Valenzuela, falling into the void or filling it?
Arturo Valenzuela, not Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, was nominated by President Obama to run Latin America policy for his administration. DeMint apparently thought otherwise and blocked Valenzuela’s appointment for months, because the Obama administration had its own ideas (he thought, as did we) for addressing problems like the coup in Honduras and reforming our painfully outdated and self-defeating Cuba policy.
Valenzuela was one of several highly qualified candidates to serve as President Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. He was nominated on May 12th, but his nomination was blocked (with his predecessor Thomas Shannon) when President Mel Zelaya was driven from office by a coup in Honduras and coup supporters like Senator DeMint strode aggressively into the debate.
While U.S. diplomacy, at the outset, was aligned with regional allies and the Organization of American States, insisting on the return of President Zelaya and opposing the denial of democratic and political rights of Hondurans, DeMint and other allies became cheerleaders for the coup and aggressive opponents of the administration’s position.
Here things festered. The state of crisis in Honduras dragged on for four months; the state of suspended animation in which Valenzuela found himself lasted five.
Finally, we were heartened when Secretary Shannon and other administration officials went to Honduras late last month and appeared to negotiate an agreement that would see an end to the political crisis in Honduras, restore democratic order, reinstitute President Zelaya, and provide a path to political legitimacy for the Honduran government before the presidential elections set for November 29th.
But as we said at that time: “We urge the administration to be equally vigilant and tough minded as the world monitors the implementation of this accord.” It now turns out, what was portrayed as an exercise in diplomacy may have been nothing more than an exit strategy.
Days later, the accord is falling apart, actors in Honduras seem ready to block President Zelaya’s return, and the new position of our State Department seems to be ‘we’ll just let Honduras take it from here.’
And just as the State Department relinquished its position on returning President Zelaya to office, Senator DeMint released his hold on Arturo Valenzuela’s nomination. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Thursday night.
DeMint is as content as a clam, and sounded like the winner: “I am happy to report the Obama administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the Nov. 29 elections.”
If that is an accurate representation of U.S. policy, we have flip-flopped in a very damaging way.
Think of where this leaves Honduras, and where it leaves the U.S.
Honduras remains mired in a crisis of political legitimacy. The U.S. appears to have blundered and blunted its role as a force for democracy. And allies in the region – many with fresh memories of coups in their own national histories – are left to question our intentions. This crisis of confidence blankets not just Honduras but our intentions about the region more broadly.
To say the least, Mr. Valenzuela steps onto the stage at an incredibly awkward moment. He must take decisive steps to demonstrate – and not just symbolically – that he, and not Senator DeMint, speaks for the U.S. when it comes to foreign policy toward the region. But even more important, what Valenzuela says when he speaks is of greatest concern.
Whether it’s democracy in Honduras, progress in El Salvador, making sense of our policy toward Cuba, or aligning our nation with the aspirations of people in the region who are simply seeking a better life – these are the places where the Obama administration should be taking us in a new direction. It is where Valenzuela’s voice must be heard; where he can insure that his confirmation fills the void that ideology and politics created to the great detriment of the United States in Latin America. We hope that he is heard from very, very soon.
Let us now turn to Cuba’s economy, the new polling on Cuban-American travel (hint: they’re for it, and in a big way), and other news of the week.
Read the rest of this entry »