By PABLO BACHELET | Miami Herald
Sen. Christopher Dodd, one of the most influential Democratic lawmakers on Latin American issues, Wednesday proposed a new strategic partnership with the region that he said should be kicked off with a new policy on Cuba.
The partnership idea is not new—Sen. John Kerry proposed something similar when he ran for president in 2004—but Dodd’s speech before the U.S. Naval Academy’s Foreign Affairs Conference in Annapolis, Md., is significant because Dodd, a fluent Spanish speaker and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is considered a heavyweight among Democrats.
Dodd, who has endorsed presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, said that so far U.S. policy toward Latin America has focused too narrowly on trade, drugs and elections. He wants a new approach and says re-thinking the Cuba policy is a good place to start.
‘‘The Strategic Partnership for the Americas which I have just outlined, can begin in one place- Cuba,’’ said the Connecticut lawmaker and a well-known critic of the U.S. embargo.
According to a prepared text of his speech distributed by his office, Dodd criticized the ‘‘failed’’ drug policies of eradication and wants the United States to focus on ``strengthening civilian law enforcement and justice institutions, replacing black market economies with legitimate economic investment and creating smarter anti-drug programs.’‘
He said a massive $1.4 billion anti-drug assistance package for Mexico is based on the old ‘‘war on drugs paradigm’’ that will never succeed unless Mexico’s institutions improve.
He also questioned the premise that U.S. influence is waning, arguing instead that the influence of other actors is on the rise.
‘‘I do not suggest that Latin America is more important than Europe, let alone China, or East Asia, or that Latin America should demand more of our attention than other regions of the world,’’ he said. ``But I will make a case that Latin America is of critical importance to the United States, and our continued engagement with the region is vital.’‘
Dodd said he wants a new strategic partnership based on three principles: public security and the rule of law; reduction in poverty and inequality; and energy integration and innovation.
He wants the United States to provide more support for the Inter-American Development Bank and work with neighbors on sustainable energy sources.
He said policy toward Cuba has been ``agonizingly static for almost 50 years.’‘
‘‘I believe we must dramatically alter our posture towards Cuba, by ending the trade embargo, lifting travel restrictions and caps on remittances to the struggling Cuban people, and by engaging in bilateral and multilateral talks on issues of mutual interest,’’ he said.