Skip to main content

Obama pays attention to Latin America

By Ana Navarro, CNN Contributor
May 4, 2013 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • GOP strategist Ana Navarro joined group of U.S. Hispanic leaders to talk with President Obama
  • Obama wanted to discuss issues ahead of his trip to Mexico, Latin America
  • Navarro: President to focus on economic opportunities, trade and commerce ties
  • She says he should talk about economic benefits of a modernized immigration system

Editor's note: Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and commentator, served as national Hispanic campaign chairwoman for John McCain in 2008 and national Hispanic co-chair for Jon Huntsman's 2012 campaign. Follow her on Twitter @ananavarro.

(CNN) -- I got a rather weird invitation last week. I am a Republican strategist who often takes to the CNN airwaves to criticize President Obama. When the rather official-looking e-mail arrived inviting me to share my thoughts with the president, well, let's just say it made me highly suspicious I was getting punked.

But it wasn't a joke. Apparently, President Obama's charm offensive extends beyond Republicans in Congress to occasionally critical Republican pundits.

Last Monday, I joined a small group of U.S. Hispanic leaders in meeting with President Obama, ahead of his trip to Mexico and Costa Rica this week. Before the meeting, several friends asked me: "Why is Obama going to Latin America?"

Ana Navarro
Ana Navarro

It's a legitimate question. It's not often that U.S. presidents travel to Latin America without the specific purpose of participating in a summit or visiting an area ravaged by a natural disaster. But it seems that President Obama's only reason for going is to pay the region some attention, recognize the role of these countries as strategic partners of the United States and service the relationship.

Good for him. Every now and then, it's wise to drop in on neighbors for a friendly visit -- just because. For decades, Latin America has been on the back burner and only became of interest when war or another crisis erupted. My friends there frequently tell me they feel neglected by "Tío Sam."

President Obama laid out a thoughtful and broad approach to the bilateral relationship with Mexico and Central America. Too often when we think of this region, we think only of problems. There are plenty of those: violence, gangs, drug trafficking, border security, corruption, political instability. But plenty of positive things can be highlighted, and it seems that is what President Obama wants to do.

Obama faces reality in Mexico drug war
Obama visiting major trade partners

The trip is intended to cast a light on economic opportunities and joint interests in commerce between the United States and Latin America, and competing globally as a united block.

He plans to give a forward-looking speech in Mexico, focusing on how the economies of the two countries are intertwined and how together, they can better compete in the international economy.

A marker of success for this trip would be to convince Mexico that the United States considers it a full strategic partner. In Central America, the president intends to recommit to fostering improved trade with the countries of the isthmus. We have CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which the administration would like to see working better.

Other issues, such as immigration, will always creep into a conversation about Latin America and U.S. ties. The Mexicans and Central Americans don't like it when we North Americans preach to them about their internal politics, and we wouldn't like it much more if they did the same to us. Mexico is not the place to go debate or advance U.S. immigration legislation.

But it would make sense to promote the economic benefits of a modernized and streamlined immigration system that would allow the regulated flow of tourists and workers from Latin America.

It's a good thing that President Obama is making this trip. Afterward, the key question becomes what the tangible followup will be.

In order to develop healthy and productive ties with the region, the engagement has to be long-term and sustained. Our Cabinet secretaries and other high-level administration officials should also be deployed on a mission of strengthening relationships. I suggested to President Obama that he find a way to send U.S. Hispanic civic leaders and professionals as good will ambassadors.

Also, President Obama should issue a statement on the violence and political strife going on in Venezuela since last month's election. The words of a U.S. president carry great weight. It is important for Venezuelans to know that the international community is concerned about what is happening in their country.

As we left the meeting, I wished President Obama good luck on his trip and left him with one parting thought: "Keep a close eye on the Secret Service this time..."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ana Navarro.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT