Julia E. Sweig – Council of Foreign Relations, 05/22/2013
Vice President Joe Biden will visit Brazil, Colombia, and Trinidad and Tobago next week. Don’t assume this American vice president is merely ceremonial: he has a significant domestic portfolio including immigration, guns, and the budget. Nor is his visit one of those bloated good will trips meant to dole out patronage or shore up support for some American foreign venture. Rather, it seems the Obama administration has decided to try and seize a huge, and to date largely missed opportunity related to jobs, energy, and prosperity in Latin America.
Why the sudden awakening? Immigration reform, the President’s top legislative priority this year, and a political must for both parties, has alerted the White House to the potential foreign policy benefit in Latin America, and not just Mexico, of solving a major domestic problem. In fact, the White House and the American public’s disposition to deal with once untouchable domestic politics around immigration, guns, energy, marijuana legalization, and maybe even Cuba, open the door for potential convergence with Latin America. And provide a chance to get beyond the usual ideological battles that too often sap diplomatic energy and patience.
Biden arrives in Brazil five months before President Rousseff’s state visit to the United States and ten years since President Bush and President Lula convened their cabinets for a joint ministerial meeting, their recognition of the strategic potential for the two democracies and their economies. Since then, dozens, if not hundreds, of ministerial and sub-ministerial meetings have followed. And we have stitched together dozens of inter-governmental dialogues, initiatives, defense, business, scientific, and educational exchanges. Yet there is still something missing between the two powers—call it a lack of ambition.