Saturday, May 24, 2008

Obama Uses FDR's 4 Freedoms To Outline Latin American Policy

Two Venezuelans called me last night, excited about Obama's speech on the Americas. One is a close friend for whom I have the utmost respect, and who has been very kind and patient with me, regularly engaging me in my favorite pastime: political debate.

Of the many voids created by my mother's death, her silence on the politics of the day is one of the most acute for me. I miss debating and discussing politics with her. My Venezuelan friend spends much time engaging me and fills some of that void for me and I adore her for that, among other reasons.

My friend was a long time Clinton supporter. I got her to see Obama's virtues - an endeavor I admit was likely aided by our failed attempt to get into the rally in January when Sen. Edward Kennedy endorsed Obama at my law school alma mater, American University. I'd already had my ticket for days and scheduled to go, when I agreed to help her that morning - but I said I had to be done by 10 am. Then the news broke that Kennedy would be there. I knew the crowd would be even more insane. the line to get in even longer, but I'd committed to her. So we'd been up since before dawn, packing a container to be shipped to Venezuela, and as a result were late getting on the line. We were later than we should have been for the crowd that day; later than I knew we should have been once I heard Kennedy was going to be there. My ticket was worthless. We missed the door closing by about 50 people. And she felt awful.

By March she'd started to come around. Obama's Philadelphia speech on race impressed her. Yet legitimate concerns continued to nag her and linger, especially in the area of foreign policy.

She feared that Obama would be weak and give Chavez stature by meeting with him. She feared Obama was weak. She feared Obama was naive. She feared Obama was too inexperienced to understand foreign policy.

Hearing from the other Venezuelan what Obama had said, she had to call me. It was a fun call! I was on speaker phone and talking to them both. And I warmly chided her for her lack of confidence in Obama's intelligence.

And then I looked up the speech. Because of her, I understand what has been going on in Venezuela with Chavez and Columbia with terrorists. And I am familiar with Brazil. Because of the personal background she's provided me, I could see why Obama's words carried such import.

First, I must say it's a brilliant speech, not just for its substance but for its structure. He uses FDR's Four Freedoms to provide the framework of his remarks.
What all of us strive for is freedom as FDR described it. Political freedom. Religious freedom. But also freedom from want, and freedom from fear. At our best, the United States has been a force for these four freedoms in the Americas. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that at times we’ve failed to engage the people of the region with the respect owed to a partner.
Most of the mainstream media coverage (and actually even the internet coverage I've seen) has been about his words and policy regarding Cuba. But he also had forceful words regarding Columbia, Brazil and Venezuela.

Here are parts that struck me.

Regarding Hugo Chavez:
No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chavez have stepped into this vacuum. His predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy offers the same false promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past. But the United States is so alienated from the rest of the Americas that this stale vision has gone unchallenged, and has even made inroads from Bolivia to Nicaragua. And Chavez and his allies are not the only ones filling the vacuum. While the United States fails to address the changing realities in the Americas, others from Europe and Asia – notably China – have stepped up their own engagement. Iran has drawn closer to Venezuela, and just the other day Tehran and Caracas launched a joint bank with their windfall oil profits.
Also this:
And we know that freedom across our hemisphere must go beyond elections. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is a democratically elected leader. But we also know that he does not govern democratically. He talks of the people, but his actions just serve his own power. Yet the Bush Administration's blustery condemnations and clumsy attempts to undermine Chavez have only strengthened his hand.
Regarding Colombia:
For the people of Colombia – who have suffered at the hands of killers of every sort – that means battling all sources of violence. When I am President, we will continue the Andean Counter-Drug Program, and update it to meet evolving challenges. We will fully support Colombia’s fight against the FARC. We’ll work with the government to end the reign of terror from right wing paramilitaries. We will support Colombia’s right to strike terrorists who seek safe-haven across its borders. And we will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments. This behavior must be exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation, and – if need be – strong sanctions. It must not stand.
Regarding Brazil (which brought to mind William Langewiesche's riveting "City of Fear: Letter from São Paulo" from Vanity Fair last April 2007)
That begins with understanding what’s changed in Latin America, and what hasn’t. Enormous wealth has been created, and financial markets are far stronger than a decade ago. Brazil’s economy has grown by leaps and bounds, and perhaps the second richest person in the world is a Mexican. Yet while there has been great economic progress, there is still back-breaking inequality. Despite a growing middle class, 100 million people live on less than two dollars a day, and 40 percent of Latin Americans live in poverty. This feeds everything from drugs, to migration, to support for leaders that appeal to the poor without delivering on their promises.
Regarding "freedom from fear":
Because if we’ve learned anything in our history in the Americas, it’s that true security cannot come from force alone. Not as long as there are towns in Mexico where drug kingpins are more powerful than judges. Not as long as there are children who grow up afraid of the police. Not as long as drugs and gangs move north across our border, while guns and cash move south in return.

This nexus is a danger to every country in the region – including our own. Thousands of Central American gang members have been arrested across the United States, including here in south Florida. There are national emergencies facing Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Mexican drug cartels are terrorizing cities and towns. President Calderon was right to say that enough is enough. We must support Mexico’s effort to crack down. But we must stand for more than force – we must support the rule of law from the bottom up. That means more investments in prevention and prosecutors; in community policing and an independent judiciary.
Freedom from want:
For two hundred years, the United States has made it clear that we won’t stand for foreign intervention in our hemisphere. But every day, all across the Americas, there is a different kind of struggle – not against foreign armies, but against the deadly threat of hunger and thirst, disease and despair. That is not a future that we have to accept – not for the child in Port au Prince or the family in the highlands of Peru. We can do better. We must do better.

We cannot ignore suffering to our south, nor stand for the globalization of the empty stomach. Responsibility rests with governments in the region, but we must do our part...It’s time for the United States to once again be a beacon of hope and a helping hand.
And then his finish:

At a time when our leadership has suffered, I have no doubts about whether we can succeed. If the United States makes its case; if we meet those who doubt us or deride us head-on; if we draw on our best tradition of standing up for those Four Freedoms – then we can shape our future instead of being shaped by it. We can renew our leadership in the hemisphere. We can win the support not just of governments, but of the people of the Americas. But only if we leave the bluster behind. Only if we are strong and steadfast; confident and consistent.

Jose Marti once wrote. “It is not enough to come to the defense of freedom with epic and intermittent efforts when it is threatened at moments that appear critical. Every moment is critical for the defense of freedom.”

Every moment is critical. And this must be our moment. Freedom. Opportunity. Dignity. These are not just the values of the United States – they are the values of the Americas. They were the cause of Washington’s infantry and Bolivar’s cavalry; of Marti’s pen and Hidalgo’s church bells.

That legacy is our inheritance. That must be our cause. And now must be the time that we turn the page to a new chapter in the story of the Americas.

Obama's speech is not just descriptive but prescriptive. He lays out specifically what he will do. Full text here. You can watch here (about 30 minutes):

Cool! Go Obama!

UPDATE: This morning, the same good aforementioned friend wrote me this: I just finished hearing this speech and it was JUST BRILLIANT!!!

We did not confer when coming up with that adjective. As usual, she broadened my horizons. She also sent me the official link from the Obama campaign web site which hosts the video of the speech along with six helpful bullet points that outline what Obama will do. From there I found a link to Obama's full Latin American plan (It's 13 pages).

Thanks, girl!~

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