With US Senator Barack ObamaÂ the likely presidential candidate for the Democrats in the coming November elections, some Latinamerican experts are looking into his knowledge of the region and trying to guess what awaits this region.
Andres Oppenheimer from The Miami Herald argues that Obama and his main rival Hillary Clinton don't promise much for the region but a good message to the second and fastest growing ethnic group in the US would be, for example, to name a Hispanic Secretary of State. After all two Afro-Americans have held that job.
In an interview with Oppenheimer, Obama was unable to mention his three most respectful Latinamerican leaders. He couldn't think of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or his Argentinean counterpart, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He managed to mention the president of Chile but could not recall the name of Chilean leader Michelle Bachelet.
If nominated, however, Obama promised to visit Mexico before the November election. Hillary on the other hand has been in the region 18 times and the Republican John McCain was born in Panama and "travels regularly" to the area.
Anthony Lake, a former National Security advisor under the Clinton administrations and now working for Obama, argues that the fact "the US people decide to choose Obama not only means a fresh face to the world, but a clear message that Americans favor change. This is an essential step to renovate the US leadership in the world."
As to the differences between the leading Democrat candidates: Obama favors sitting to the table with leaders such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez as a "matter of principle" while Hillary believes that meeting adversaries of the US without having a pre-arranged agenda will only expose the US president "to propaganda purposes of such characters."
Regarding the Cuban situation neither Obama nor Clinton are in favor of lifting the embargo. However Obama's advisors said they would pull back some of the travel and remittances restrictions currently effective, an initiative that Hillary supports.
As to the immigration bill Obama states that from the Senate he was far more active in pushing for reform in 2007 that would have helped to legalize millions of undocumented aliens, mostly Mexicans.
As to trade both Obama and Clinton oppose a free trade agreement with Colombia and both would like to see a review of Nafta signed with Mexico in 1994.
Overall Oppenheimer believes any of the Democrat candidates would be better for the region than McCain regarding immigration, but worse than the Republican in trade issues.
Summing up, Obama represents change with some risks of lack of experience and Hillary a marginal reform with greater certainty.
Oppenheimer believes the great challenge is who of the two would be prepared to name a Hispanic as the United States first Secretary of State. Following two Afro-Americans maybe the time has come to choose a member from the leading US minority group and linked to one of the most important regions, but also most forgotten for Washington.
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