After concluding that post-9/11 America was too busy with international terrorism and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to pay much attention to them, Latin America's political and business leaders looked increasingly beyond the US for partners. The Latin American publics followed suit, tired of waiting for Washington's economic prescriptions to deliver progress and relief.
The result is that Mr. Obama encounters a region that views its relations with the US quite differently now. At the same time, it's a region more prepared for a dialogue among equals – on development, energy, immigration, and security.
"The last 10 years have produced dramatic changes in Latin America, and one of the most striking is the loss of the United States' formerly towering dominance in a wide range of areas," says Miguel Tinker-Salas, a professor of Latin American history at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.
The region has undergone a political transformation beyond US control that was unimaginable a generation ago, Mr. Tinker-Salas says. It began with the election of Venezuela's leftist-populist (and anti-gringo) President Hugo Chávez in 1998, and has culminated with the victory in March of Mauricio Funes, El Salvador's first leftist president.