[Viewpoint] Walk softly in Latin America

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[Viewpoint] Walk softly in Latin America

During the Cold War, the United States wished to guarantee the security of Central and South America through armed intervention. However, in the post-Cold War era, Washington has been pursuing security at the social level rather than militarily. The former tends to tackle human rights infringements, illegal immigration, drug dealing, money laundering, corruption and terrorism.

As the international community becomes more diversified, protecting a nation from non-military threats has become a major element when establishing security strategies.

However, the fact that the United States plans to set up a military base in Colombia shows that Washington’s Latin American foreign policy is regressing to Cold War methods.

The presence of a U.S. military base in Colombia has a significance beyond the mere maintenance of social safety by addressing the drug issue. In reality, the move signals a return to the Cold War era of military intervention.

The move clearly goes against the declaration in the early days of the Obama administration to end the U.S.’s decades-old policy of exerting excessive influence in Central and South America.

President Obama promised to build new bonds of cooperation and partnerships by pursuing mutual interests, sharing values and respecting one another.

The Obama administration knows only too well that a hard-power centered foreign policy of pressuring other countries based on superior military strength would only amplify discord and conflict, which would only compromise the United States’ interests.

That’s why up until this point President Obama has been pursuing a smart foreign policy strategy, centered on soft power and aiming at social security in Central and South America.

Most notably, the government allowed 1.5 million Cuban-Americans to visit friends and families in Cuba and send money transfers to them in order to soften the frozen relationship with Cuba. Obama also signed an executive order to shut down the terrorism suspect detention facility in Guantanamo Bay within a year.

Moreover, the U.S. government has been cooperating with the Mexican government’s campaign to eradicate drugs in order to prevent drug trafficking into the United States.

It is also providing direct and indirect financial assistance to the Colombian government’s crackdown on drug traffickers, and is making efforts to prevent U.S.-made weapons from flowing out of the country illegally and to resolve the illegal immigration issue in the United States by revising related laws.

Nevertheless, by planning to expand the size of its military presence in Colombia, the United States’ smart Latin American policy has become inconsistent. It has thrown a cold blanket over the mood of reconciliation that had been created between the U.S. and leftist governments in the Latin American countries.

As some hard-line leftist governments in South America have severely criticized the U.S. government, there are even signs of new military tensions.

The United States must not take for granted the fact that many Latin American countries will hold presidential elections within the next year, starting with Uruguay in October, followed by Bolivia, Chile, Brazil and Argentina.

It is highly likely that leftist politicians in these countries will exploit the Colombian military base plan to stimulate anti-American sentiment in the election campaign.

Installing a U.S. base in the drug dealing center of Colombia to fundamentally tackle the illegal drug trade is a nominal justification.

In reality, Washington has a military security-level strategy in mind to secure the geopolitical upper hand by having a defensive, or offensive, forward base in Colombia near the hard-line leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and others.

The Obama administration is opening the cork too soon before the wine of “smart security foreign policy” matures.

Washington needs to remind itself that wine is more valuable when it has been aged properly.


*The writer is a director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.


by Chung Kyung-won
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