Open Letter To Barack Obama From Latin American Studies Association

From the Latin American Studies Association Website

Dear Senator Obama:

We write to offer our congratulations on your campaign and to express
our hope that as the next president of the United States you will take
advantage of an historic opportunity to improve relations with Latin
America. As scholars of the region, we also wish to convey our analysis
regarding the process of change now underway in Latin America.

Just as the people of the United States have begun to debate basic
questions regarding the sort of society they want-- thanks in part to
your own candidacy but also owing to the magnitude of the current
financial crisis-- so too have the people of Latin America. In fact, a
recent round of intense debate about a just and fair society has been
going on in Latin America for more than a decade, and the majority are
opting, like you and so many of us in the United States, for hope and
change. As academics personally and professionally committed to
development and democracy in Latin America, we are hopeful that during
your presidency the United States can become a partner rather than an
adversary to the positive changes already under way in the hemisphere.

The current impetus for change in Latin America is a rejection of the
model of economic growth that has been imposed in most countries since
the early 1980s, a model that has concentrated wealth, relied
unsuccessfully on unrestricted market forces to solve deep social
problems and undermined human welfare. The current rejection of this
model is broad-based and democratic. In fact, contemporary movements for
change in Latin America reveal significantly increased participation by
workers and peasants, women, Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples--
in a word, the grassroots. Such movements are coming to power in country
after country. They are neither puppets, nor blinded by fanaticism and
ideology, as caricatured by some mainstream pundits. To the contrary,
these movements deserve our respect, friendship and support.

Latin Americans have often viewed the United States not as a friend but
as an oppressor, the guarantor of an international economic system that
works against them, rather than for them-- the very antithesis of hope
and change. The Bush Administration has made matters much worse, and
U.S. prestige in the region is now at a historic low. Washington's
tendency to fight against hope and change has been especially prominent
in recent U.S. responses to the democratically elected governments of
Venezuela and Bolivia. While anti-American feelings run deep, history
demonstrates that these feelings can change. In the 1930s, after two
decades of conflict with the region, the United States swore off
intervention and adopted a Good Neighbor Policy. Not coincidentally, it
was the most harmonious time in the history of U.S.-Latin American
relations. In the 1940s, every country in the region became our ally in
World War Two. It can happen again.

There are many other challenges, too. Colombia, the main focus of the
Bush Administration's policy, is currently the scene of the second
largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with four million internally
displaced people. Its government, which criminalizes even peaceful
protest, seeks an extension of the free trade policies that much of the
hemisphere is already reacting against. Cuba has begun a process of
transition that should be supported in positive ways, such as through
the dialogue you advocate. Mexicans and Central Americans migrate by the
tens of thousands to seek work in the United States, where their labor
power is much needed but their presence is denigrated by a public that
has, since the development of opinion polling in the 1930s, always
opposed immigration from anywhere. The way to manage immigration is not
by building a giant wall, but rather, the United States should support
more equitable economic development in Mexico and Central America and,
indeed, throughout the region. In addition, the U.S. must reconsider
drug control policies that have simply not worked and have been part of
the problem of political violence, especially in Mexico, Colombia and
Peru. And the U.S. must renew its active support for human rights
throughout the region. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many Latin
Americans, the United States has come to stand for the support of
inequitable regimes.

Finally, we implore you to commit your administration to the firm
support of constitutional rights, including academic and intellectual
freedom. Most of us are members of the Latin American Studies
Association (LASA), the largest professional association of experts on
the region, and we have experienced first-hand how the Bush
administration's attempt to restrict academic exchange with Cuba is
counter-productive and self-defeating. We hope for an early opportunity
to discuss this and other issues regarding Latin America with your

Our hope is that you will embrace the opportunity to inaugurate a new
period of hemispheric understanding and collaboration for the common
welfare. We ask for change and not only in the United States.



Eric Hershberg, LASA President 2007-09, Professor of Politics and
Director of Latin American Studies, Simon Fraser University

Sonia E. Alvarez, LASA Past President (2004-2006), Leonard J. Horwitz
Professor of Politics, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Charles R. Hale, LASA Past President (2003-2004), Professor of
Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin

Marysa Navarro-Aranguren, LASA Past President (2003-2004), Charles
Collis Professor of History, Dartmouth College

Arturo Arias, LASA Past President, (2001-2003), Professor of Spanish
and Portuguese University of Texas, Austin.

Susan Eckstein, LASA Past President (1997-98), Professor of Sociology &
International Relations, Boston University, Cynthia McClintock, LASA
Past President (1994-95), Professor of Political Science and
International Affairs, George Washington University
Carmen Diana Deere, LASA Past President (1992-94), Professor of Food
and Resource Economics and Director, Center for Latin American Studies,
University of Florida

Lars Schoultz, LASA Past President (1991-92), William Rand Kenan, Jr.,
Professor of Political Science, UNC, Chapel Hill

Jean Franco, LASA Past President (1990-91), Emeritus Professor,
Columbia University

Helen I. Safa, LASA Past President (1983-85), Emeritus Professor of
Anthropology and Latin American Studies, University of Florida.

Paul L. Doughty, LASA Past President (1974-75), Distinguished Service
Professor, Emeritus of Anthropology and Latin American Studies,
University of Florida

Cristina Rojas, School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa

Marisol de la Cadena, Associate Professor of Anthropology, UC Davis

John C. Chasteen, Distinguished Professor of History, UNC Chapel Hill

Mario Blaser, Assistant Professor of International Development, York
University, Toronto.

Arturo Escobar, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, UNC,
Chapel Hill.