Opportunity For New Beginning In US/Latin American Relations Squandered

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Oops, we did it again. The opportunity presented to hit the reboot button on friendship with Latin America by the Honduran coup which ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was a gift to our newly elected President. If he had made all the right moves, he would have created a blue print for a new relationship with Latin America and thus furthering our national interest in the region.

To state the obvious,when playing the game of international politics you need to know where you want to end up and then create the road map to getting there. The US needed to end up looking like it would oppose military coups against democratically elected leaders and thus fostering a new more benevolent image. We needed to clean up the mess we have created in US/Latin America relations by backing right wing death squads, overthrowing democratic governments and general meddling in their affairs with impunity. Let's not forget President Bush's hostile reception in Argentina.

Still, it is not easy being a likable empire; only FDR was able to pull that off. President Obama with his skin color and international pedigree was given a golden opportunity to do the same. Not only was he given the benefit of the doubt by once hostile leaders Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro and Evo Morales, he was given an opportunity to make Brazilian President Lula da Silva the go to man in the region.

President Lula da Silva offered time and time again his guidance and insight into the Honduran crisis and the region. Instead of listening to President Lula da Silva, Obama chose the counsel of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

Perhaps the missed opportunity in Latin America can be traced back to Obama's misunderstanding of a basic tenet of politics in the Big League. In politics, there are winners and losers. Almost winning counts for nothing. Clinton lost and she has no business in Obama's White House. It is she who has the business-as-usual worldview of Latin America. Rather than following the recommendations of the Organization of American States, she muddled things with her unofficial ragtag team of advisors and opportunists like Lanny Davis. Moreover, she misperceives US interests as premised on undermining the clout of leftist leaders such as Chavez whom Zelaya had declared a friend, missing the point that the Honduran move has played directly into the hands of Chavez. Denouncing the elections without a previous reinstatement of Zelaya would have undercut Chavez talking points against the US. Obama has with his handling of the Honduras coup inadvertently handed Chavez the gift that will keep on giving and thus squandered the promise of a new relationship with Latin America, one where Lula da Silva in friendship with the US, and not Chavez, sets the agenda for Latin America in the years to come.