U.S.'s Latin American neighbors would like more attention from the next president

Posted in Latin America | 06-Feb-08 | Author: Patrick J. McDonnell| Source: Los Angeles Times

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)

Mexicans fume over immigration rhetoric.

BUENOS AIRES — The perceived immigrant-bashing of GOP presidential hopefuls has drawn fury in neighboring Mexico, where U.S. policies may resonate more than anywhere else.

President Felipe Calderon complained recently that the candidates have competed to be "the most loudmouth, the most macho and the most anti-Mexican."

The next U.S. president could champion changes in immigration affecting, for better or worse, the lives of millions of apprehensive Mexicans.

Many Mexicans are able to watch U.S. television, and so are exposed to the unfolding political spectacle to the north. And the Obama phenomenon has spurred interest among the huge populations of African ancestry in the Caribbean, Brazil and elsewhere.

"Are Americans really ready to elect a black man to the White House?" asked a bemused Bishop Eliner Cadet, a Protestant minister in Haiti.

The prospect has left Latin American commentators alternately incredulous and elated. The idea clashes with deeply embedded notions of American racism.

Barack Obama "has turned the U.S. political status quo upside down," wrote Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist and ex-presidential aspirant. An Obama presidency, he said, "is no longer a chimera, but a very realistic possibility."

Some in Latin America have expressed hopes for renewed U.S. engagement in the region after what they call a Mideast-obsessed Bush administration.

"I think it's very important that the United States strengthen its presence in Latin America, not only when there are problems but also when there is a chance to work together," Chilean Sen. Soledad Alvear said last week.

In Venezuela, there is some sentiment that the hostility between Washington and President Hugo Chavez could diminish with a new occupant in the White House.

"Anyone but Bush should mean better relations between the United States and Chavez," said Fausto Maso, a Caracas political analyst and columnist at El Nacional newspaper.

Chile and Argentina have elected female presidents who have been asked about Hillary Clinton.

"Another woman [president] wouldn't be bad," said Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Contributors: Reed Johnson and Héctor Tobar in Mexico City, Chris Kraul in Colombia, Carol J. Williams in Haiti and Andrés D'Alessandro in Buenos Aires.