Report

Lost in the Americas

President Bush’s Strategy-Free Trip to Latin America

Report and fact sheets from Dan Restrepo on Bush's tour of Latin America underscore the poor state of U.S. relation in the Americas.

Read the full report (PDF)

Fact sheets: Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay

Watch Dan Restrepo discuss the president’s trip (YouTube.com)

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President Bush is set to depart this week on a five-country tour of the Americas that will underscore how miserably he has failed to deliver on his promise six years ago to revolutionize relations in the Americas. No doubt the cooperative tone the president will strike on the trip will mask the stagnant policy approaches that have guided U.S. relations with the Americas for most of President Bush’s administration. But rhetoric is not enough.

President Bush travels to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico at a time of profound political, social, and economic change throughout the Americas. As a result of six years of neglect and mismanagement, the United States lacks a coherent strategy for maximizing the opportunities and managing the challenges those changes present. Neither six days of presidential photo opportunities nor one year (out of seven) of engagement with the region can fill those voids.

President Bush has never lacked inspirational rhetoric regarding the Americas, regularly trumpeting the need for cooperation and solidarity among countries of the hemisphere. Over time, however, there has been precious little reality behind that rhetoric. In those rare instances in which the Bush administration has focused on the Americas it has done so in a manner that harkens to the Cold War.

Such neglect interrupted by anachronism has alienated many throughout the Americas, in and out of government, who would otherwise welcome U.S. engagement and leadership. U.S. prestige and influence in the Americas is at its lowest point in generations, a reality that will affect U.S. policies and interests for decades to come. Only innovation and boldness can help break this downward spiral and create an effective strategic vision for the Americas. His new-found social justice rhetoric notwithstanding, the president’s policy agenda on his six-day swing will reflect little of either.

Continued U.S. support for Plan Colombia, which makes Colombia the largest recipient of U.S. assistance outside the Middle East and Afghanistan, breaks no new ground. Variations on the theme of “trade, not aid” in Guatemala, and perhaps even Uruguay, fails to reflect changing realities throughout the region, where trade-based policies have failed to address popular demands for economic advancement.

Any talk by Bush in Mexico of his support for immigration reform is simply more of the same without committing the necessary political capital in the United States to achieve it. And in Brazil, the president’s new policy initiative in support of alternative energy development will be timid and incomplete. Absent meaningful commitment and action by the United States, the transformative possibilities of an enhanced U.S.-Brazil ethanol relationship will be left largely untapped.

Similarly, the administration’s new Central American regional anti-gang initiative, which does offer welcome support for countries struggling against destabilizing criminal activity, naively places almost exclusive reliance on enforcement rather than adequately addressing community-based prevention programs.

Had the president’s trip occurred at the beginning of his first term of office and not as he limps to the finish line, the rhetoric and symbolism that will be its calling cards may have sufficed. Not now. As a country-by-country look at key issues facing the president on his trip reveals, such minimal engagement is no longer enough.

Dan Restrepo is Director of the Americas Project at the Center for American Progress. The Americas Project at the Center for American Progress is focused on the United States’ relationship with and place in the Americas. It endeavors to formulate innovative policy recommendations to address changing realities and, through active engagement of all forms of media, effectively communicate its proposals to a wide range of audiences.

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202.682.1611 or sgibbons@americanprogress.org
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202.741.6273 or tkincaid@americanprogress.org
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Authors

Dan Restrepo

Senior Fellow

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