- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009


President-elect Barack Obama will face a “perfect storm” of challenges in Latin America that will demand his attention almost as much as other hot spots such as the Middle East, a former ambassador from Costa Rica predicted.

From the escalating drug wars in Mexico to Venezuela’s growing ties to Iran, “turbulent times” could lie ahead for Central and South America, writes Jaime Daremblum, now a Latin America specialist at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, in a new paper, offering his advice to the Obama transition team.

“Recent events suggest that Barack Obama will be facing a veritable perfect storm of challenges in Latin America,” he writes.

“The future of Plan Colombia, which began as a U.S.-backed anti-drug initiative, is uncertain. Argentina may be on the verge of yet another economic collapse. The global financial crisis is affecting countries throughout the region.

“Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is attempting to remove the constitutional limits on his power and is using his oil wealth to fund anti-American populists. Chavez is also pursuing a strategic partnership with Iran. In Cuba, the island’s communist rulers are trying to preserve a creaking dictatorship and squash hopes of democratic transition.”

Mr. Daremblum says democratic leaders in the region worry about the growing influence of Russia, which recently held naval exercises with Venezuela, and China, which is using its economic muscle to gain clout in several countries.

He added that Latin American leaders also hope that Mr. Obama was espousing campaign rhetoric when he criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement and fear that the U.S. financial crisis will prevent him from fulfilling a campaign pledge to increase economic aid to the region.

“While Obama will probably devote most of his foreign policy attention to the Middle East and Asia, he won’t be able to ignored the many challenges in Latin America,” Mr. Daremblum writes.

Mr. Daremblum, ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Latin American Studies.


African ambassadors are in a panic about their inauguration ball in Arlington because all bridges to Virginia will be closed and they expect 1,200 guests to attend a festival designed to highlight Mr. Obama’s Kenyan heritage.

“This is a major issue,” Ambassador Roble Olhaye of Djibouti, the dean of the African Diplomatic Corps, said. “I don’t know how we will get there. This is a gigantic blockage.”

Mr. Olhaye, who as the most senior foreign ambassador in Washington also is dean of the Diplomatic Corps, is flabbergasted by the Secret Service’s decision to close all bridges, except those spanning the Potomac River on the Beltway.

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge that crosses into Alexandria and the American Legion Bridge that crosses into McLean are miles from the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel, which would be easily reached if the 14th Street Bridge remained open.

“If you have a way to get there, I’d like to know,” he tells Embassy Row. “All roads are closed. All bridges are closed. Do they expect us to walk or ride bicycles?”

Ambassadors can get through the security cordons because official cars will be allowed to cross the bridges. But most of the guests are not diplomats and most of them live in Washington, Mr. Olhaye said.

He cringed at the image of ladies in expensive ball gowns riding Metro subway trains, which are expected to be crowded. Taxis are an option, but they will be in great demand by guests attending dozens of other balls.

The Pan-African Inaugural Celebration - sponsored by the African Diplomatic Corps, the Republic of Kenya, the African Union, African Professionals in Washington and the Corporate Council on Africa - is intended to focus attention on the homeland of Mr. Obama’s father.

“We consider this to be the most important ball,” Mr. Olhaye said.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison.

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