Four messages Obama is sending Latin America from his trip through Asia

Obama may be sending an unintentional message that the US holds Asian countries like Myanmar and China to a lower standard on democracy and human rights.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
US President Barack Obama waves as he is introduced before speaking at Yangon University’s Convocation Hall in Yangon, Myanmar, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012.

President Obama's first post-reelection trip passes through Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia for the ASEAN summit. The messages that Latin America hears from this trip may or may not be the ones the United States intends to send.

Move in the right direction

Burma is a military dictatorship that is less democratic and more repressive than any country in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba. Yet, they're doing better than they were a decade ago. They've released some political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi and have begun reforms to give democratically elected civilians increased power. The US has eased sanctions and the president is visiting. For a country like Cuba, it should be seen as a sign that real reforms can be met with better relations by the US and that gradual progress is possible.

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Play well with the US military

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in power since the 1980's, has a long string of human rights abuses, and uses the government's institutions to take down any potential competition. However, he's willing and eager to work with the US on a common agenda and the US military rarely turns down the opportunity to engage and train potential allies. The US military is expanding counter-terrorism assistance and provided his son a full scholarship to West Point. The government of Cambodia is receiving visits from President Obama as well as Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta.

Be in Asia

Obviously Latin American countries can't follow this advice physically, but it is a message they're hearing. The US pivot to Asia is real, giving more attention to them at the expense of other areas of the world. The US holds countries in that region like Burma and Cambodia (and even China) to a lower standard on democracy and human rights than their Western Hemisphere counterparts. It may not be fair, but that's the way it's going to be.

Hold productive meetings

Doesn't it feel like the US president spends more time attending multilateral meetings with Asian officials than Latin American? It's not just the pivot to Asia. The summits for ASEAN are seen as more productive and worth the president's time than the Summit of the Americas or the annual Organization of American States General Assembly.

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