June 16, 2000


White House Conference Highlights the Growing Importance of Latinos in U.S.' Foreign Policy

By Jerome DeHerrera

Earlier this week, the White House hosted a conference titled "Hispanics and the Future of the Americas." Leading Hispanics from grassroots organizations, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens, and leaders from business, academia and government gathered to discuss the growing interest that Latinos have in U.S.-Latin American relations.

For the Latino community, which is seeing historic levels of immigration from Latin America and which is vitally interested in how the United States relates to Latin America, the conference was an important event.

The speakers were no lightweights. New Jersey Congressman Bob Menendez, the highest ranking Latino Democrat in Congress and a member of the House International Relations Committee; Sandy Berger, President Clinton's national security advisor; and Leon Fuerth, who is Vice President Gore's top expert on U.S. foreign policy led the list.

Luis Lauredo, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States; Carolyn Curiel, the U.S. ambassador to Belize; Doris Meissner the commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; George Muñoz, the president of the Private Overseas Investment Corporation and former Chicagoan; and Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona each discussed various aspects of U.S. foreign policy.

It is not too often that such an impressive line-up of speakers address a Latino audience on one specific issue.

The credit for this impressive line-up of speakers goes to Buddy MacKay, the former governor of Florida, who views the Latino community as playing a pivotal role in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy in the future.

MacKay is Clinton's special envoy to the Americas. McKay's office, including his communications director, Jesse Treviño, deserve much credit for planning and producing such an impressive conference.

The fact that the conference took place points to the awareness that the Clinton-Gore Administration has regarding Latin America and on the role that Hispanics can and should play in determining public policy, including foreign policy.

President Clinton created the post of the Special Envoy to the Americas to reflect the growing importance of the relationship between the United States and Central and South America and the Caribbean. The conference continues the President's interest in setting U.S.-Latin Americans on a new path.

Clinton fought hard for the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement that has helped create the best economy in 30 years. He fought Congress to help Mexico and Brazil through their fiscal crises. He and First Lady Hillary Clinton and the vice president's wife, Tipper Gore, went down to help the Central American countries that were devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes. Most recently, the Clinton-Gore team, without playing the heavy, tried to make sure that democracy was defended in Ecuador and Peru.

There are many things that the Administration can be criticized for, but in an era of electoral politics in which words and promises often ring hollow, voters want to base their decisions on actions. For Latinos concerned about foreign policy, this conference was a significant event because it signals the arrival of another player at the decision-making table: the Latino community.

There are many issues to resolve in U.S. foreign policy matters. Cuba is among them. But Clinton's appointees to high positions in office re-affirms the attention that the United States must pay to Latin America. For too long, the United States has relied on a foreign policy that views the world in an east-west perspective dominated by Europe and Asia.

We need to include a north-south perspective just as much as anything else.

Jerome lives in Washington and writes a political column. He welcomes your comments at JeromeDeHerrera@yahoo.com.

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