Obama’s Latin American Record

“On Mr. Obama’s watch, America’s friends have been stiff-armed while those who would do the U.S. harm have been given a pass—and sometimes even encouraged.”  Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Obama’s Record in the Americas

Friendly countries have been stiff-armed while those who would do the U.S. harm have been given a pass, and sometimes even encouraged.

By MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY – The Wall Street Journal – October 15, 2012, p. A15

Mitt Romney says that he will forge a better foreign policy than the one President Obama has had. Maybe so. For the United States’ neighbors

Barack Obama greets Hugo Chávez at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, April 17, 2009.

in the Western Hemisphere, it couldn’t get much worse.

On Mr. Obama’s watch, America’s friends have been stiff-armed while those who would do the U.S. harm have been given a pass—and sometimes even encouraged.

Democrats on the far left, led by the likes of former Sen. Chris Dodd, spent the Cold War arguing that U.S. efforts to keep the Soviets from setting up camp in the region amounted to vulgar imperialism. The Soviets are gone, but the Latin left has gained a new best friend in the current U.S. president.

In April 2009, in the midst of his now-famous apology tour, Mr. Obama warmly greeted Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez at the Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. It was a painful moment for the victims of the military dictatorship. Businesses in the once prosperous South American nation had lost their right to earn a profit, owners had been stripped of their property, free speech and pluralism had been quashed.

Ivan Simonovis, the decorated former chief of the Caracas metropolitan police, was living out a 30-year sentence in a cramped, windowless cell, one among a number of Chávez political prisoners. Imagine how it felt hearing the news that the leader of the Free World was in the Caribbean bonding with Fidel Castro’s most famous protégé.Less than three months later, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya—an acolyte of Mr. Chávez—tried to illegally extend his time in office using mob violence. It was a page right out of the antidemocratic, hard-left playbook that has been used in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua to put an end to political competition. It was also a direct violation of the Honduran Constitution.

All of the country’s independent institutions backed the removal of the president by the military. So did Mr. Zelaya’s own party. The generals argued persuasively that—given the marauding hooligans he had led in the street just days earlier—they had little choice but to deport the president to avoid bloodshed.

The Americas in the News

Nevertheless, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took Castro’s side in the matter, insisting that Mr. Zelaya had to be reinstated. Mrs. Clinton stuck to that position even after a legal analysis by the Congressional Research Service found that the Honduran Supreme Court had the right to ask the military to remove the president.

When it became clear that Honduras would embarrass the U.S. by going ahead with a fair election on schedule to replace the interim president, Roberto Micheletti, the State Department withdrew its demand. But it had already stripped the Honduran Supreme Court, Mr. Micheletti and numerous others of their U.S. visas. Mr. Micheletti’s visa has not been returned.

The White House has treated another U.S. friend, Colombia, with similar disdain. Mr. Obama opposed ratification of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement that had been negotiated and signed by George W. Bush. Mr. Obama claimed to be outraged by violence against organized labor even though President Alvaro Uribe’s policies had made all Colombians, including union leaders, far safer than they had been for decades. It took Mr. Obama nearly three years to send the trade agreement to Congress for a vote. He did so only grudgingly, and under intense pressure from Democrats like Montana’s Sen. Max Baucus, whose farmers and ranchers were losing market share in Colombia.

 

Mr. Obama also tried to throw sand in the gears of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Upon taking office he immediately killed a Bush administration pilot program designed to inch the U.S. toward compliance with its Nafta obligation to allow Mexican trucks to cross the border. Mexico responded with some $2.4 billion in retaliatory tariffs that hurt U.S. exporters badly. Thirty-one months into the Obama presidency, the administration agreed to a new pilot program. But the border is still not fully open to trucking competition.

You don’t have to speak Spanish, Portuguese or French to get clothes-lined by Mr. Obama. He nixed TransCanada‘s TRP.T +0.96% Keystone XL pipeline earlier this year, even though the company had complied with the U.S. permitting process. The project would have weakened Mr. Chávez by replacing Venezuelan heavy-tar oil used in Gulf Coast refineries with a similar product from a friendly country. Is there a pattern here?

The list goes on. The administration has done nothing to pressure Cuba to free U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross, who was taken hostage by the Castro regime in December 2009. The Obama Justice Department’s “Operation Fast and Furious” facilitated gun smuggling to friendly Mexico as part of the futile U.S. war on drugs, making life even more dangerous for Mexican citizens.

Mr. Romney says he can do better. That wouldn’t be hard.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications
A legal analysis on the removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was authored by the Law Library of Congress. An earlier version of this story misattributed the source of the report.

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