TOPICS > Politics

U.S. – Latin American Relations

January 13, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Thirty-four leaders, from Canada to Chile, with diverse and often conflicting priorities, concluded a two-day summit today in Monterrey, Mexico. For his part, President Bush promoted democracy and anti- corruption efforts, and he urged a hemisphere-wide free trade zone by 2005.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Trade is the most certain path to lasting prosperity. The openness of our market is the key driver of growth in the region, and a testament to the United States’ belief in the mutual benefits of trade.

RAY SUAREZ: But not far away, hundreds gathered to protest the U.S. free-market vision. In fact, across Latin America, there’s been growing resistance to U.S. economic and foreign policy. Mexico and Chile opposed the Iraq invasion at the U.N. Brazil ushered in a left-leaning president critical of the global economy. And protesters in Bolivia and Argentina ousted leaders perceived to be aligned with corporate interests and the International Monetary Fund. But the most vehement U.S. foe is the Venezuelan president. Hugo Chavez has resisted U.S. criticism of his close ties with Cuba’s Fidel Castro. And Sunday, Chavez blasted national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, after she endorsed a Venezuela recall vote against Chavez.

PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ (Translated): Let’s prepare President Bush’s security adviser a reading and writing comprehension course for adults to see if she can learn how to read.

RAY SUAREZ: Brazil, South America’s dominant economy, has led the opposition to the Bush trade plan, which was endorsed by the summit. But Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, known as Lula, helped delete any language setting a firm deadline. Lula’s government is also fingerprinting American visitors to Brazil, a retaliation against a similar U.S. measure for foreign nationals.

Argentina’s president, Nestor Kirchner has opposed any automatic alignment with U.S. policy. He’s also under fire from Washington for warm ties to Castro. There have been economic crises across South America; Argentina’s has been the worst. Deadly riots broke out three years ago, when the indebted government limited citizens’ bank withdrawals. One country that’s aligned itself with the U.S. is Colombia, the region’s largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

The hundreds of millions of dollars a year have helped President Alvaro Uribe’s government aggressively fight rebels, rebels allied with cocaine growers. But the U.S.-backed anti-coca campaign has been very unpopular in Bolivia. Last fall, coca growers led a broad opposition that toppled pro-U.S. President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

By day’s end, President Bush was to meet one-on-one with many Latin American leaders. A key exception: Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on the America’s summit, we get three views. Mark Falcoff is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and has written widely on Latin America. Moises Naim is the editor of Foreign Policy Magazine and the former minister of trade and industry of Venezuela. And Robert Pastor is a professor of international relations at American University, and author of numerous books on trade and Latin America. He served on President Carter’s National Security Council staff.

Well, Gentlemen, the meeting broke up just a few hours ago with both blasts for Bush and the United States over free trade and an acceptance that the free trade of the Americas negotiations remain on track working toward a 2005 deadline. What do you make of that, Mark Falcoff?

MARK FALCOFF: Well, I suppose diplomatic protocol because I don’t think anyone that observes the hemispheric scene thinks that we’re going get to the 2005 deadline. That’s only a little over a year from now. I think we’re very far behind schedule in this process; we may be behind it for another ten or fifteen years.

RAY SUAREZ: The date as a goal, as a barrier, was sort of removed by common agreement. Does this mean that the FTAA remains just a polite fiction amongst these negotiators or is this a real thing that still has a real shot?

ROBERT PASTOR: Well, they still have agreement on the date based on the previous summits but I think Mark is quite right that the differences now are so huge and the political will seems so miniscule that they’re unlikely to achieve that within a short period of time. I think the one great dissatisfaction that was evidenced by the Latin Americans was that perhaps trade is not enough, that trade is not the path to development, that something more than trade is needed.

And unless the leaders can find a way to define that alternative as the European Union did, then I think the prospects of completing the free trade area of the Americas will not be good.

RAY SUAREZ: Moises Niam, why that split vision, both blistering criticism of the American ambitions to reach a free trade area of the Americas and an agreement to keep working on it?

MOISES NIAM: Latin Americans are not alone in having increasing doubts about the benefits of free trade. If you look at the debate in the United States, there is increasing, even though the United States is the main beneficiary of free and open trade and investment, there is an increasing doubt about the benefits.

All of the Democratic candidates, the individuals aspiring to be candidates, are questioning and criticizing free trade. So free trade has acquired, unfortunately, a bad name. And It’s becoming a political lightning rod for a lot of negative reactions. But at the same time there is the sense that that’s one way to follow and that countries that are open to trade do better. So that’s the contradiction.

RAY SUAREZ: President Bush has just left, is on his way out of Monterey. Is it the case, Mark Falcoff, that the only bright spot is the meeting with President Fox of Mexico —

MARK FALCOFF: Well, that was certainly a bright spot because, to put it mildly, President Fox has not been high on President Bush’s list and vice versa for the last year-and-a-half. So the initiative that the president announced in immigration may not meet all of the — I know it doesn’t meet all of the desires of President Fox or the Mexican political class but it is a move forward that had to please Fox because he’s been rapping on our door on this subject ever since he took office — in fact even before he took office.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you agree, Robert Pastor?

ROBERT PASTOR: Yes, I think immigration has been a centerpiece in Fox’s agenda to the United States, and I think the decision on the president’s part to suggest a proposal, although a very weak one, and not really satisfactory and indeed doesn’t really address the central issue of U.S.-Mexican relations, which is the development gap.

