Obama’s Latin America Policy: A Score Card

  • Sikhumbuzo Zondi Research Assistant, Institute for Global Dialogue, UNISA


According to Senator McCain, “John F. Kennedy described the peoples of Latin America as the United States’ ‘firm and ancient friends, united by history and by the United States’ determination to advance the values of American civilization throughout the hemisphere’” (Kennedy, 1962, quoted in McCain, 2007: 30). Latin American countries make natural partners of the United States, despite previous United States’ administrations having inattentively polluted this relationship. However, from the moment he became America’s 44th president, Barack H. Obama expressed a policy toward Latin America that was centered on the idea of equal partnership and mutual engagement, by saying, “I know that promises of partnership have gone unfulfilled in the past. There would be no senior or junior partner to this new engagement; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect; common interests and shared values” (Obama, 2009). This paper will examine President Obama’s foreign policy legacy in Latin America looking at his change of strategy on US-Cuba relations and the challenges that followed. The initial part will examine U.S. foreign policy shift from Bush to the Obama administration. The paper concludes that despite Obama’s Latin America policy not living to its full expectation, it was more pragmatic, cordial and multilateral than most American administrations to date.


Aleman, M. and Galeano, L.M. 2016.” In Africa, Latin America, Fidel Castro inspired many” The Big Story, 30 November, available at: https://apnews.com/1871d312c5624dc883e7d3ca3851efb5/africa-latin-america-fidel-castro-inspired-many, [retrieved: 12 December 2016].

Arnson, C. and Klare, T.M. 1979. “Exporting Repression: U.S. Support for Authoritarianism in Latin America” in Capitalism and the State in U.S.-Latin American Relations, Richard R. Fagen (ed.), Stanford University Press, pp.141-42.

BBC. 2001. “Bush pledges ‘Century of the Americas’”, April 17, available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1172505.stm, [retrieved: 17 March 2017].

Bryce-Pease, S. 2017. “Trump to unveil revised Cuba policy”, SABC News, 16 June, available at: http://www.sabc.co.za/news/a/feb3290041871804bdc8fdbbbb0e2c33/Trump-to-unveil-revised-Cuba-policy--20170616, [retrieved: 6 October 2017].

Bruce, M. 2009. "Obama: Gitmo Likely Won't Close in First 100 Days", ABC News, 11 January, available at: http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/Economy/story?id=6619291&page=1, [retrieved: 22 February 2017].

Bruck, C. 2016.” Why Obama has Failed to Close Guantanamo Bay”, The New Yorker, August 1 Issue, available at: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/08/01/why-obama-has-failed-to-close-guantanamo, [retrieved: 31 May 2017].

Bush, G.W. 2000. “George W. Bush’s Speech on Latin America”, quoted in Williams, M.E. and Dominguez, I.J., 2012, Understanding U.S.-Latin America Relations: Theory and History, Routledge, Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, pp.1-378.

__________2001. "Bush Remarks on Departure for Toledo, Ohio, With President Vicente Fox of Mexico and an Exchange with Reporters," September 6, Online by Peters G. and Woolley, J.T., The American Presidency Project, available at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=73406, [retrieved: 3 May 2017].

__________2004. “Remarks after Meeting with the Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba,” May 6, U.S. Department of State, available at: https://2001-2009.state.gov/p/wha/rls/rm/32231.htm, [retrieved: 5 May 2017].

Butland, J.G. 1960. “Latin America: A Regional Geography”, New York: John Wiley and Sons, pp. 115–188.

Buve, R. 2005. “Latijns-Amerika en de politiek van Bush Jr.: De Boomerang komt Terug”, Internationale Spectator, Vol. 59 No.2, pp.76-81.

Central Intelligence Agency. 1968. “Cuban Subversive Activities in Latin America: 1959-1968”, Special Report Weekly Review, 16 February, available at: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000109057.pdf, [retrieved: 18 May 2017].

