Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee complain that President…
Last weekend, leaders from around the Western Hemisphere gathered in Venezuela to inaugurate the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a regional trade and security organization composed of 33 nations, including Cuba. The United States was noticeably excluded. In fact, in recent years it has been left out of a growing number of such groups.
Now Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are threatening to further isolate the United States. They complain that President Obama's policies have alienated our allies in the region and want the administration to take a tougher stance on Cuba. Their solution is to stall votes on the nomination of Roberta Jacobson as assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, a position that has been vacant since July, and the recess appointment of Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador, who must be confirmed by the end of this month or step down.
Allowing these votes to languish is both shortsighted and counterproductive. Jacobson is a 25-year career diplomat. Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, a freshman from Florida who has led efforts to stall, would do well to consider what they stand to gain by derailing her confirmation. Surely it won't persuade Cuban President Raul Castro to free Alan Gross, a U.S. subcontractor jailed for nearly two years for bringing telecommunications equipment into the country. Nor will it help combat the drug cartels and criminal gangs that have spread across Mexico, Guatemala and other parts of Central America. And it's hard to imagine how not having an assistant secretary in place to help push for regional solutions will counterbalance the influence of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez or Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
What Republicans instead are accomplishing is the grinding of government gears, part of the GOP's larger strategy to make governing so difficult for the Obama administration that the White House will return to the Republican fold in 2013. That's irresponsible and comes at a price. In this case, it further alienates the United States from hemispheric dialogue at a time when much of Latin America is humming along. Brazil is now the world's seventh-largest economy, and South America grew at an average rate of nearly double that of the U.S. from 2004 to 2008.
Stalling nominations, whether judicial or diplomatic, is standard practice in Washington. But it's time that both sides agree to vote on Jacobson and Aponte.