Latin Americans love Obama – so why the 'collective shrug' on reelection?
Obama is considered more popular in Latin America than his predecessor. But the region's self-confidence makes it feel far less buffeted by a particular president's outlook.
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In fact, while attitudes about the US are conflicted here – and often far from glowing – America’s leader is widely respected. In the latest poll from the regional firm Latinobarometro in Chile, Latin Americans in 18 countries selected Obama as their favorite leader in the Americas.
So one would assume Mr. Obama’s victory Tuesday night over Republican candidate Mitt Romney for a second term in office would be heralded across Latin America, bringing a sense of optimism from Mexico City to Montevideo.
But instead, it’s been met with a collective shrug.
Amid economic problems at home, the US is focused on conflict in the Middle East and a recent "Asia pivot." Because of this, analysts across the region say the US is not expected to pay attention to the issues Latin Americans find most crucial, from immigration reform in Mexico, to a new bilateral relationship with an emerging Brazil, to the peace process underway in Colombia.
“I don’t really think it makes much of a difference if there is a Republican or Democrat in the White House. This is not only for Brazil but for Latin America in general,” says Arthur Ituassu, a political analyst at the Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro.
'Space for more autonomy'
Latin America grumbles about the scant attention it has received from the US post 9-11, a reality underscored by just a sprinkling of mentions of the region during presidential debates leading up to election night. Yet at the same time, its focus elsewhere is also seen as a blessing, and a sign of Latin America’s increasing independence.
“Obama paid very little attention to Latin America and Colombia [during his first term]. … But that is not a bad thing,” says Laura Gil, a political analyst in Bogota. “It gives space for more autonomy here, and gives space for Brazil to consolidate its leadership in the region.”
That does not mean that Latin Americans did not welcome Obama’s win, securing a historic second term as the US’s first black president.
In Mexico City, Guadalupe Hernandez stands in her newspaper kiosk of 25 years. Front-page photos of Obama dominate today. "I am happy they have given Obama a chance for another four years," Ms. Hernandez says. "He will support migrants," she says. Four of her six siblings are in the US without papers, living in California, New York, and Minnesota.
Of all Latin Americans, Mexicans are perhaps most impacted by the affairs of the US, sharing a 2,000-mile border, a drug and weapons problem, and booming trade. According to a poll before Tuesday’s election by the firm Mitofsky in Mexico City, 1 in 3 Mexicans said the election in the US was important. And they, like Latinos in the US who helped clinch Obama’s victory with record turnout, say they favor Obama. Thirty six percent of those surveyed said they wanted Obama to win, compared to just 6 percent who said they supported Romney.