Cohen, C., Joseph S.N. and Armitage, R. 2007. “A Smarter, More Secure America: Report of the CCIS Commission on Smart Power”, Washington, DC: Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Cohen, S.L. 2017. “From war to more war”, 23 January, Opinion on Al Jazeera News, available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/01/trump-inherit-obama-war-legacy-170123115134240.html, retrieved: [11 May 2017].

Crandall, R. 2011. “The Post-American Hemisphere: Power and Politics in an Autonomous Latin America”, Foreign Affairs, Vol.90, No. 3, Council on Foreign Relations, May/June Issue, pp. 83-95.

Dietrich, W.J. 2015. “The George W. Bush Foreign Policy Reader: Presidential Speeches with Commentary”, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, New York, 10017, pp. 3-325.

Domínguez, J.I. 1999. “U.S.-Latin American Relations During the Cold War and its Aftermath.” Institute of Latin American Studies. University of London, Harvard University Press. U.K. pp.33-51.

Dominguez, J.I. and Fernandez, C. R. 2016. “Contemporary US-Latin American Relations: Cooperation or Conflict in the 21st Century”, Routledge, 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

ENCA. 2016. “Update: Obama, Castro hail ‘new day’ for U.S.-Cuba relations”, 21 March, available at: https://www.enca.com/world/update-obama-castro-hail-new-day-us-cuba-relations, [retrieved: 25 November 2016].

Erikson, P.D.2010. “The Obama Administration and Latin America: Towards a New Partnership”? The Centre for International Governance Innovation, pp. 1-32.

Foley, C. 2009. ‘“Good looking” Lula’s revenge,” The Guardian, April 11, available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/10/brazil-gordon-brown, [retrieved: 17 March 2017].

Garden, R. 2015.” Statement by the President on the Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba”, The White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 1, available at: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/07/01/statement-president-re-establishment-diplomatic-relations-cuba, [retrieved: 6 June 2017].

Glass, A. 2013. “Fidel Castro visits the U.S., April 15, 1959”, Politico, 15 April, available at: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/this-day-in-politics-april-15-1959-090037 [retrieved: 12 December 2016].

Gutierrez, G. 2015. “Obama on U.S. Embassy in Cuba: This is what Change Looks Like, NBC News, 1 January, available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/u-s-cuba-relations/obama-announces-deal-open-cuban-embassy-n385001, [retrieved: 3 January 2017].

Hakim, P, 2006, “Is Washington Losing Latin America?” Foreign Affairs, vol. 85 no.39, pp.39-53.

Hamilton, D. et al. 2009. “Alliance Reborn: An Atlantic Compact for the 21st Century”, Atlantic Council of the United States: Centre for Strategic and International Studies, John Hopkins University, SAIS, February, Washington.

Hellinger, D. 2011. “Obama and the Bolivarian Agenda for the Americas”, Issue 178, Vol. 38 No.4, pp. 46-62.

Hsiang, A.C. 2003. “Bush’s Policy Toward Latin America”, Orbis, Vol.47 No.1, pp. 59-72.

Lambrecht, L. 2015. “U.S.-Cuba Relationship in the 21st Century: From Foe to Friend”?, pp. 1-62.

LeoGrande, M.W. 2011. “Latin America Policy in the Next Two Years: The Obama Administration and the Next Congress”, 7 March, David Rockefeller Centre for Latin American Studies, Harvard University.

Lockhart, J., Kittleson, A.R. and Bushnell, D. 2016, “History of Latin America”, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., available at: https://global.britannica.com/place/Latin-America, [retrieved: 22 March 2017].

Lowenthal, A.F. 1976. “Two Hundred Years of American Foreign Policy: The United States and Latin America: Ending the Hegemonic Presumption. Foreign Affairs”, Vol. 55, No.1, pp.199-213.

_______2012, “Rethinking U.S.-Latin American Relations: Thirty Years of Transformations”, In: Inter-American Dialogue (Ed.), The Americas in motion: looking ahead, pp. 1-7, Washington: Inter-American Dialogue.

