Latino and other analysts and

community leaders are express

ing contradictory views on what the appointment of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State will mean in a second Bush administration for U.S.-Latin American relations.

Rice, who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate when it reconvenes in January, would replace Colin Powell, a political moderate who has paid close attention to hemispheric affairs.

Rice, provost at Stanford University from 1993 to 1999, is considered to be more focused on Europe and the Middle East.

Miguel Díaz, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., does not question her competency and awareness of the strategic importance of Latin America.

In terms of immigration policy, he says, “She’s going to follow the lead of Powell, going toward immigration reform slowly. In Congress, there is no appetite for “the whole enchilada, as (Mexico President Vicente) Fox has put it. We are going to have to do it piecemeal.”

Issues topping her Latin American agenda, he says, will include the political struggles in Haiti, trade and immigration.

“Her biggest challenge will be to win back the hearts and minds of Latin America,” severely tested over the war in Iraq, he says.

Rep. Mario Díaz Balart (R-Fla.) calls Rice “incredibly intelligent, extremely accomplished and more than capable of fulfilling the duties,” of Secretary of State.

Given her record and areas of expertise, her appointment means nothing for Latin America, according to Moisés Naím, the Venezuela-born editor of Foreign Policy magazine and a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

As the United States has been “distracted” with strategic concerns in the Middle East and North Korea, “Latin America doesn’t pose the same type of urgency,” says Naím. “There is a lot of goodwill toward Latin America and concern about drugs, immigration, the destabilizing activities of leaders such as Venezuela’s (President Hugo) Chávez and Cuba President Fidel Castro, and the emergence of new insurgent groups that are destabilizing democracies. However none of these reaches a level of threat that can compete for the high-level attention that other emergencies and global priorities have from Washington,” he adds.

J. Michael Waller, professor of international relations at the Washington-based Institute of World Politics, observes that Latin America is one part of the world to which Rice hasn’t given much thought. Because of Rice’s national security background, Waller expects her to take a more hardliner approach to illegal immigration. “She’s going to bring her national security priorities into focus,” he forecasts.

Both Waller and Naím say they see Rice’s impact as minimal on the Central American Free Trade Agreement — legislation expected to be taken up in the new congressional session — and other trade issues. It remains unclear how Latin American countries will accept Rice’s nomination.

According to José Carreño, Washington correspondent for Mexico’s daily El Universal, Mexico President Vicente Fox and his administration had a positive relationship with Powell, who visited the country earlier this month and said that the Bush administration would like to work with the U.S. Congress next year to develop a temporary worker program.

“(Fox’s) main relationship is with Bush,” says Carreño. “I believe Mexico would rather be dealing with Powell, but in the end it doesn’t matter who they deal with. It’s that they deal with somebody.”

The only Latin American leader who may openly disapprove of her nomination, other than Castro, is Chávez, who frequently uses ad homonym attacks against Bush and his senior officials.

Naím sums up prospects for the United States paying attention to Latin America under Rice: “Latin America is no longer the backyard of the United States. Now it’s Atlantis, the lost continent.”

Cecilia Burciaga, a former associate dean at Stanford, concurs and adds an additional concern. “She has no academic background in Latin America or Latin American affairs or history, and it doesn’t bode well for the attention and respect that Latin American will receive.”

Burciaga was the highest-ranking Latina administrator at the university, having served Stanford for 20 years when in 1994, Rice eliminated her associate dean position. The layoff and other issues related to the treatment of the university’s communities of color under Rice sparked campus-wide protests and a hunger strike. Strikers’ demands included a formal apology to Burciaga, among others.

The apology never arrived.

“(The nomination) is not good news for anyone, much less the Latino community. At Stanford she showed a complete lack of sensitivity for the Latino community,” says Burciaga.

(Fresia Rodríguez is editor of Hispanic Link Weekly Report in Washington, D.C. She may be reached at Fresia@HispanicLink.org)