Clinton’s unappreciated warnings to Latin America

It’s not clear what Hillary Clinton was aiming for exactly last Friday, when she warned Latin American countries “that if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them.” If she expected South American leaders to suddenly about-face, she got it really really wrong. ...

575567_091214_Valenzuela2.jpg
575567_091214_Valenzuela2.jpg

It's not clear what Hillary Clinton was aiming for exactly last Friday, when she warned Latin American countries "that if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them." If she expected South American leaders to suddenly about-face, she got it really really wrong.

Clinton carefully avoided mentioning Brazil when she listed countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia accepting Iranian overtures. Given Brazilian President Lula's recent high-profile meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it's hard to believe they weren't being alluded to. The only response has been from Lula's special advisor for international affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, who said "It was not a message for Brazil. If it was, it was the wrong message."

But actions speak louder than words, Clinton's assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, is in Brazil now, and has not been granted a meeting with Lula or his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Amorim. He is pictured above meeting with Garcia instead.

It’s not clear what Hillary Clinton was aiming for exactly last Friday, when she warned Latin American countries “that if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them.” If she expected South American leaders to suddenly about-face, she got it really really wrong.

Clinton carefully avoided mentioning Brazil when she listed countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia accepting Iranian overtures. Given Brazilian President Lula’s recent high-profile meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it’s hard to believe they weren’t being alluded to. The only response has been from Lula’s special advisor for international affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, who said “It was not a message for Brazil. If it was, it was the wrong message.”

But actions speak louder than words, Clinton’s assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, is in Brazil now, and has not been granted a meeting with Lula or his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Amorim. He is pictured above meeting with Garcia instead.

The ham-handed “warning,” combines with regional anger at the US accepting (with weak caveats) the results of the Honduran election — Brazil and other Latin American leaders are still saying Zelaya must be reinstated — and ill-will towards the American bases in Colombia.

In the context of Honduras, Clinton’s pedantic explanation of democracy in her speech —

we do worry about leaders who get elected and get elected fairly and freely and legitimately, but then, upon being elected, begin to undermine the constitutional and democratic order, the private sector, the rights of people to be free from harassment, depression, to be able to participate fully in their societies”

— is offensive, and does nothing to reverse the feeling that the U.S. only notices the region as its backyard. Not a great way to woo allies.

In that vein, Valenzuela is scheduled to be similarly rebuffed when he goes to Argentina tomorrow. While as a victim of Iranian sponsored terrorism the country won’t be bonding with Ahmadinejad, the administration seems annoyed at Washington’s stance in the region, and officials are whispering to the press that Obama has not lived up to the change he promised.

EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

Jordana Timerman is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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