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Rubio: Overcoming Obama’s Neglect of Latin America

Apr 9, 2015 | News

Not that long ago, when the Western Hemisphere’s leaders would gather at the Summit of the Americas, the only price of admission was to be the duly elected representatives of democratic nations. In recent summits, that democratic requirement has been tested, as Latin American leaders who came to power by winning elections then became authoritarian rulers who have weakened democratic institutions, taken over media outlets, arrested or intimidated political opponents, and stolen elections.

As the next Summit gets underway in Panama this weekend, that democratic prerequisite is sadly being fully discarded as Cuban dictator Raúl Castro participates for the first time. Allowing a brutal dictator to attend undermines the future of democracy in the region. Already we’ve seen more evidence of the summit’s being influenced by Cuba than of Cuba’s being influenced by the summit’s principles supporting democracy. This past weekend, members of Cuba’s real civil society were subjected by Panamanian authorities to questionable detentions, searches, and threats “to not make any trouble.”

Then on Wednesday afternoon, a group of Cuban dissident leaders and American citizens supporting them were attacked in Panama City by agents of the Castro regime. Panamanian authorities detained the dissidents while letting those who attacked them walk. It’s hard to imagine a more sickening start to this summit.

This is President Obama’s final Summit of the Americas, and it comes after six years of neglecting the region to the detriment of our interests and our alliances. When he has acted, he has done so timidly (as in Venezuela) or naïvely (as in Cuba). More often, however, he has not acted at all, leaving our allies unsure about our interests, and our enemies and adversaries emboldened to test us, as we’ve seen from efforts undertaken by Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China, among others.

When he leaves office in January 2017, President Obama will leave his successor with many holes to dig out of on the domestic and international fronts. High on that list of priorities will be Latin America. The United States simply cannot allow decades of progress in building democratic, more-secure, and more-prosperous nations to succumb to growing authoritarianism and narco-terrorism in the region.

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