Uruguay's President-elect Mujica signals push for closer U.S. ties

Feb. 26, 2010 at 5:32 PM
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MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Uruguayan President-elect Jose Mujica signaled his desire for closer ties with the United States in a heart-warming reversal for U.S. officials of the recent spate of Latin American events hostile or unsympathetic to Washington.

Mujica has been making public pronouncements in favor of an open cementing of ties with the Obama administration, ignoring anti-U.S. rhetoric from Venezuela and other countries.

Only this week populist-led campaigners among Latin American heads of state pushed through plans for a new organization that will not only rival the Organization of American States, which has its headquarters in Washington, but will also exclude the United States and Canada from membership.

The open rebuff was spearheaded by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other left-wing leaders but also enjoyed the support of centrist states, most notably Brazil, that want to keep communications with Washington open, but on their own terms.

One of the first acts of the proposed new association of Latin American states, agreed at the Cancun, Mexico, summit of Central and South American leaders, was to declare solidarity with Argentina in opposition to Britain over oil exploration in the Falkland Islands.

The declaration fed into a stepped up Argentine campaign to bring Buenos Aires case for sovereignty over the Falkland Islands in front of international forums, including the United Nations.

Latin American delegates at the Cancun summit indicated they sided against Britain as part of what they see as an evolving "anti-imperialist" bloc that puts Britain, the United States and even Canada within the same brackets.

Following the Cancun events, Uruguay's gestures have been a welcome change, analysts said. The Obama administration responded in kind to Mujica's overture, announcing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will represent Obama at Monday's inauguration of Mujica.

Clinton is visiting Uruguay at the start of a five-nation Latin America tour that pro-U.S. analysts said was long overdue as part of Obama's declared policy of renewed engagement with Latin America. After her key visit to Uruguay Clinton will visit Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

Analysts said Clinton's visit would be a timely acknowledgment that the Obama administration plans to be more proactive in an area contiguous to the United States but also being wooed actively by China, Russia and Iran.

In addition to developing ties between Iran and Venezuela and Nicaragua, there have been more recent and wide-ranging exchanges between Brazil and Iran. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is scheduled to visit Iran in May to pursue talks on a wide range of cooperation in economic and energy developments and nuclear power projects. China is building energy bridges as part of its strategy to secure future oil supplies and Russia is seeking new defense partners to expand markets for its military hardware.

While attending the inauguration, Clinton is to meet with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, currently facing domestic political challenges over unpopular farm policies and controversial plans to use Central Bank reserves to pay off a part of Argentina's national debt.

In Chile, Clinton is expected to bid formal farewell to President Michelle Bachelet, who leaves office March 11 and will be succeeded by conservative business magnate Sebastian Pinera. Chile, too, has indicated it wants to build on gains made over recent years under Bachelet to forge closer ties with the United States.

So far, officials have indicated Obama will visit Brazil in the summer this year but have not outlined plans for the president to visit other Latin American countries.

The Brazil visit will be an opportunity, first for Clinton and then for Obama, to meet Lula's potential successor, Cabinet chief Dilma Rousseff. She was recently nominated as the ruling Workers Party candidate in the presidential election.

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