The next U.S. president will have to come to terms with leftist changes that have swept through Latin America and will face tough choices on issues including trade and drugs.
Leftists have been voted into power by targeting discredited economic and political reforms of earlier decades. Ecuador has booted the U.S. military from its last remaining base in the region. Venezuela is stocking up on Russian arms, and both Bolivia and Venezuela recently expelled U.S. ambassadors.
Adding to potential U.S. woes, China and Russia flaunt new economic and military deals in the region, while violent drug gangs from Mexico and Central America continue to expand.
If this were not enough, the new American president will have to deal with immigration, Cuba’s likely transformation from the Castro era, and free-trade deals amid a global economic downturn.
Mr. McCain stresses strengthening democratic states, expanding trade and rebuilding the U.S.-Mexico partnership.
Mr. Obama, who has never been to Latin America but whose campaign has put forward a 13-page policy statement on the region, agrees with some of Mr. McCain’s policies but diverges significantly on others.
For example, Mr. Obama has said that he would give Cuban-Americans unrestricted rights to visit their families and send remittances to the island nation. But like Mr. McCain, he would keep the half-century-old trade embargo and hold back on foreign aid, unless the regime undertakes democratic reforms, beginning with freeing political prisoners.
“From Cuba to an increase in development assistance to the call for a hemispherewide energy partnership, Barack Obama will change the status quo,” said Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for the campaign. “John McCain has not spelled out how he would change the Bush policies that have created a vacuum in the Americas into which [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez, China and even Russia have stepped.”
Mr. McCain has said he would push Cuba to release prisoners, legalize political parties and labor unions, free media outlets and hold internationally monitored elections. He also has criticized Mr. Obama’s willingness to sit down with Cuban leaders before such changes take place.
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Mr. McCain also has chided Mr. Obama for suggesting that he would consider meeting Mr. Chavez, whose country provides 10 percent of U.S. oil imports.
“Barack Obama has said he would meet with the dictators of Venezuela and Cuba unconditionally in his first year in office,” said Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser. “John McCain would not bow down before dictators like Chavez or the Castro brothers.”