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MADRID, Apr 28 2010 (IPS) - Washington seems rather uninterested or at least unconcerned with what Europe, collectively as the European Union or country by country, could do in its relations with the rest of the Americas. In reality, this attitude is a reflection of a drop in US interest in what lies to its south as a result of the urgency of action in other areas, like the Middle East and China, and terrorism in general.

Geographically, the further you move from the area under Washington’s influence (the Caribbean, Central America, and above all Mexico) the less Washington is interested. However, there are still pressing issues that demand at the very least a certain amount of attention.

As for Cuba, expectations of observers in both Spain and the US were excessive with respect to Madrid’s hypothetical mediation with Havana on formulas for an evolution of the Cuban regime that Washington might accept in exchange for ending or at least weakening the embargo. It is clear that Spain, the most appropriate member of the EU for this mission, was identified early on as useful to US policy in the apparently intractable dilemma of what to do with the regime in Havana after the failure of Washington’s strategy of isolating the regime to provoke its collapse.

The EU’s policy of “constructive involvement”, led by Spain, was seen as an alternative but was rendered impossible by President Raul Castro’s resistance to making concessions. What might be more fruitful is European collaboration on reconstruction projects in areas struck by natural disasters like the hurricanes in the Caribbean and the earthquakes that nearly destroyed Haiti and more recently Chile. The credentials of the EU and its member states in this area are impeccable: more than half of the humanitarian and development aid promised comes from Europe. Were it to disappear, numerous parts of Latin America would find themselves completely orphaned of foreign aid.

It is not presently clear what the EU could do in terms of the differences between Washington and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, which have not improved since George W. Bush (the focus of Chavez’ attacks) left office. What is clear is that countries with the largest interests in Venezuela have suffered from Chavez’ policy of expropriations.

Programmes for cooperation between the EU and Venezuela are very modest. The same is true with regard to Bolivia, and Ecuador to a somewhat lesser extent. The special relation between Brazil and the EU (an example of the subtle abandonment of a policy based exclusively on regional blocs) might fit with Washington’s plans to identify the prominent countries in various regions of the world and build coalitions with them. But the agenda of Brazilian president Lula does not seem to have pleased the architects of US foreign policy.

Central America and Mexico are other areas of possible collaboration. Drug trafficking and uncontrolled emigration (the dangers of a Cuba in transition or gripped by internal tensions) are issues for which European counsel and collaboration could be useful. Drug trafficking is a cancer produced by both US and European consumption. Massive emigration is a major issue for both entities. Although at present the threat that Latin American might become a base for international terrorism seems only a vague possibility, the EU could become an effective ally of the US in this area.

On the economic front, European investment in Latin America is not a concern, given that this appears more beneficial to the US than the opening of Asia and particularly China to Latin America. If a few decades ago plans for regional integration in Latin America along EU lines were seen as possible competition to US-backed free trade organisations (NAFTA and FTAA), they are now seen as possible forces of stability in the region. We are about to see whether European and US attitudes coincide or clash with regard to the appearance of schemes evidently opposed to US presence (ALBA) or exclusively Latin American (UNASUR, or more recently the Organisation of Latin American and Caribbean States). (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Joaquin Roy is ”Jean Monnet” professor and Director of the European Union Centre of the University of Miami (jroy@Miami.edu).

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