreements are stalled in Congress. The Merida Initiative—President Bush’s proposal to aid Mexico in the fight against drugs—languishes on Capitol Hill. Last week, the president dismissed calls for a revised policy toward Cuba, despite the leadership change there. A wave of populist backlash has produced anti-American leaders such as Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales, challenging the political landscape of the region.
At the same time, Latin America is strategically, culturally, economically and politically more important to the United States than ever before. The region provides 30 percent of U.S. oil—more than the Middle East—and is a leading source of alternative fuels. Some 18 million Latin American migrants—both documented and not—now live in the United States. Latin America is one of the United States’ fastest growing regional trading partners. It is also its largest source of illegal drugs.
With the hemisphere far more integrated than most appreciate, U.S.-Latin American relations demand special attention. As co-chairs of a comprehensive effort convened by the Council on Foreign Relations to address the U.S.-Latin American relationship, we assessed U.S. policy toward its Southern neighbors and suggesting a new direction for policy to reinvigorate, bolster and support the full range of interests in the region.
The longstanding focus of U.S. policy toward Latin America —trade, democracy and drugs—no longer maximizes the interests of either partner.