In his OAS speech delivered on November 18, Secretary of State John Kerry focused on U.S. policy towards the Western Hemisphere and its continuing bilateral relations with nations in the region, emphasizing that Washington under this administration was working towards a “shared commitment to democracy.” His focus on “equal partnership” and “inclusion” underlines a diplomatic strategy to constitute a primus inter pares engagement with Latin America rather than the longstanding conceptualization of the United States as the intrusive Northern neighbor flexing its economic muscles at will. Kerry emphasized this point at several points throughout his speech, reiterating the phrase “La unión hace la fuerza.”
However much Secretary Kerry aimed to bestow recognition of Latin American sovereignty by cleverly choosing carefully crafted words like partnership and equality, he made certain that any such “unión” must happen under the banner of Washington-style democracy. Kerry touted that the hemisphere must stand “unified in commitment to pursuing successful democracy” and then singled out one exception to this pursuit: Cuba. Kerry continued to show the long established policy of Washington to display a vision of the hemisphere from the perspective of the ancien régime rather than how the region is now. He also showed faulty mathematics when he did not make the distinction that differences in policy do not mean that a state threatens the institutionalization of democratic values.
Kerry’s begrudging acknowledgement of Cuba’s reforms was followed by his emphasis on the “human interchange” between the United States and Cuba since “our people are our best ambassadors of our values” – that is, emissaries of democracy. While the address maintained a hopeful, positive outlook on future collaboration within the hemisphere, it did so while subtly advocating a policy that would exclude any members who might stand in the way of Washington’s existing definition of a democratic mandate. That includes almost biblical references to politicized stances eminating from its ancient disputes with left-leaning countries like Cuba and Venezuela. In retrospect, it must be said that a wonderful opportunity to constructively move U.S.-Cuba relations forward was lost. Secretary Kerry exhibits less rationality than meets the eye and turns out to be less of a statesman than we would like him to be.
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