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New administration, old policies

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An overwhelming majority of Latin Americans backed Barack Obama to retain the White House.

Yet, Latin America was almost completely ignored during the presidential campaign, which makes it hard to imagine that the hemisphere will be an important focus of the second Obama administration.

Among issues which concern Latin America, there is the drug war, immigration, Cuba and free trade, in relation to which the United States seems to be interested an expansion of existing accords with major partners, such as Brazil and Chile, and little else.

As far as the drug war is concerned, there is not likely to be much change, despite the fact that, as many Central Americans point out, the United States provides the main market for illegal drugs, while Central America provides the guns and violence.

Uruguay recently decided to legalize marijuana, and Guatemalan president Otto Pérez has backed a similar proposal.

But leaders of most other Central American countries oppose liberalization, as does Enrique Peña Nieto, the president-elect of Mexico.

In relation to immigration, Obama has, with support from some Republicans, reduced several restrictions, notably the Dream Act, that will allow many young illegal immigrants to go on to higher education in the United States.

In addition, U.S. authorities have in recent years made it easier for Mexicans to travel to and work temporarily in the US.

Another opportunity for Obama would be reconciliation with Cuba, whose leadership for its part may be ready to introduce significant economic reforms.

A revitalized Cuban economy could compete with Central America, in agriculture, tourism and other sectors. Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht is already building a container port and industrial free zone at Mariel, near Havana.

On the other hand, Cuba could be an important new market for Central America exporters.

U.S. presidents have in the past been reluctant to alienate Cuban exiles in Florida, many of whom continue to demand tough treatment for the Castro-led regime. But the exiles may be starting to change their attitude.

In last week’s election, a majority of Cuban-Americans in Florida for the first time ever voted Democrat.