GIGA Focus International Edition English ,

The Obama Administration and Latin America: A Disappointing First Term

GIGA Focus | International Edition English | Number 06 |

On 6 November 2012, a new president will be elected in the United States. The voters will decide whether President Barack Obama gets a second term or whether his contender Mitt Romney will succeed him in the White House.

The so-called Latino vote might be decisive in winning the election. While both candidates are courting Hispanic voters, the majority of these voters will choose Obama. Already in the 2008 election, Latino voters helped Obama to win key states. However, the strong Latino support for Obama in the previous election did not result in a special interest in Latin America on the part of the Obama administration. It was not until 2012 that Obama cautiously took up the immigration/legalization issue, which is important to both Latin Americans and Hispanics.

  • Obama started with great hope and much goodwill in Latin America. Nevertheless, the balance of his Latin America policy is somewhat disappointing – although one has to mention that Congress has finally ratified the free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.

  • US–Latin America relations are routinely managed by multiple bureaucratic agencies, which can act quite autonomously and are often not coordinated via a common strategy. Obama’s Latin America policy has frequently been hampered by political polarization and partisan divisions in Congress.

  • The intermestic dimension of US–Latin American relations has complicated foreign policy, because a more self-confident and autonomous majority in Latin America has sometimes sought a policy shift with regard to highly sensitive topics, such as drugs, immigration and Cuba.

  • One issue area where some would criticize the Obama administration is its slowness in improving relations with Brazil or placing Brazil on par with, for example, India.

  • It is unlikely that Latin America’s modest ranking in US foreign policy will increase or that Washington’s priorities will shift much after the November 2012 elections.

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Suggested Citation Style

Whitehead, Laurence, und Detlef Nolte (2012), The Obama Administration and Latin America: A Disappointing First Term, GIGA Focus International Edition English, 06, urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-320548


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The GIGA Focus is an Open Access publication and can be read on the Internet and downloaded free of charge at According to the conditions of the Creative-Commons license Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 this publication may be freely duplicated, circulated and made accessible to the public. The particular conditions include the correct indication of the initial publication as GIGA Focus and no changes in or abbreviation of texts.

The German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) – Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien in Hamburg publishes the Focus series on Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and global issues. The GIGA Focus is edited and published by the GIGA. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institute. Authors alone are responsible for the content of their articles. GIGA and the authors cannot be held liable for any errors and omissions, or for any consequences arising from the use of the information provided.

General Editor GIGA Focus Series: Prof. Dr. Sabine Kurtenbach

Prof. Dr. Detlef Nolte is the director of the GIGA Institute for Latin American Studies (2006-May 2018) and a professor of political science at the University of Hamburg. His research interests include political institutions, regional cooperation, and the international relations of Latin America.

Recent Publications by the Authors

Detlef Nolte

Regionalidad y gobernanza regional en América Latina

in: Fernanda Caballero Parra / Rita Giacalone / Edgar Vieira Posada (eds.), La integración regional latinoamericana y europea en el siglo xxi: marco para la reflexión sobre su presente y futuro, Bogotá: Ediciones Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia, 2019, 19-38

Deltlef Nolte

China en Latinoamérica: El rol de la Unión Europea

in: Pamela Aróstica / Walter Sánchez (eds.), China y América Latina en una nueva fase: desafíos en el siglo XXI, Santiago de Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 2019, 125-142

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Lateinamerika und die USA

in: Günther Maihold / Hartmut Sangmeister / Nikolaus Werz (eds.), Lateinamerika: Handbuch für Wissenschaft und Studium, 2019, 344-354