Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Oomph for U.S. Latin Policy

August 13, 2003

Before his recent Senate confirmation as assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roger F. Noriega was U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States. In his two years in that post, he won his colleagues' respect, with many taking note of his willingness to negotiate and not force solutions.

This approach assuaged concerns about him that had arisen because he had come from working with Jesse Helms on Latin American issues at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where the Tar Heel senator was legendary for his ironfisted tactics.

Noriega's ability to win allies and develop solutions will be critical as he takes over the State Department's top post on Latin America. It's never been an easy assignment and has major challenges now. In the last five years, two administrations tried and failed to even get nominees confirmed. The 44-year-old Senate-approved Noriega will wield far more credibility and authority than his recent predecessors and should use this to set a hemispheric policy that works for the U.S. and its Latin allies.

"Noriega," says Jeffrey Davidow, president of the Institute of the Americas at UC San Diego and the last Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, "comes at a time when there is a general consensus in American politics about U.S.-Latin American policy: a heavy emphasis on promoting democracy, free trade and the need to fight narcotic traffickers and terrorists. Latin America need not become a political football in the United States, as it used to be."

Noriega, however, must grapple with Latin perceptions of rampant U.S. indifference and a fumbling approach, at best, to hemispheric concerns. He can start to turn this situation around by working with the White House to put Mexico atop the agenda again and to invite President Vicente Fox to visit.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also should be a focus, especially as he, the U.S. and other concerned parties in the hemisphere seek to help Venezuela resolve the economic and political crisis that prompted an unsuccessful coup against President Hugo Chavez. And it will be key to work with Nestor Kirchner, Argentina's new leader, as he tries to dig his country out of its fiscal mess.

If Noriega can juggle these challenges -- as he travels the region widely and becomes the familiar face of this country for the southern friends of the United States -- he may even find that Latin and European allies can help him with the conundrum of Fidel Castro. The Cuban leader could end up looking ever more like history's isolated dinosaur if Noriega shapes a U.S.-Latin American policy that is easy, open and practical and gets things done.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|