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02 June, 2009

Clinton tries to remake US image in Latin America

Clinton tries to remake US image in Latin America By MATTHEW LEE – 13 hours ago SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to ease long-standing resentment of U.S. policies in Latin America by attending events this week that highlight Washington's awkward history with the region. In El Salvador on Monday for the inauguration of Mauricio Funes, the nation's first leftist president — the latest of a series of elected socialist leaders in the region — Clinton suggested that President Barack Obama's politics may help his effort to re-engage in the hemisphere. "It is very clear that President Obama and President Funes share so much in common," she said after the inauguration and a private meeting with Funes. Funes comes from a party of a former Marxist rebel group that fought a 12-year war against successive conservative governments and a military supported by billions of dollars in aid from Washington. "Some might say President Obama is left of center and of course that means that we are going to work well with countries that share our commitment to improving and enhancing the human potential," Clinton told reporters at a news conference with Funes. Shortly afterward, she left and arrived in Honduras where on Tuesday she will attend a top-level meeting of the Organization of American States that will test the Obama administration's new openness toward Cuba. In El Salvador, Clinton repeatedly stressed that she and Obama were committed to a "new approach to the region," one that emphasized engagement and cooperation and not ideological battles. "We have to recognize that our country is not perfect either, that some of the difficulties that we had historically in forging strong and lasting relationships in our hemisphere are a result of us perhaps not listening, perhaps not paying enough attention," she told employees at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador. Funes is a one-time journalist and member of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, which fought U.S.-backed Salvadoran regimes from 1980 to 1992. His inauguration marked the country's first peaceful transition of power from right to left since the end of the war. "By putting aside old conflicts and coming together in a peaceful transition of power, you have affirmed the strength and durability of your democracy," Clinton said in a brief statement played on a local radio station. Funes has promised good relations with the United States but El Salvador will no longer be the sure supporter of U.S. policies it was under the previous conservative government that allied itself closely with President George W. Bush's administration. After his inauguration speech, Funes formally restored El Salvador's ties with Cuba, broken off in 1961, leaving the United States as the last country in the Western Hemisphere without full diplomatic relations with the nation. On Tuesday, the 34 countries in the Organization of American States may vote on whether to reverse Cuba's nearly 50-year-old suspension from the group. U.S. officials, who insist that Cuba must first make political reforms, want to stall a vote and Clinton said the communist island had to live up to democratic ideals similar to the ones represented by Funes' election in March and inauguration on Monday . "We believe it is in the best interests of the Cuban people and our region to be more integrated in the region," Clinton said. "We think that there is an opportunity for Cuba to be more involved, but at the same time, we want to see the peaceful transfer of power that we saw this morning possible for the Cuban people." "We don't see those as mutually exclusive," she added. Although Obama has signaled some willingness to back away from a half-century of U.S. policy toward the communist country, his administration says it will not support any effort to get Cuba back into the OAS until it changes its political system. A vote could put the U.S. on the spot. Although the OAS generally operates by consensus, a two-thirds majority vote, or 23 countries, is all that's needed for a resolution to pass. Clinton said Sunday the Obama administration was pleased Havana has accepted a U.S. proposal to resume suspended immigration talks and restore direct mail links between the two countries. "We have said that we look forward to the day when Cuba, if it so wishes, can rejoin the OAS," she said, adding, however, that membership "comes with responsibilities." Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Related articles Clinton Pledges US Anti-Drug Support

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