Richardson calls for ‘new realism’ in Latin America

Times Staff Writer

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson on Wednesday called for a mix of diplomacy and economic intervention to try to improve relations with Latin American nations “alienated” by current Bush administration policies.

Speaking before about 200 students and supporters of the progressive political advocacy group NDN on the UCLA campus, the New Mexico governor said the U.S. policy of disengagement from rivals on the world stage had allowed those nations to flourish and forge their own coalitions against American interests in Central and South American nations.

“Anti-Americanism is growing at an alarming rate across the region,” Richardson said. “Through neglect we have turned many of our natural allies into fair-weather friends and outright enemies.”

He blamed Bush administration polices that he said “played into the hands of our worst enemies” by giving such leaders as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro political space in which to forge alliances.

“The Bush administration’s shortsighted, clumsy diplomacy has helped leaders like Chavez and Castro create an axis of anti-American nationalism across the region,” Richardson said.


Seeking to separate himself from the other Democratic presidential contenders, Richardson -- a former ambassador to the United Nations -- argued that he alone had the experience to connect with a shifting world of international threats and diplomacy.

“We cannot afford leadership that has not been tested,” Richardson said. “My colleagues in this race have my respect, but it is a simple fact that the next international deal negotiated by any one of them will be their first.”

Richardson called for a “new realism” in U.S. foreign policy, expanding on a theme he sounded this summer in an article for the Harvard International Review.

Then, he wrote that U.S. leaders had failed to adopt policies that recognized the ways in which the post-Cold War world was changing, such as threats from loose networks of individuals rather than nations, and the difficulties posed by transnational problems such as AIDS, global warming, and criminal networks of weapons and drug traffickers.

Although Richardson castigated the Bush administration for failure to find fresh solutions, his proposals were largely limited to reaffirming diplomacy or augmenting existing programs, such as the Nunn-Lugar program to secure nuclear materials in former Soviet republics.

On Wednesday, Richardson set out what he called “seven strategies to rebuild our relationship with the rest of the hemisphere.” First among them: diplomatic engagement with all countries, including Venezuela and Cuba. And he called for a new policy toward the communist Cuban regime, including allowing family visits and remittances to Cuba, now restricted by U.S. policy.

“I am ready to reassess the trade embargo . . . in exchange for Cuba releasing all political prisoners and making positive moves towards democratic freedoms,” Richardson said.

He also called for adding a Latin American country to the U.N. Security Council; a U.S. policy adhering to international agreements on human rights; promoting fair trade and economic development in impoverished countries; and enacting immigration reform “that is realistic and humane.”

Richardson offered few specific proposals for new trade or international economic programs.

“I would focus not on lending that creates debt . . . [or] that builds palaces for dictators,” he said in response to a question at the end of his speech.

Instead, Richardson said, he would support micro-lending and other programs that aim to expand entrepreneurship among “the poorest of the poor.” Such programs could also help combat illegal immigration, he said.

“Illegal immigration is an economic problem, driven by the fact that decent jobs for people in their home countries are not there,” Richardson said in his speech. “If we want to stop illegal immigration, we need to promote equitable economic development in Latin America. There’s no way around it.”

He also called for stronger border enforcement and a plan to offer legal status to people already here illegally. At the same time, he said, American economic success depends on a flow of immigrant labor.

“While our laws say they cannot come here, our economy says they should,” Richardson said. “We need to be realistic. Our economy demands these workers, and it makes no sense to have them here illegally rather than legally.”

Richardson renewed his support for a “reasonable guest-worker program” and urged cooperation with the Mexican government “to get them to stop encouraging illegal immigration . . . and instead to start creating more jobs in Mexico.”