Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Keep an eye on new leaders

The Obama administration will encounter a changing hemisphere in 2010, with seven presidential elections taking place between Octobers 2009 and 2010. Those elections will likely bring a new range of agenda items in bilateral relations with the United States. The recent wave of left-of-center governments easily winning elections is ebbing, as electorates are turning to more ...

MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images
MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images
MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images

The Obama administration will encounter a changing hemisphere in 2010, with seven presidential elections taking place between Octobers 2009 and 2010. Those elections will likely bring a new range of agenda items in bilateral relations with the United States.

The recent wave of left-of-center governments easily winning elections is ebbing, as electorates are turning to more market-friendly and less ideological candidates. Just this weekend, conservative Chilean businessman Sebastián Piñera was elected president, ending 20 years of center-left rule. In Brazil, before next October's election, center-right São Paulo Governor José Serra leads President Lula's candidate in the polls by 20 percentage points. One would think that U.S. policymakers would be quietly cheering such a trend, as it would seemingly lessen the potential for discord in the region fomented by the likes of Hugo Chavez and other radical populists. But that may not necessarily be the case, because the agenda items many of these new governments will likely focus on -- e.g., free trade and security --are not exactly deliverables that come easy to this administration. Indeed, there could be a new push for increased regional economic integration based on the principles of free trade, which will refocus attention on the moribund deals pending with Colombia and Panama, as well as the incomplete Doha Round of global trade talks.

New leaders may also press Washington for more help on law-and-order issues, combating transnational crime, gangs, and more specifically, the brutal drug trade spawned by U.S. domestic demand for illicit narcotics. President Obama wants to extend a hand a friendship; many new leaders will want helicopters and police training instead. Nor is a rightward trend likely to calm other regional hotspots. There is every possibility the administration will have to deal with more constitutional disruptions in the region à la Honduras. Not only do conditions in Venezuela continue to deteriorate under Chavez's erratic rule, but situations in Argentina and Nicaragua appear to be entering new stages of political instability. Here's hoping the administration is better prepared than last time to deal with a drastic turn of events in those cases.

The Obama administration will encounter a changing hemisphere in 2010, with seven presidential elections taking place between Octobers 2009 and 2010. Those elections will likely bring a new range of agenda items in bilateral relations with the United States.

The recent wave of left-of-center governments easily winning elections is ebbing, as electorates are turning to more market-friendly and less ideological candidates. Just this weekend, conservative Chilean businessman Sebastián Piñera was elected president, ending 20 years of center-left rule. In Brazil, before next October’s election, center-right São Paulo Governor José Serra leads President Lula’s candidate in the polls by 20 percentage points. One would think that U.S. policymakers would be quietly cheering such a trend, as it would seemingly lessen the potential for discord in the region fomented by the likes of Hugo Chavez and other radical populists. But that may not necessarily be the case, because the agenda items many of these new governments will likely focus on — e.g., free trade and security –are not exactly deliverables that come easy to this administration. Indeed, there could be a new push for increased regional economic integration based on the principles of free trade, which will refocus attention on the moribund deals pending with Colombia and Panama, as well as the incomplete Doha Round of global trade talks.

New leaders may also press Washington for more help on law-and-order issues, combating transnational crime, gangs, and more specifically, the brutal drug trade spawned by U.S. domestic demand for illicit narcotics. President Obama wants to extend a hand a friendship; many new leaders will want helicopters and police training instead. Nor is a rightward trend likely to calm other regional hotspots. There is every possibility the administration will have to deal with more constitutional disruptions in the region à la Honduras. Not only do conditions in Venezuela continue to deteriorate under Chavez’s erratic rule, but situations in Argentina and Nicaragua appear to be entering new stages of political instability. Here’s hoping the administration is better prepared than last time to deal with a drastic turn of events in those cases.

José R. Cárdenas was acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the George W. Bush administration.

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