Mai-Duc, C. 2014.” How politicians are reacting to renewed Cuba-U.S. relations”, 17 December, Los Angeles Times, available at: http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-congress-reaction-cuba-us-20141217-htmlstory.html, [retrieved: 6 October 2017].

Nye, J. 2008. ‘The Power to Lead”, New York: Oxford University Press.

Obama, B.H. 2007. “Renewing American Leadership”, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007 Issue, vol.86 no.4.

________2009. “Remarks by President Barack Obama,” Fifth Summit of the Americas, Trinidad and Tobago, April 18.

Ondrejcsák, R. 2009. “American Foreign and Security Policy under Barack Obama: change and continuity”, Centre for European and North Atlantic Affairs, pp. 147-162.

Reid, M. 2015. “Obama and Latin America: A Promising Day in the Neighbourhood, Foreign Affairs``, September/October Issue, vol.94 no.5, available at: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/americas/obama-and-latin-america, [retrieved: 12 December 2016].

Sabet, S. 2013.”US Foreign Policy in Latin America”, June 14, University of British Columbia, available at: http://www.e-ir.info/2013/06/14/us-foreign-policy-in-latin-america/#_ftn18, [retrieved: 12 May 2017].

Saragoza, M.A 2014. “Obama and Latin America: Disappointed Hopes”, Cahiers des Ameriqueslatines, 3 September, vol. 75, pp. 7-14, available at: http://cal.revues.org/3088, [retrieved: 28 February 2017].

Schoultz, L.1998. “Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America”, Harvard: Harvard University Press.

________ 2009. “That Infernal Little Cuban republic: The United States and the Cuban Revolution”, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press.

Shapira, I. 2015.”‘It was terrible’: Alan Gross gives first interview after being released from a Cuban prison, The Washington Post, 30 November, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/11/30/it-was-terrible-alan-gross-gives-first-interview-after-being-released-from-a-cuban-prison/?utm_term=.872f6b6caa69, [retrieved: 22 May 2017].

Shifter, M. 2010. “Obama and Latin America: New Beginnings, Old Frictions,” Current History 109, no. 724, pp. 67–76.

Smith, W. S. 2006.” Bush’s Dysfunctional Cuba Policy”, November 6, Foreign Policy In Focus, available at: http://fpif.org/bushs_dysfunctional_cuba_policy/, [retrieved: 19 May 2017].

Spencer, N. 2009. “Obama’s energy partnership for the Americas,” Latin Business Chronicle. March 23, Available at: http://www.as-coa.org/article.php?id=1545, [retrieved: 16 January 2017].

Spetalnick, M., Trotta, D. and Mason, J. 2016. “Obama in Cuba on historic visit”, Reuters News, 20 March, available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-cuba-idUSKCN0WM04H,[ retrieved: 10 December 2016].

Stout, D. 2006. “Chávez Calls Bush ‘the Devil’ in U.N. Speech”, The New York Times, 20 September, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/20/world/americas/20cnd-chavez.html, [retrieved: 17 March 2017].

Sullivan, P. M. 2012. “Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances”, Congressional Research Service, 9 November, available at: https://www.american.edu/clals/upload/CRS-travel-11-12-RL31139-1.pdf, [retrieved: 16 March 2017].

The Telegraph. 2008. “Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ hoping for a Barack Obama victory”, The Telegraph, 2 November, available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/venezuela/3369053/Venezuelan-president-Hugo-Chavez-hoping-for-Barack-Obama-victory.html, [retrieved: 2 May 2017].

Torres, G. 2013. “Encyclopedia of Latin American Popular Music”, Lafayette College, Easton, PA, ABC-CLIO, pp. xvii, ISBN 9780313087943.

Voice of America. 2014. “The United States is encouraging American companies to "Look South" to do more business with Latin America”, January 27, available at: http://editorials.voa.gov/a/look-south-initiative/1838967.html, [retrieved: 22 March 2017].