Yesterday I wrote about how – in negotiations with Iran – President Obama has been willing to honestly acknowledge our country’s past intervention in their affairs. But that kind of covert action against a democratically elected government was not limited to Iran. From the 1950’s through the 1980’s the United States engaged in the same kind of activities all over Central and South America under the banner of fighting the Cold War. As just one example, the current President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was imprisoned and tortured by the dictator who was installed after a U.S. supported coup in that country in 1964.

Over the last three decades not many of us noticed that to the south of our borders, people rose up and created a “Central/South American Spring” that – with a few exceptions – went much more smoothly that the one we witnessed recently in the Middle East.

But as Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Randal Archibold point out, our history of intervention has often hampered our relationships with the countries of Central and South America due to the ongoing way it played out in Cuba. All of that changed when President Obama began the normalization process with Cuba and set up a new tone for the current Summit of the Americas this weekend in Panama.

“It opens the door for the U.S. government by removing this argument that has been a pretext and an issue that has been invoked, not only by Cuba but other countries in the region, as a distraction,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of the Latin America program at Human Rights Watch, who attended a round-table discussion of civil society leaders with Mr. Obama on Friday.

As a result, President Obama was able to say this to the people of Latin America:

“As you work for change, the United States will stand up alongside you every step of the way,” he told Latin American leaders and civil society representatives at a forum on Friday. “The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity – those days are past.”

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