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Barack Obama’s fitful attempts to strike a new tone in relations with Latin America face new obstacles from Republicans in Congress

Shortly after he took office in 2009, Barack Obama attended a 34-country Summit of the Americas in Trinidad where he pledged a “new era of partnership” between the two halves of the region, in place of “stale debates and old ideologies”. Honouring this promise has not been easy: Mr Obama has had other priorities, both abroad and at home, and events in the region, such as a coup in Honduras just two months after the Trinidad summit, revived some of those old debates. Nevertheless, the administration has taken some modest initiatives in Latin America. But now the new partnership risks falling victim to partisan infighting in Washington.

In July the Republican majority on a committee of the House of Representatives deleted funding for the Organisation of American States (OAS) from next year’s budget. Conservatives dislike the OAS’s secretary-general, José Miguel Insulza, a Chilean social democrat, whom they accuse of complicity with threats to democracy and media freedom from leftist autocrats, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. The Republicans have similarly used their powers to hold up the appointment of administration nominees for diplomatic jobs whom they consider too conciliatory towards Mr Chávez and his friends. At the same time, American ambassadors have been expelled from, or not accepted in, Venezuela, Ecuador and (in 2008) Bolivia.

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