Sen. Obama: Please reject Bush's Lat. Am. policy
Dear Senator Obama; As Democratic elected officials and activists who have been enthusiastic from the beginning about your historic campaign for the Presidency, we are writing to express our hopes and concerns for U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America in the post-Bush era. During the primary campaign, you voiced your rejection of a \"Bush-Cheney Lite\"  approach to foreign policy in the Persian Gulf. But with regard to Latin America, your positions have varied: some of the statements from your campaign inspire hope for change, while others have been full-strength Bush-Cheney -- not \"Lite\" at all. For example, the Bush Administration\'s at least tacit approval of the illegal Colombian military incursion into Ecuador on March 1 left Washington and Bogota completely isolated, as every other country in the hemisphere condemned this violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty. Rather than offering to heal this point of contention with the entire region, you appear to promise more of the same, having stated on May 23 that \"We will support Colombia\'s right to strike terrorists who seek safe-haven across its borders.\" (Excessive U.S. reliance on Colombia as a regional partner also impedes challenging its human rights and other abuses.) Likewise, your support for continuing the embargo against Cuba, which almost all experts agree has failed miserably for more than four decades, is troubling to anyone awaits a real change in U.S. Latin America policy. We understand that the debate over Latin America in an election year will be dominated by the Florida Cuban-American community, since its 770,000 voters have the potential to swing a close election. But stances like support for the embargo, grounded solely in Washington politics-as-usual, can only encourage cynicism among your supporters and potential campaign activists. We were pleased that you stated your willingness, as President, to talk to President Hugo Chavez Frias of Venezuela. This would be an important step toward reversing the failed policies of the Bush Administration in this hemisphere. Though mistakes have been made on both sides, hostile and anti-democratic actions by the Bush Administration have been primarily responsible for bad relations between the United States and Venezuela, which remains one of our largest oil suppliers. The policy of seeking to isolate President Chavez has, ironically, succeeded only in isolating the United States, as Chavez has received consistent support from the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and most of their neighbors -- even among those who do not agree with his confrontational style. It would not be difficult to repair relations with Venezuela by repudiating the Bush approach and its legacy, and we encourage you to do so vocally. The Bush Administration\'s provocations against Venezuela have been numerous: It supported a military coup against its democratically elected government in April 2002.  The State Department has acknowledged that the Administration funded some of the coup\'s participants. It gave its tacit support for another attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government later that year through an economically devastating oil strike.  It has funded opposition groups in Venezuela with millions of dollars -- something that we would not appreciate if a foreign power were to do the same in the United States. Then, the U.S. State Department announced that it was considering putting Venezuela on the list of \"state sponsors of terror.\" Abetted by the media, the Bush Administration has portrayed President Chavez as a dictator, despite his having been democratically elected three times in elections certified by the most credible international observers, most recently in December 2006. As former President Jimmy Carter and other knowledgeable observers have noted, Venezuela is a democracy with freedom of speech, press, association, and assembly, and a much more oppositional media than most of the hemisphere, including the United States.  The Washington culture has also sought to downplay or deny the dramatic increases in the well-being of the poor and the majority of Venezuelans since the government gained control of its oil industry in February of 2003. Since then, Venezuela\'s real GDP has grown by more than 87 percent, poverty and unemployment have been cut by more than half, and the vast majority have gained access to health care. The government also provides subsidized food to about 40 percent of the population, and has substantially increased access to education, especially higher education.  We hope you will keep these facts in mind as your campaign for the presidency proceeds. As you know, the major media can sometimes promote gross distortions of reality, as it showed in the run-up to the Iraq war. Most Americans were convinced that Saddam Hussein was linked to Al-Qaeda, and that Iraq posed a nuclear threat. The media\'s misrepresentation of the reality in Venezuela has been of a similar nature, and over a longer period of time. We salute you for having had the courage and foresight to reject the Bush Administration\'s mythology -- amplified through the media -- on the Iraq war, and for opposing that war from the start. We hope that you can do the same with regard to Latin America, and to lead the way in changing Bush\'s failed foreign policy in our hemisphere as well.