Editor's Letter: U.S. Foreign Policy

By June Carolyn Erlick

This was supposed to have been the anniversary issue. The only problem was that with the temporary cutback in ReVista’sschedule from three to two times a year, it is no longer the anniversary year of 2004: 25 years since the Sandinista Revolution, 45 years since the Cuban Revolution and 50 years since the toppling of the Arbenz government in Guatemala.

“Why don’t you make it an issue on U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America?” helpfully suggested DRCLAS Director John H. Coatsworth, who has a practical solution for just about everything. I readily assented.

Building on the anniversary cornerstone, which had first been suggested by my friend and colleague Steve Kinzer of The New York Times, I began to see foreign policy everywhere. It came in the form of a rather plaintive e-mail from Cuba after a visit from a group of Harvard’s mid-career journalism Nieman Fellows: “What’s really lamentable is the policy of the United States to prevent this type of exchange, because it is of equal benefit to the Cubans and the North Americans, because this confrontation of ideas is really where there is mutual recognition of the defects and virtues of all kinds of human workmanship.”

Foreign policy followed me into the kitchen of DRCLAS, where, amidst Brazilian coffee and leftover tamales, DRCLAS Financial Associate Irene Gandara gave us blow-by-blow information about the chaos in her homeland, Ecuador, and U.S. reluctance to get involved because of Ecuador’s support of Plan Colombia. Visiting Scholar Fernando Coronil mused over the situation in Venezuela, and U.S. policy there.

I couldn’t read the newspapers or listen to the radio without thinking of how U.S. foreign policy, past, present and future, influences the lives of so many people. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I was struck by how immigration reflects the waves of interventions and U.S.–supported wars, especially in Central America. I wondered if the Salvadoran woman who served me pupusas in a Central American cafeteria (thanks to my friend Felipe Agredano honoring my antojo) just might have been someone I might have snapped a picture of when I covered the war there as a foreign correspondent.

Ultimately, U.S. policy is personal. It affects human lives, whether through immigration, health policy, the drug war, trade and direct or indirect interventions. I began to feel that I could never capture all of foreign policy in this ReVista, so I’ve tried to bring you slices, glimpses, some of it quite personal.

Just as I was finishing up this issue of ReVista, I learned that I had been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to Colombia for 2004–2005 and have been granted a sabbatical here at DRCLAS. I suspect that I will return with an even more intimate and personal view of how U.S. foreign policy affects Latin America and those of us in the United States who care about it.