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U.S. official outlines Obama’s strategy in Latin America

By Mariano Andrade | AFP

Energy, education and freedom of expression in Latin America are “specific challenges” that U.S. President Barack Obama plans on addressing during his second term in the White House, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said on Tuesday.

In a presentation to the New York-based Council of the Americas, Jacobson declined to address the future of Venezuela, although she expressed hope for a quick recovery of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who flew to Cuba this week for emergency cancer treatment.

“Looking forward, I would like to mention some specific challenges that we face in three areas of our policy of partnership and shared responsibility that are the basis of President Obama’s policy in the Western Hemisphere: energy, education and freedom of expression,” the U.S. official said.

Jacobson noted that while 20 or 30 years ago, some of the current Latin American leaders fought for freedom of expression against military dictatorships, now “some populist leaders are closing or censoring independent media, tribunals and other essential elements of democracy,” although she did not mention specific countries.

Last October, the Inter-American Press Association issued strong messages to the governments of Argentina, Venezuela and Ecuador, urging them to halt activities that prohibit the freedom of expression, such as new press and judicial laws against journalists.

In terms of energy, Jacobson said “ an extraordinary opportunity” exists, as Latin America increasingly is a strategic global supplier of energy resources from the region.

On education, the State Department official said there is some concern in academic and business circles, because “Latin America has few or no educational institutions among the top global rankings on education.”

“We can expand solid economic performance in recent decades if we devote sustained energy to developing education,” she said, adding that the region has never before been as “prosperous and peaceful” as it is today.

During the presentation, Jacobson responded to questions about the situation of specific countries in the region, including the failing health of Venezuela’s leader.

“I can’t predict the future, and I can’t comment as to what will happen in Venezuela,” she said. “But what I can say is that we always have publicly stated that we wish the president a speedy recovery.”

“We have tried and we are going to continue trying to have productive relations with Venezuela,” she added, admitting that, “sometimes it has been very difficult.”

Cuba also was mentioned, and Jacobson insisted that the Obama administration constantly “measures” the effect of a long-term economic embargo against the island nation, so that the Cuban people are effected as minimally as possible while they strive for democratic change.

“What the president [Obama] decides in terms of certain parts of the embargo is something that is constantly measured and designed to encourage democratic change in Cuba,” she said.

Jacobson also noted the “growing concern” by business leaders from the U.S. and elsewhere who operate in Argentina over that country’s restrictions on capital and trade transactions.

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