Shannon O'Neil on Latin America

Council on Foreign Relations - January 10, 2008

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U.S. foreign policy under the Bush administration has been dominated by the Middle East. Analysts say this has led to neglect of regions closer to home, like Latin America. Shannon O’Neil, CFR fellow for Latin America studies, says the election of a new president offers a “big opportunity for recalibration.” She suggests that energy is a major area for U.S. assistance to the region, given that 50 percent of U.S. energy resources come from the Western Hemisphere. For instance, O’Neil says the United States should work with Brazil, which produces high quantities of ethanol from sugar cane, to develop a biofuels industry in the region.
O’Neil says instead of focusing on drug trafficking, the United States should help Latin American countries reform their law enforcement and judicial institutions. Immigration, which has played a big role in the Republican presidential campaign, “is a crucial issue for the next government, whatever their political stripes,” she says. She believes it is “unrealistic” to deport the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country and favors instead a circular migration policy that allows immigrants to earn money in the United States and then return home. The United States could also help bolster Latin American economies, O’Neil says, by adjusting its agricultural and textile policies to help Latin American countries capitalize on areas in which they have a competitive advantage.
O’Neil has served as an adviser to Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.