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A Victory for Chávez

The Caracas summit was an embarrassment for the United States.

8:15 AM, Dec 12, 2011 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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The Obama administration has aggressively and successfully engaged with other regions of the world. Consider its recent policy achievements in East Asia. After the administration’s flurry of activity last month—which coincided with Obama’s trip to Australia and Indonesia—Council on Foreign Relations scholar Walter Russell Mead said that it represented “as decisive a diplomatic victory as anyone is likely to see. Congratulations should go to President Obama and his national security team. The State Department, the Department of Defense and the White House have clearly been working effectively together on an intensive and complex strategy. They avoided leaks, they coordinated effectively with half a dozen countries, they deployed a range of instruments of power. In the field of foreign policy, this was a coming of age of the Obama administration and it was conceived and executed about as flawlessly as these things ever can be.”

If only the administration would devote similar energy to Latin America. “It is fashionable for pundits to declare that the world’s center of gravity is shifting east,” writes New America Foundation scholar Parag Khanna. “But that need not be the case. Elevating South America to its rightful place as the third pillar of the West alongside Europe and North America could be the most decisive geostrategic maneuver still to be deployed.” Unfortunately, Obama does not seem interested in attempting such a maneuver, despite the region’s clear economic and strategic importance. (As McKinsey & Co. analysts Ari Kertesz and Bernardo Neves have observed, per capita GDP is three times higher in Latin America than in China, and two-thirds of Latin American consumers belong to the middle class.)

The consequences of U.S. inattention were on full display during the CELAC summit. As I have written previously in this space, Chávez is gradually losing the ideological war over democracy and capitalism in Latin America. The successful Brazilian model is far more popular than the disastrous Venezuelan model. But the Obama administration continues to commit unforced diplomatic errors, and its blunders are helping Chávez claim victories he does not deserve.

Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.

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