Congratulations, President-elect Barack Obama! Now that you are moving swiftly to put together your Cabinet and solve the economic crisis, let me suggest a few things you could do in an area that will demand your attention sooner than you may think: Latin America and the Caribbean.
Granted, given the magnitude of the challenges at home, it's not on your list of priorities.
But one of the first international conferences you will have to attend will be the 34-country Summit of the Americas, to be held April 17 to 19 in Trinidad and Tobago. You will have little choice but to prepare ahead for that meeting and arrive with a new U.S. agenda for the region.
And I know that the Western Hemisphere has never been your strong point. As you once told me, you have never visited the region. And when I asked you in an interview last year which are the three Latin American heads of state you respect the most, you looked petrified and couldn't remember any president's name. (To be fair, you cited several regional leaders by name when I interviewed you more recently.)
So allow me to give you a few tips on how to fulfill your campaign promise of "renewing U.S. leadership in the Americas."
First, be yourself. Don't don a Mexican sombrero, like your predecessors. You have a tremendous opportunity to re-engage the region just by being the first black president in U.S. history, by having been partly raised abroad and - perhaps more importantly - by having opposed the Iraq War from Day One.
As strange as it may seem to you, Latin America ranks among the regions with the highest levels of anti-Americanism today - not because of anything done to the region by the United States recently, but because of Iraq. Latin Americans have not forgotten the history of past U.S. armed interventions in the region, and the Iraq invasion hit a raw nerve there.
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