Friday, June 10, 2005

Jun 10/05 - On US Senator Mel Martinez's criticism of US policy towards Latin America

PMBComment: Senator Mel Martinez (R-Florida), who shares WYSIWYG traits with George W. Bush, bluntly exposed in Florida one of the worst hidden secrets in Washington: when it comes to Latin America, what little interest does exist seldom, if ever, morphs into effective and durable policy.

Being of the opinion that President Bush indeed cares one iota about the region, I am nevertheless convinced that many of those he has chosen to implement and communicate his Latin policy have ill served him and their country. The growing anti-US sentiment in the region is undeniable and troublesome. Under the cover of US and Bush-bashing the most retrograde, fraudulent and inept political players in the region are getting a second chance few would have imagined in the pre 9/11 days.

If Iraq has turned into a mess for lack of adequate planning and an excess of roadside bombs, US’s Latin America policy is falling prey to a pack of lies that somehow carry more punch that some hard learned – but pitifully sold – lessons and truths. As time passes, this begins to look like an uncontested bout that is bound to produce vertigo, heartbreak and increased suffering for hundreds of millions. While adept charlatans like Castro and Chavez have earned cachet for stage managing this surprisingly asymmetrical struggle, inept communicators and a lackadaisical approach to the region here in Washington deserve their fair share of blame for what is now on the plate and for what is yet to come.

As President Bush stated in Fort Lauderdale, the battle being played out in Latin America is all about contrasting ideas with regards to freedom, human rights, democracy and economic advancement. But the Roger Noriegas of this town are concerned mostly about the trappings of their office and career maintenance or advancement. Others are too enthralled by the convoluted nuance of trade diplomacy. They have zero clue of how perplexing US one-track mindedness and the consequent abandonment of basic tenets have been. It is also amazingly absurd that this US President, affable and well disposed towards all things “Hispanic”, has failed to develop productive personal bonds with some of his counterparts in the region or at least an acceptable level of favorable opinion among the common folk in Latin America.

My recommendation to the first Latin American elected to the US Senate, is that he use his unfettered access to suggest:

1) A change in the Latin team at State ASAP;

2) An invitation by the President to a handful of key Presidents in the region to a weekend of unscripted and off-the-record conversations in Camp David or Crawford;

3) The appointment of a trusted confidant of the President as conduit for follow-ups and more regular direct communication with his colleagues in the region (as President Clinton did so successfully with Mack McLarty);

4) Forget about making trade accords the visible face of policy – people do not relate well to these, they benefit from them, but cannot relate to the nuance that surrounds them and the debate they elicit;

5) Attempt to translate his strong personal values into a credible message that is well disseminated to a population that actually shares many of them; and,

6) Ensure that Condi Rice spends as much time in the region as possible – a black, very smart and extremely charming woman with enviable access to the most powerful man in the world is the best proof of what the US has achieved after centuries of harsh struggle in pursuit of freedom, justice and prosperity.


Martinez wants focus on Latin America, discouraged by Iraq war

Brendan Farrington, Associated Press Writer
10 June 2005 14:26

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - Sen. Mel Martinez criticized the Bush administration and Congress on Friday for paying little attention to growing Latin American problems and lamented the slow progress in Iraq.

While Martinez said the administration is increasingly aware that it needs to pay more attention to Latin America, he said it should have been a focus from the start, given instability in countries like Bolivia, Ecuador and Haiti.

"The administration has been very remiss for the last four years in its direction toward Latin America to their great consternation now," said Martinez, R-Fla. "There is a growing recognition of the administration and in Congress that we have not been paying enough attention to a region that's really in trouble."

Martinez, speaking at the annual Florida Society of Newspaper Editors/Florida Press Association convention, said problems have reached the point where urgent action is needed by the United States.

"We have tremendous problems in Bolivia right now. It's a crisis situation. So is Ecuador, in a little more latent way," Martinez said. "And clearly Venezuela, in partnership with Cuba, are creating a lot of problems for stability, for democracy, for the rule of law. And I think that's going to spill over into the upcoming elections in Central America."

The U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti hasn't been doing its job, Martinez said, expressing concerns that there could be problems with upcoming elections there.

"I'm anxious to go to Haiti. What a basket case it is," Martinez said. "We need for those elections not to be a setback. They're not going to be the full answer, but it can't be a setback."

Martinez, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he's planning a trip to Latin America in August and has asked fellow committee member Norm Coleman, R-Minn., for guidance on who would be truly interested in joining him.

The response, Martinez said, was "Your question is the problem. There's not that many of us."

Martinez, who strongly supported Bush's efforts in Iraq during his campaign last year, also expressed concerns about progress in the war.

"I am discouraged by how long it has taken for us to begin to draw down some forces," he said. "I would have thought by now, and I think in a clearer moment that the president and (Defense) Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld would have thought that by now we would be in a position to be able to draw down some forces. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case."

He said he has had to write many condolence letters to the families of Floridians killed in Iraq.

"It brings home the importance of the decision to send men and women to go to war," he said. "It has become a foreign fighters' war against us there and the progress seems slow and difficult."

He also said the Bush administration should consider Sen. Joseph Biden's suggestion that the U.S. military's prison camp on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be shut down. Biden, D-Del., made his remarks this week in the wake of a Pentagon report that detailed incidents in which U.S. guards desecrated the Quran.

Last month, Amnesty International called the detention center for alleged terrorists "the gulag of our time."

"It's become an icon for bad stories and at some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio," Martinez said. "How much do you get out of having that facility there, is it serving all the purposes you thought it would serve when initially you began it, or can this be done some other way a little better?"