On July 6th, 2011, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala wrapped up his hemispheric tour with a trip to Washington. Following his short diplomatic visits to the Southern Cone as well as other Andean nations, Humala met in Washington with a series of important key figures from both the United States and the Organization for American States (OAS), including previously scheduled meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza. Notably, Humala’s stay in Washington was highlighted by an unscheduled visit from President Barack Obama during the Peruvian President-elect’s scheduled meeting with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
Obama’s gesture of political courtesy and respect included short discussions over Humala’s plans for Peru’s continued implementation of market-based economic policies, while focusing on the Peruvian leader’s advocacy of greater socio-economic inclusiveness. In the end, both heads of state concluded by reaffirming their mutual commitment to strengthening diplomatic ties between Peru and the U.S. The emerging relationship between the two presidents marks an insightful development in the progressive foreign policy promised by the Obama administration; an analytical study that focuses on the way in which both governments craft their relationship will give greater insight into the new Latin America.
Humala’s visit was clearly seen as a diplomatic tour de force by all parties. In another gathering, President-elect Humala alongside Secretary-General Insulza remarked on the importance of Peru’s cooperation with the OAS and called for the “integration of the entire American region… to strengthen the OAS as an institution that brings together all of the American countries.” At Secretary Clinton’s meeting with Humala, Clinton highlighted the U.S.’s willingness to constructively engage with Humala’s political agenda, stressing that “the United States stands ready to be his partner.” Despite the lack of significant policy discussion, important diplomatic headway was accomplished during the visit. In fact, Obama’s meeting with Peru’s first somewhat left-leaning President will be symbolic if the Obama administration is truly willing to reevaluate its relationship with Latin America. Up to this point, region specialists have been sorely disappointed with the lack of innovative direction on the part of U.S. policy-making, emphasizing that there was little difference between the former Bush administration’s hard-line policies and what the Obama administration was substituting in its stead.
For Humala, a warm welcome to Washington by the Obama administration comes as something of a surprise and might be meant as a significant marker that Washington is belatedly beginning to overhaul U.S. Latin-American policy, which has been somewhat lame, paralyzed and completely uninspired. In fact, prior to Humala’s electoral victory in early June, several members of the State Department, including U.S. Ambassador to Peru, Rose Likins, supported a possible new Fujimori administration under Keiko. Similarly, during her time as Ambassador to El Salvador, Likins interfered in the 2004 elections in El Salvador by threatening to remove U.S. assistance if the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party achieved victory. Despite the initial lack of support for his Presidential candidacy, Humala stressed his own commitment to resolving any problems or differences between the two countries, emphasizing his hopes for a positive relationship that deals with issues in a “pragmatic manner that leaves behind ideology.” Obama’s willingness to constructively engage with the government in Lima provides a potential gateway to renew relations with Humala’s supporters, such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Colombia.
The Upcoming Peruvian Inauguration
On July 28th, 2011, President-elect Ollanta Humala will formally celebrate his accession to political office. During his visit to Washington, Humala invited Secretary Clinton to attend the inauguration. A previously scheduled engagement in Indonesia forced the diplomat to graciously decline the invitation with a pledge from Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, that an important delegation would attend in her place. Valenzuela, who will be stepping down from his position later this summer, did not confirm whether he will attend the event. It would behoove the Obama administration to send this top ranking official as a sign of a commitment to upgrade this administration’s ties to the new government in Lima.
The Rise of Environmental Visions
President Obama’s drop-in to a regionally-flavored meeting, conjured up surprise, as Obama not only discussed economic and security issues, but also brought up the importance of formulating policy initiatives that focused on environmental sustainability and accountability. It would be commendable for both leaders to address the importance of environmental issues in regards to indigenous rights, especially if a renegotiation of the preexisting Free Trade Agreement were to take place. These issues are more prevalent than ever, as environmental and indigenous rights protests sweep throughout the southern region of Peru and activists raise concerns over deforestation and the displacement of tribes in the Amazon. If Washington is able to address these matters and formulate progressive Latin American policy as promised, it will surely be seen in a better light among Peruvians and other leftist leaders in the region.
The Road Ahead
These recent events in Washington have been one of the first hopeful signs that the Obama administration might be ready to part with the old doctrine of the Bush administration, and harmonize with its promise for progressive and enlightened policies geared towards Latin America. Yet, these initial strides to change American foreign policy should not end in Lima. Washington has now generated a modicum of inertia when it comes to nurturing a new vantage point for a fresh and vital inter-American policy. Relations with the Andean countries that were previously tarnished by the Bush administration’s policies, and continued into Obama’s first term, can and should be amended, especially in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, where the United States has yet to assign new ambassadors.
After a series of diplomatic flaws over the years, that served to alienate the region, it is time for the State Department, with the aid of President Obama, to urge Congress to appoint new ambassadors to La Paz, Quito, and Caracas, a process that can be paralyzed by partisan political games. Now, as China becomes a greater economic competitor in the region, and formally overtakes the U.S. as Peru’s top trade partner, the best way for the United States to insure its own self-interest and maintain economic and political relevancy would be to stress its commitment to new policies that favor the mutual interests of all parties involved. This is extremely important when renegotiating fair and respectful Free Trade Agreements with countries such as Peru, Colombia and Panama. As Humala’s agenda of social and economic inclusion continues to attract the support of Latin American leaders, Washington is sure to benefit from including Lima’s hopes for regional cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking, illiteracy, and poverty as part of its own policy initiative. Such a move would surely win the support of the region as well as improve the U.S.’s image at large.