After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, American foreign policy shifted from Latin America to the Middle East. This new focus meant that critical issues in Latin America were ignored, such as the Cuban embargo. The United States’ economic sanctions against Cuba have resulted in a degraded quality of life. Cubans lack access to basic goods and services. Additionally, the embargo has decreased the United States’ ability to exert its influence in the region. China has filled the power vacuum left by the United States. Latin America provides China with a new and relatively untapped market. China needs resources from Latin America–such as oil—to maintain its growth. The United States should end the economic embargo against Cuba in order to regain its hemispheric influence in Latin America.
The sharp shift from democratization during the Cold War to isolation post-9/11 resulted in the lowest point in U.S.-Latin American relations ever. Between 1989 and 1995, the United States reached a high point in relations; the Brady debt-relief proposal relieved Latin American countries; the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed; the United States was the undisputed hemispheric power (Hakim 39). Relations began to slip in 1996 when Congress added further restrictions to the embargo in the Helms-Burton Act. Later, President Clinton expanded the embargo to prevent foreign subsidiaries of American companies from trading with Cuba (Siegelbaum). After 9/11, American focus shifted away from Latin America. This moment was inevitable after a culmination of Washington’s leadership failures; both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were unwilling to stand up to powerful domestic constituencies (Hakim 39-40). As the United States began waging its war on terrorism, remedying its broken relations with Latin America was its last priority.
The Cuban embargo is now the central issue undermining U.S.-Latin American relations. It represents a culmination of neglect and poor leadership by the United States. In his recommendation to the U.S. State Department, David Perez argues:
Cuba, despite its size and isolation, is a keystone nation in Latin America, having disproportionately dominated Washington's policy toward the region for decades. As a result of its continuing tensions with Havana, America's reputation in the region has suffered, as has its ability to deal with other countries (187).
Cuba is the lynchpin issue in U.S.-Latin American relations. Resentment towards the United States is growing in Latin American countries. A cartoon in a Brazilian newspaper highlights Latin America’s anger towards the United States over the embargo (Latuff, see Figure 1). Traditionally, democracies in the Western hemisphere have aligned on core issues. This trend does not hold true when it comes to the Cuban embargo. In order to reinstate our hemispheric influence, the United States must first address the Cuban embargo. We cannot effectively work with other countries until this problem is...