Obama and the Americas: A Window of Opportunity

The election of Barack Obama presents us with a unique window of opportunity, but it is a window that will not likely remain open for long. The direction of Obama’s Americas policy is likely to be decided very soon, as he assembles his administration—and we do not have the luxury of complacency. It is up to us, as advocates for justice in the hemisphere, to ensure that an Obama administration ends the long legacy of using Latin America’s blood and gold for U.S. ends. Now is the time to ensure that the next administration brings to the Americas not just change, but justice.

NACLA

Barack Obama’s victory was celebrated in the streets here in New York well into the early hours of Wednesday morning, and NACLA staff witnessed the impromptu cacerolazos, the honking of horns, and the dancing in the streets with genuine admiration for the anti-racist, anti-war, and social democratic motives behind much of the mobilization. For those of us concerned with U.S. actions around the world, the election of a liberal African American with international roots represents a possibility that how the United States comports itself overseas will, indeed, change for the better. This is an extraordinary moment.

But the inordinate power of unchecked global capital and the polymorphous “war on terror” remain unchanged. During the campaign, we got little sense that an Obama administration would, or could, attempt to reconfigure these realities. This is not surprising, given the pervasive shift to the neoliberal right that U.S. politics has made in the last few decades. It is, therefore, up to us, as activists and concerned citizens on the left, to pressure the Obama administration to adopt a more just foreign policy. We are asking you to join us in this fight, to take the energy that so many poured into this historic campaign and carry it forward to ensure that the change we’re seeking is delivered.

We face what could be the most important moment in hemispheric relations in nearly a decade. Obama has made it clear that he will move decisively to re-engage with a Latin America that he sees as having been ignored under eight years of Bush. But the Obama campaign was a constant source of contradictions when it came to the Americas: He indicated a willingness to be more open toward Cuba, but reiterated his support for the embargo; he indicated that he supports a humane policy toward undocumented immigrants, but he wants to further militarize the U.S.-Mexico border; he supports human and labor rights in Colombia, but is unambiguous in his support for Plan Colombia and its counterpart in Mexico, the Mérida Initiative. These equivocations indicate that a range of actual policies is possible under Obama, presenting both an opportunity and a challenge: We must push the Obama administration, as well as the national conversation, in a more progressive direction on hemispheric relations. Now is the time to make our voices heard.

NACLA, together with a group of left scholars and Latin America solidarity organizations, is developing a detailed agenda for action that lays out the most pressing issues in hemispheric relations, and describes what our goals are. This will be just the first step in organizing our network—you, the most engaged foreign policy progressives in the country—to create real change under the Obama administration. That agenda includes:

  • recognizing and respecting economic and territorial sovereignty, and ending belligerence toward elected left governments throughout the region
  • supporting labor rights, particularly in the areas of trade and migration
  • creating a just immigration reform that puts an end to raids and detention for profit, and addresses the underlying roots of undocumented immigration
  • ending the failed supply-side strategy of the war on drugs
  • reversing the spread of militarization embodied in Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative
  • creating a trade policy that encourages fair and sustainable growth and environmental sustainability
  • closing the School of the Americas, the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, and ending the practice and teaching of torture in U.S. military facilities

The election of Barack Obama presents us with a unique window of opportunity, but it is a window that will not likely remain open for long. The direction of Obama’s Americas policy is likely to be decided very soon, as he assembles his administration—and we do not have the luxury of complacency. It is up to us, as advocates for justice in the hemisphere, to ensure that an Obama administration ends the long legacy of using Latin America’s blood and gold for U.S. ends. Now is the time to ensure that the next administration brings to the Americas not just change, but justice.

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