WASHINGTON — The presidential candidates haven't said much so far about how they'd handle policy toward Latina America, but two have lined up teams of advisors to counsel their campaigns.
Sen. Barack Obama is promising to return the United States to its role as the hemisphere's historic leader. Sen. Hillary Clinton has criticized President Bush for focusing too much on trade and drug trafficking.
But neither has provided much on specifics, and after an initial flurry of work in preparation for debates carried by Univision, the Spanish-langauge television network, the advisers, too, have mostly been on standy.
Still, knowing who they've chosen to advise them provides clues to what policies they might pursue.
Sen. John McCain has skipped assembling a full-scale Latin American group for now but his website lists among his advisors the three Miami Republicans in Congress _ Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and brothers Lincoln and Mario Diaz Balart.
It also lists Bernard Aronson, a Democrat and former assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs in the administration of George H. W. Bush. He's now a managing partner of the private equity investment company ACON Investments.
In 1998 Aronson co-chaired a task force that looked at Cuba policy. Its conclusions prompted more people-to-people contacts with Cuba, a policy that the current President Bush overturned.
Carl Meacham, a key Latin America staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also is advising the Arizona senator informally on Hispanic, Latin American and Afro-American issues. His father is African-American and mother Chilean.
The Clinton and Obama scripts on Latin America appear similar. Both oppose ratifying a free trade agreement with Colombia for now and support a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws that would legalize millions of undocumented migrants.
On Cuba, both favor easing restrictions on family travel but condition most concessions on Havana first enacting democratic reforms. Unlike Clinton, Obama has said he would be open to a dialogue with U.S. foes like Cuba. He also has criticized Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for ''despotic tendencies'' and using oil revenues ``to stir up trouble.''
Both Clinton and Obama work with Bill Clinton White House-era advisors, many of whom favored the Mexico-U.S.-Canada trade agreement known as NAFTA and helped craft a big U.S. aid package for Colombia.
Clinton's Latin American team includes Arturo Valenzuela, a Georgetown University professor and former senior director of the National Security Council for the Western Hemisphere in the Clinton White House. People familiar with his work say Valenzuela adheres to the Democratic mainstream, like conditioning free trade deals to higher labor standards.
Also listed: Thomas ''Mack'' McLarty, a former special envoy to the region and a pro-NAFTA Democrat. Another centrist Democrat listed is Peter Romero, a former top State Department diplomat to the region.
The team also includes several former U.S. ambassadors in Latin America — Donna Hrinak (Brazil and Venezuela), James Jones (Mexico), Luis Lauredo (Organization of American States) and Charles Manatt (Dominican Republic) — and Dan Erikson, a young Cuba and Caribbean specialist with the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think-tank.
Clinton's advisors are coordinated by Julia Sweig, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations who last year penned a paper suggesting ``an overhaul of U.S. policy may well relax the siege mentality that keeps Cuba's own reforms muzzled — and recast U.S.-Cuba relations in a more normal light.''
Sweig's writings don't worry anti-Castro lobbyists.
''When the word Cuba comes up . . . Clinton listens to two people: [N.J. Sen.] Bob Menendez and [Fla. Rep.] Debbie Wasserman Schultz,'' says Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, which wants Congress to keep sanctions in place. Both Democratic lawmakers support a tough line on Havana.
Some of Obama's key Latin America policy advisors also come from the Clinton administration ranks, including Anthony Lake, Clinton's former national security advisor, according to campaign insiders. The director of the State Department's policy planning staff during the Carter administration, Lake authored a book critical of U.S. actions in Central America, Somoza Falling.
The Latin America team is coordinated by Dan Restrepo, who was a member of the staff of the House International Relations Committee in the 1990s. Restrepo, who is half Colombian, has criticized the Bush administration's counter-drug policies in Colombia.
The team includes Frank Sanchez, a former chief of staff for White House Special envoy to the Americas Kenneth Mackay, and Robert Gelbard, formerly ambassador to Bolivia and head of the State Department's counter-drug bureau.