Unless that development gap is reduced, illegal migration will not be reduced. This proposal won’t do it. But at least putting the proposal out before gave President Fox and President Bush a chance to say nice things about each other after two years in which there was a real strain in the relationship.

RAY SUAREZ: Moises Niam, the last time these leaders met was before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. How has the world changed for Latin America and for the United States since then which may have changed the way this meeting went along?

MOISES NIAM: Yes. Latin America was always thought to be the backyard of the United States. After Sept. 11, it became Atlantis, the lost continent. And the maps that are usually thought about in Washington, Latin America does not figure prominently. Latin America does not have Islamic terrorists. It does not have nuclear weapons. It is not part of the big security concerns that are now driving everything. And it has been displaced by other emergencies and distractions that Washington has as its main priority.

Latin America did not only disappear from Washington, it also disappeared from Wall Street. And attention and investments to the region also dwindled significantly. Where Latin America has not disappeared but increased significantly is in the streets of the United States. It may not be in the maps that Washington policy makers look at and investment destinations for Wall Streeters, but it is in the streets and corners and supermarkets everywhere.

Last year, as you know, Hispanics became the largest minority in the United States. And they will continue to grow significantly. Their purchasing power of Hispanics is increasing by $1 billion a week. And very soon that will also become a political — will have some political significance. There is no doubt, for example, that President Bush’s recent reforms, recent proposed reforms for migration policies are not completely independent of electoral calculations.

RAY SUAREZ: So, Robert Pastor, Moises suggests that Latin America has disappeared from the maps used in government, disappeared from Wall Street but appeared on the streets of the United States. How does that change the way, the calculus that’s being done in America about these places and in these various countries about how to deal with America?

ROBERT PASTOR: Well, U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America in the last week seems to focus on Mexican workers in the United States and Cuba, two very political issues. We’re seeing through a political lens, but I think historically the United States has always stepped back and understood the importance of the region as a whole. That’s what the free trade area of the Americas is about.

That’s what democratization in the hemisphere is all about. That’s what the importance of North American community is all about. I think we have been focused on the Middle East for the last two-and-a-half years but we will need to return to the Americas before too long if for no other reason because as Moises points out there is now a growing presence that says we need to take our hemisphere more seriously.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Latin American leaders are sometimes heard to complain, Mark Falcoff that they find it difficult to get a hearing in Washington. Are they right in 2003 and what difference does it make?

MARK FALCOFF: Well, look, it would be unrealistic to assume after 9/11 that all of a sudden the United States was going to completely forget about the war on terror and Afghanistan and Iraq and simply focus on Latin America. That’s just not realistic. I mean no president of either party is going to do that in that kind of context. That’s something that the Latin American political class will simply have to come to terms with.

That much said, all of the Latin American presidents that have met with President Bush, and that includes very specifically the Brazilian president, have said that they had a very much better impression of him face to face. Lula said he’s a lot better in person than on television is the way he put it. I’ve talked to people that have traveled with various presidential delegations that have come up here. I think when the president does focus on this subject, he impresses these leaders very favorably.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there a risk for the United States in taking a crisis, an avoidance attitude, just responding when Argentina blows up, just responding when Venezuela is shutting off the oil taps rather than —

MARK FALCOFF: I don’t know how to answer that, Ray. I think that –I will try to answer it anyway. I think that there are two ways of looking at U.S. policy. One is the spectacular events that we see on television where presidents meet other presidents, people come to Washington, the president goes to Latin America.

The other is the day-to-day business of policy. And I think the day-to-day business of policy does continue. What we haven’t had is the kind of high-level visible priority that we’re seeing now in the summit, which by the way wouldn’t have taken place at all probably if it weren’t for the fact that it already wasn’t on a schedule determined a long time ago.

RAY SUAREZ: Dr. Naim, you heard Professor Pastor talk about the development gap being the real hidden issue — perhaps less talked about but still there. What do these states in Central, South America, Mexico need to close that development gap?

MOISES NIAM: There is no silver bullet. And we have learned that there is a lot of dangers in experimenting in the — Latin America has been subjected to all sorts of experiments in the last 40 years. And now it finds itself with a very uneasy insertion into the international system. Its labor is too expensive to compete with China. Its technology is too backward to compete with the technology industries.

It is subject to constant shocks: Financial shocks, changes in the prices of the raw materials it exports. Poverty is increasing. And inequality is legendary. It’s the worst in the world. There’s no other region in the world where inequality is as deep as in Latin America. And there is a need for a deeper thinking. I think there is a need to break the peaceful co-existence with normalcy. People have grown accustomed to just accept the situation. And I think we are seeing and we are beginning to witness how in country after country there is a breakdown of the peaceful co-existence with normalcy.

People are rebelling, and the politics of rage, of race, of revenge are emerging everywhere from Bolivia to Venezuela to even places in Central America and the Caribbean. The problem there is that the politics of normalcy can be and have been replaced in some places by the politics of lunacy.

So instead of you denounce the policies of the past that have not functioned but you replace them with some very strange views that we know are dead ends to development that will not solve the problems and will not decrease poverty and inequality but rather will increase them even though they sound very appealing and very sensitive to the cause of the poor at the end of the day they increase the number of poor.

RAY SUAREZ: Moises Niam, Robert Pastor, Mark Falcoff thank you all.