President Barack Obama is going to have a lot on his plate at the fifth Summit of the America's, kicking off today in the small island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Although circumstances have drastically changed since the last Summit four years ago when President Bush was met with violent protests and the ire of President Hugo Chavez in Argentina, Latin American leaders are hoping that an even more dramatic shift will occur in relations between the United States and the region, which has been largely ignored by US politicians since the start of the Iraq war.
“I’m going to ask the United States to take a different view of Latin America,” Brazilian president Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva, said last month before meeting President Obama in DC, “We’re a democratic, peaceful continent," Lula continued, "And the United States has to look at the region in a productive, developmental way, and not just think about drug trafficking or organized crime.”
Although it is unlikely that Obama will attempt any sort of public reconciliation with Presidents Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales, who recently expelled top level US foreign diplomats from their countries, experts say that Latin American leaders can expect a new era of cooperation and mutual respect. President Obama has also demonstrated a willingness to talk about formally taboo topics such as the failed drug policies of the US and the embargo against Cuba.
“They may not lift the embargo or legalize drugs, but there will be more space to talk about those kinds of things,” Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy research center in Washington told the NY Times. “Something could happen on these issues that hasn’t really happened before, which is an open debate. That is Obama’s style.”