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In His Final Months, President Obama Strengthens Relations in Latin America

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It’s a fascinating time to be in Latin America. Here in Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff is inching closer to impeachment, which has citizens split on whether it will help the struggling economy or put a more dishonorable leader into power. Much of Latin America has young elected governments, which are working hard to understand how to best run their states in a modern world. Brazil ended its military dictatorship in 1985, preceded by Argentina in 1983.

President Obama recently visited Cuba and Argentina to strengthen ties with the countries. For Cuba, this was the first time a U.S. president had visited Havana, where the U.S. embassy was recently reopened, since Calvin Coolidge´s less welcome visit by warship in 1928. Nearly 90 years! You´ll remember Fidel Castro took power in 1959 during a revolution, which ultimately initiated Cold War politics until recent years.

After Cuba, the president visited Argentina to improve relations with the new “free market” President Mauricio Macri. Similar to Cuba, it was the first time in 20 years a U.S. president had visited the country.

The visits appeared to be a success for all three countries with expectations set high. Both Cuba and Argentina committed to working directly with the rest of Latin America and the United States with increased capital flows in coming years.

Buenos Aires Protests

I traveled to Buenos Aires soon after the meetings and the response to President Obama’s visit seemed more mixed than I had read. Many positive articles commended the visit and the pledged outcomes ahead, but the graffiti throughout the city told another side of the story. After speaking with a colleague in our Buenos Aires office, I learned many Argentinians protested the visit that coincided with the 40th anniversary of the revolution which lead to the last dictatorship. A revolution initially supported by the U.S. Consequently, writings on the side of buildings read “Memory Day, Obama Get Out!”

Allan McCrea Steele, CEO Edelman Latin America, explained in a recent POV, “the 70s and 80s saw the emergence of leftist governments that more often than not were stifled by military coups frequently backed by the U.S. This movement led to the emergence of a strong anti-U.S. sentiment in many countries, which is in some cases still very much alive today.”

Global Clients in Latin America

Beyond the mixed sentiment, the repaired political relationships with Cuba and Argentina represent a great step forward to reopen these countries and others in Latin America to the rest of the world. As President Obama’s term comes to an end next January, it’ll be up to his successor to continue to move these relationships forward with policies simplifying trade and tourism. With this, we’re hoping to see more global business coming in and out of Latin America as has already started with the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics.

As we counsel our global clients entering Latin American markets, it’s important to understand regional market conditions, such as government regulations, local competitors and public conception, while evolving a narrative that is sensitive to political and economic issues. A quick search will find several examples of missteps from brands that entered new markets with a global approach only to fail due to a lack of adaptation.

Drew Cary is a 2016 Daniel J. Edelman Global Fellow for Edelman’s Digital team in São Paulo, originally from Los Angeles.

Image by Leonie Fahjen.
  • Nigel Miller

    Thanks for this insightful piece, Drew. I’m confident this will be among the many stories that will one day be part of an incredibly strong legacy for Obama. He gets little credit today for the many important bridges he has built during his presidency, but one can only hope the benefits will be felt for years to come.

    • Drew Cary

      Glad you enjoyed it Nigel. It’s very exciting to be here to witness this first-hand. While there are issues facing each country, I hope South American’s will ultimately benefit from the international attention.

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