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The Daily Rundown
updated 3/13/2013 12:18:37 PM ET 2013-03-13T16:18:37

The U.S. relationship with Latin America has long been defined by cold war politics and a smattering of new economic opportunities...but times may be changing.

America’s influence in Latin America is “not what it used to be.” But there are plenty of opportunities to change that, says NBC News Latin American Policy Analyst, Jorge Castañeda.

After the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, President Obama said he would seek to begin a new era in U.S.-Venezuelan relations. But the disappearance of America’s chief antagonist in the region could signal an overall warming of relations. Castañeda, who also served as Mexico’s foreign minister, said on The Daily Rundown Wednesday that the ball is now in President Obama’s court.

“(The U.S.) doesn’t have an agenda with Latin America…(but) the President has a great opportunity as his second term begins.” Part of the reason for that opportunity is the chance for action on U.S. policy issues that are most meaningful to Latin American nations, namely immigration reform and gun control. “If there is comprehensive immigration reform…and there is some form of cooperation with sending countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and the Caribbean countries, that would have an enormous impact in part of Latin America,” Castañeda said.

He says Latin American countries would like for the U.S. to “apply its existing laws on exporting weapons (and) change its domestic regulations on the purchase of weapons—many of which end up in Mexico and Central America.”

And what of the Castro brothers, long a thorn in America’s side? Castañeda says one way to lessen their influence is to end the 41-year-old embargo against Cuba.

“Just about every country in Latin America thinks the (Cuba) embargo is needless, counterproductive and obsolete…it makes no sense.” He went on to say the U.S. may be able to encourage democratization in that nation more freely “if the Castro brothers no longer have the pretext of U.S. ‘aggression’…as a pretext for the terrible economic situation Cuba lives in.”

Video: Deep Dive: Inside US/Latin American relations

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