Paddling against the tide of conventional reporting on the main issues currently hamstringing US-Latin American relations, Andres Oppenheimer
, reports on a new energy cooperation deal allegedly being cooked up by President Obama.
Last week, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton elevated the idea to a maximum regional priority during her confirmation hearings. In her opening statement, when she got to Latin America - almost at the end of her foreign policy priorities - her most specific proposal was "taking up the president-elect's call for a new Energy Partnership of the Americas."
The exciting part of this idea is that it could give US-Latin American relations a much needed boost. Latin American governments have been on the sharp end of US diplomacy, as the Bush administration failed to give sufficient attention to the region, and when it did, its knee-jerk policies on illegal immigrants and drugs have created nothing but resentment and frustration.
"There is free trade fatigue and anti-drug fatigue in Latin America,'' a senior staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told me. ``Energy opens a new path to relations with the hemisphere and is consistent with the president-elect's overall energy and climate change objectives."
If President Obama is serious about tackling climate change and energy insecurity, fostering closer relations with Latin American leaders should be a top priority. A number of Latin American countries are trailblazing on climate change and renewable energy and the new president would do well to acknowledge this progress and step up the dialogue on these issues. As early as 2002
, renewable energy sources already made up over a quarter of the total energy supply in Latin America and the Caribbean, making the European target of 20% renewables by 2020 in comparison seem rather modest. Given the US President’s foreign policy priorities elsewhere, Latin America may fail even to appear on the radar. However, if Obama really wants to get the ball rolling on climate change and energy insecurity, attending the 5th Summit
of the Americas with the aim of creating a regional energy partnership would be a great place to start.