President Barack Obama is in Panama for the Summit of the Americas, a gathering of American heads of state. This year the leaders will be joined for the first time by Raul Castro, Cuba’s leader. For years, Cuba was excluded from the summit, which created tension between Latin American leaders and the U.S.
Disagreement over the U.S. embargo of Cuba wasn’t the only gripe Latin American leaders had with U.S. policy in the region. “American presidents have a hard time paying attention to Latin America,” says Moises Naim, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment.
But the Obama Administration seeks to slow the tide of illegal immigrants, so Naim says “the top priority for the United States … is to have strong economies that produce jobs.”
That’s a shift from years of sending money to the region’s militaries to pay for the War on Drugs.
“The United States has moved beyond a single policy toward Latin America,” said Bruce Bagley, a professor of political science at the University of Miami. But focusing on poverty alleviation in places like Honduras, which has high violence and a high level of emigration, isn’t easy, because “one of the major constraints is the absence of capital and expertise,” he said.
That absence of capital is one reason why cabinet member and U.S. Small Business Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet was in Panama to announce a new partnership between the SBA and ConnectAmericas, a social network for Latin American entrepreneurs. “That’s how we help their youth change their future and change their lives,” Contreras-Sweet says.
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