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Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2010-06-07

In an atmosphere of heightened suspicion towards Washington amongst Latin American nations following a series of diplomatic spats, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton begins an Andean trip on Monday that will take her to Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her seventh trip to Latin America on Monday with an appearance at the 40th General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Peru, amid persistent distrust towards Washington among its southern neighbours.

While Clinton’s tour has been touted as an Andean visit with a democracy-boosting agenda, controversial issues such as the legitimacy of the Honduran government, the Cuban blockade, and imposing sanctions on Iran are likely to attract wider attention and continue to fuel tensions.

On Monday Clinton joined her Latin American counterparts in Lima, where the OAS kicked off its annual meeting, focusing this year on the theme of regional security.

On Tuesday, she is expected in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito for talks with leftist president Rafael Correa, and will deliver a speech providing a broad outline of President Barack Obama’s policies towards Latin America, which will likely include improved regional trade and cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking and related crime.

On Wednesday, Clinton heads to Bogota, where she will meet Colombia’s outgoing President Alvaro Uribe - a rare and key regional ally to Washington over the past eight years.

In Colombia, Clinton will also meet presidential candidates Juan Manuel Santos and Antanas Mockus, who will both compete in the second round of the country’s presidential elections at the end of the month.

Honduras spoils the fiesta

In his inaugural address to the OAS assembly on Monday, Secretary General José Miguel Insulza highlighted the diverging views that members hold regarding the legitimacy of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, who was elected in November 2009 after the military and political rivals ousted Manuel Zelaya.

On July 5, 2009, the OAS suspended Honduras from active participation in the hemispheric body, and several South American nations (not Colombia or Peru) later disputed the election's legitimacy because the vote was organised by the backers of the coup.

Despite a hopeful warming in regional ties early on in Barack Obama’s tenure, his administration’s endorsement of the elections and Lobo’s victory put relations with the left-leaning block in Central and South America back on ice.

The restoration of Honduras as an active OAS member was not part of the meeting’s agenda, but was expected to weigh heavily as a subject on the sidelines of the event.

Old and new tensions

Another issue that will be discussed unofficially at the OAS and which continues to hamper the improvement of regional ties is Washington’s embargo against the communist regime in Cuba.

Although the Obama administration has lifted travel restrictions to Cuba and reinitiated diplomatic talks on immigration, frozen under former president George Bush, little else has changed between Washington and Havana.

Led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, several Latin American leaders have pushed Barack Obama to end the decades-old embargo against the island nation.

Tensions between Washington and Brasilia - a relatively new diplomatic phenomenon - are also haunting Clinton on her Latin American tour.

In August 2009, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva lead a regional challenge against a deal whereby the US military was given access to seven bases in Colombia. And diplomatic relations have soured even further in recent weeks, with the US and other world powers dismissing a Brazil and Turkey-brokered deal which, it was hoped, would restrain the UN from imposing further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

Clinton told AFP that she expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Celso Amorim, the Brazilian foreign minister, as Washington pushes next week for a UN Security Council vote on those sanctions.

Date created : 2010-06-07


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