The Democratic presidential candidates hold a debate in Miami this Sunday, September 9, at which they are likely to be asked about some aspects of U.S. policy toward Latin America. The debate is sponsored by the television channel Univision.
WOLA, the research and advocacy group, urges the debate organizers to pose tough questions to the candidates on a wide gamut of issues involving Latin America that have received scant attention from candidates of both parties. For the questioners, this debate may offer the best opportunity of the campaign to probe the candidates’ views on this critical aspect of U.S. foreign policy. For the candidates, it will be their chance to show they have a vision for better and more productive relations with Latin America after years of neglect and misguided policies under the Bush Administration.
Here are four questions about U.S. policy toward Latin America that the candidates should be asked:
Cuba: After nearly 50 years, the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba has not, by any measure, succeeded in that goal or in bringing democratic change to the island. It has succeeded only in isolating the United States. What ideas do you have for a fresh approach to Cuba?
Trade: The last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, succeeded in passing the North American Free Trade Agreement in part because he said it would reduce poverty in Mexico and ease migration pressures. More than a decade later, that assertion has not been borne out. What ideas do you have — beyond the usual free-trade prescriptions — for helping Latin America fight extreme poverty and inequality?
Drugs: Since the late 1990s, U.S. anti-narcotics policy in Latin America has focused on fumigation – that is, aerial herbicide spraying of illegal coca crops, particularly in Colombia. Yet cocaine prices have declined recently, while the purity of cocaine on American streets remains high, all indicating that the supply of cocaine remains strong despite billions of dollars in counter-narcotics spending. What would be the focus of your administration’s anti-narcotics policy, and would a harm-reduction strategy with a greater focus on reducing drug demand in the United States be part of that policy?
Guantanamo: The existence of the U.S. detention policy at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has done tremendous harm to this country’s international standing on human rights. The damage may be irreparable. But what ideas do you have for recovering American credibility on human rights, and how will soon will you close Guantanamo?
WOLA urges the presidential campaigns to outline how they would begin forging new ties with Latin America in the Miami debate and in the rest of the campaign. Latino voters and all Americans who care about our relations in the hemisphere will be listening intently for a message of hope and change in current US policy toward the region.
Elsa Falkenburger, (202) 797 2171, cellphone (202) 236 1860
Roger Atwood, (202) 797 2171, cellphone (202) 316 3857
The Washington Office on Latin America is a non-governmental organization that promotes human rights, democracy, and social and economic justice in U.S. policy towards Latin America