This week, President Obama’s globe-trotting will take him to a Latin America for the Summit of the Americas, a region of the world where a resurgence of Communism has complicated U.S. relations. Hispanic-Americans will be paying close attention to the posture he takes with hard-left dictators like Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega.
At the height of his presidential run, then-Senator Barack Obama feared Senator Hillary Clinton was gaining an unbeatable lead among Hispanic voters in the Democratic primaries. In response, he went to the Southwest to court Hispanics with the catch-all, “Yes, we can.” “Si, se puede” is no mere melodious Spanish. It evokes powerful memories in a militant left that cut its teeth in the radical California Chicano politics of East L.A. and the San Joaquin Valley where grapes of wrath were said to be picked by Mexican immigrants in the 1960s.
By the time Candidate Obama adopted the phrase, its meaning was an implicit promise to solve all problems Hispanic and to give earnest presidential attention to a Latin America which he accused the Bush Administration of neglecting. In that context, the implied promise was that a President Obama could do business with Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other countries ruled by the left. It worked. He got 67 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to Al Gore’s 62 percent in 2000.
Now, President Obama may find out - like Vice-President Joe Biden found out on his recent trip to Central America – that some Latin leftists play hardball and will not be moved by mythical incantations of fairness and progress, let alone by their own citizens’ pleads for Democracy and transparency. Vice-President Biden got a taste of that when he was snubbed by the leftist presidents from Nicaragua and Honduras when they were beckoned to Costa Rica for the pleasure of meeting him.
Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega has regional ambitions. How President Obama deals with those plans will be crucial for the area’s stability and test the President’s willingness to recognize the severity of the problem.