Rediscovering Latin America: After Six Years, Washington Finally Looks South

Rediscovering Latin America: After Six Years, Washington Finally Looks South

Some statements go down in history with such a painful belly flop that one can never again quote them without thoroughly soaking them in the deceptively soothing balm of irony. It's not quite Chamberlain's immortal "peace in our time," but the words uttered by President George W. Bush on Sept. 5, 2001, little more than seven months into his first term, clearly fall in this category. That day, the Bush White House was hosting its first official state visit. President Bush stood next to Mexican president Vicente Fox on the South Lawn and earnestly declared, "The United States has no more important relationship in the world than the one we have with Mexico."

Six days later, the World Trade Center smoldered in ruins and Washington's best-laid plans for Latin America lay asunder, thoroughly torn. Mexico, and the rest of Latin America had plummeted from the ascribed top spot in the priority rankings, tumbling all the way to completely off the list.

Fast forward to 2007, and the world is indeed a different place. With just two years left in the beleaguered Bush administration, the White House has suddenly rediscovered Latin America. Did you know 2007 is officially, "The Year of Engagement with Latin America"? We can credit Washington's hemispheric U-turn to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the proud standard-bearer of international leftist anti-Americanism and the man who christened George W. Bush, "The Devil." But Chávez must share the honors for reminding Washington that Latin America is more than Cuba's (and Florida's) Fidel. Yes, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the man who truly awakened the White House from its continental slumber. If the soon-to-be Atomic Ahmadinejad can take a tour of Washington's back yard, as he did last month, then by God, so can -- and must -- President Bush.

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