In his nearly 7,200-word State of the Union address, President Barack Obama took little notice of Latin America. He offered only a seven-word reflection on the U.S. relationship with its southern neighbors: "Our ties to the Americas are deeper"-deeper than they have been, he suggested, but as evidence he offered only pending trade agreements with Panama and Colombia.
Within acres of political rhetoric, the president disregarded pressing matters such as the raging drug war in Mexico, the presence of Hezbollah in Latin America, and the terror of the Castro brothers in Cuba. Obama deigned to mention immigration woes but failed to recognize the inextricable link between American security and the policies of Latin American nations.
As the Florida presidential primary battle heats up, Republican hopefuls haven't forgotten about Latin America. Mitt Romney noted, "There is a time coming soon when Cuba will be free and we have to get organized for it." While the former Massachusetts governor's hard stance on illegal immigration may have cost him votes from Hispanics across the country, his resolute support for the Cuban embargo has been a plus for his campaign in Florida, where nearly 11 percent of voters in the Sunshine State are of Hispanic descent, mostly Cuban.
Several key Latino leaders recently endorsed Newt Gingrich for the Republican nomination, primarily because of his support for a bill that advocates citizenship for illegal immigrants who serve in the military. Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla, praised Gingrich's "humane and reasonable immigration policy." GOP candidate Rick Santorum also sought Latino support, as he called Latin America "a passionate issue for me. The U.S. needs to have friends all throughout this hemisphere from Cuba to Venezuela."
Latin America offers the United States vast economic and strategic benefits. For example, Colgate generates 28 percent of its revenue from countries such as Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia, and other U.S. companies report similar percentages. Meanwhile, China sees opportunities to the south of the United States: In the last four years, China has increased military activity in the region, and Chinese companies have invested $10.5 billion in the Southern Hemisphere. The United States needs to on the alert.