By Contributor on April 23, 2012

By Teo Ballve

President Obama left the summit in Latin America with Washington more isolated than ever before.

The reason: The stubborn positions the United States takes on the drug war and on Cuba.

When Obama first met with regional leaders in 2009, he recognized the mistakes Washington had made in the past.

“We have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms,” he said. “But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership.”

In Cartagena, Colombia, Obama failed to live up to this promise.

A genuine partnership of equals would mean heeding the overwhelming consensus by Latin American leaders against the U.S.-sponsored drug war and the isolation of Cuba. Instead, Obama dismissed Latin American criticism of his administration’s policies as caught in “a time warp, going back to the 1950s and gunboat diplomacy and Yankees and the Cold War.”

But it is Washington that is in a time warp.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos pointed out that Washington’s insistence on keeping the embargo against Cuba and excluding the island from diplomatic meetings was itself a Cold War “anachronism.”

Obama categorically ruled out any changes to his Cuba policy, putting him in an uninterrupted line of U.S. presidents following the same general approach with almost nothing to show for it. The island’s Communist government has withstood 50 years of U.S. sanctions, producing little more than grave hardships for Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Latin American leaders also singled out the drug war as a problem, noting that their countries bear the brunt of misguided U.S. policies.

The strongest critique of the drug war did not come from the region’s leftist firebrands, but from the conservative presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico. Despite being Washington’s closest allies in the region, they are also the countries facing the highest rates of drug-related violence.

By Teo Ballve

The drug war in Mexico alone has claimed more than 35,000 lives since 2006. Three years ago on a trip across the Rio Grande, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flatly admitted, “Clearly, what we’ve been doing has not worked.”

Obama’s recognition of the need for an honest debate about the drug war is a step in the right direction, but by the time he left Cartagena he only offered more of the same, including $130 million in further military aid to Central America.

This is a far cry from Obama’s position during his Senate campaign in 2004 when he declared, “The war on drugs has been an utter failure.”

With the drug issue unresolved and opposition from the U.S. and Canadian representatives over inclusion of Cuba at future meetings, the summit fell apart on the last day without a final declaration. The Argentine and Bolivian delegations left early in protest.

The United States risks further ruptures with Latin America due to its recalcitrant stances.

Latin American governments have increasingly joined together, establishing regional bodies that exclude the United States. They have also strengthened their diplomatic and economic ties with China, India and other countries from developing regions.

As long as the Obama administration fails to deliver on its promises of a genuine partnership, Latin America will continue to look for partners elsewhere.

Teo Ballve is a writer currently based in Bogota, Colombia. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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A plea to United States citizens to work for peace

An Indian journalist globally renowned as an advocate for the poor, Palagummi Sainath detailed the detrimental...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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