U.S.-South American Relations Explored
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RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Rice is wrapping up a Latin American trip that’s taken her to Brazil, Colombia, Chile and El Salvador. Democracy, terrorism and Venezuela have been on the agenda.
Joining us for South American perspectives on those and other issues are two writers from the region. Ariel Dorfman of Chile is a novelist, playwright, journalist and human rights activist. His latest novel is “Burning City.” He is now a professor at Duke University. Alvaro Vargas Llosa of Peru is an author, commentator and editor. His latest book is “Liberty for Latin America.” He served as spokesman in the Peruvian presidential campaign of his father, Mario Vargas Llosa. He is now a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, an Oakland, California think tank.
Professor Dorfman, is there a prevailing opinion of the United States among those Latin American citizens who will be seeing — who have seen Secretary Rice on their TV screens on the evening news this week?
ARIEL DORFMAN: There used to be sort of a consensus going towards more sympathy towards the United States during the Clinton administration. But now in the last four years and now with the latest events, I would say that she’s got a lot of fences to mend.
The prevailing attitude in Latin America has become very anti-American. Not anti-American as much as anti-Bush I would say at this point. And it’s — I would say it’s basically the whole continent is such. I think people themselves seem to be more angry at the United States than the governments are at this point.
RAY SUAREZ: Alvaro Vargas Llosa, do you agree that the prevailing sentiment is getting worse over time?
ALVARO VARGAS LLOSA: I think it’s a very complex situation. There is an anti-U.S. sentiment as regards to the war on drugs, for instance. There’s an anti-U.S. sentiment as regards to the support the United States gave to some of the governments of the 90s that were very corrupt and under the guise of free market reform really entrenched old and powerful interests.
But there’s also a positive signs. I think there’s a moderate left in Latin America. Dr. Rice, Secretary Rice has been visiting Brazil and Chile and both governments of the left are very moderate and are in favor of free markets, in favor of good relations with the United States. I think the Andean region poses more problems because of — there’s a very complicated internal situation. A large section of the population of indigenous dissent is having a lot of trouble being a part of or playing a role in the democratic institutions.
And they see those democratic institutions as allied with the United States and so there is that sort of distance. But in general I would say the United States needs to work a lot harder at mending some of those fences and, yes, some of the policies of the past still create problems for that relationship.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, having said that, now that so much of the continent has a democratically elected government, is there a lot of room between the leaders and the led in these places when it comes towards relations with the United States. Is there a big split between elected governments and what the people think?
ALVARO VARGAS LLOSA: I think there is an important split. One of the major issues in Latin America today is the divorce between official institutions, between the institutions of government and the state and ordinary people. People have responded or reacted against this in major ways. People are turning away from the Catholic Church and embracing Protestant religion or different types of Protestant churches. People are turning to the informal economy, which is an economy that takes place outside of the law.
There are many manifestations of this anti-official institution type of sentiment. But some of these governments are making an effort, and I think Chile and Brazil are two interesting examples. Colombia might be another one, except for the drug war. It’s another interesting example of official institutions trying to bridge that gap. And incorporate more and more people into some of these institutions that have been divorced from ordinary — the ordinary lives of people for a long time.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Dorfman, in recent years in several countries in Argentina and Brazil and Uruguay, Bolivia, the axis of national politics has shifted left. What does that mean?
ARIEL DORFMAN: Well, you know, there used to be something called the Washington consensus, meaning basically an agreement about neo-liberal policies and privatization and the idea that also there were — there needed to be democratic institutions that accompanied this free market economics. And there has been a very significant shift left. I mean, the biggest shift, of course, has been that of Chavez in Venezuela.
But if you look at the latest events all over Latin America, there is a very significant movement towards the left. Now, this movement towards the left is what Tabare Vazquez the new president of Uruguay calls caution revolutions, you know, or revolutions that are agreed upon in some sense. And certainly that comes out of an experience of great suffering both during the military dictatorships, many of which had U.S. support — and we don’t forget that, you know– and also because there’s a sense that we have learned that we need to work within the system and we’re not out to overthrow the whole system.
But there is a sense that 20 years after all these neo-liberal reforms, Latin America is as poor as it used to be, especially in relation to the poorer sections of the population. There are just vast groups of people who don’t feel the democracy has done very much for them. And I would agree with Alvaro in the sense of that what we have now is a large group of left-wing governments of different sorts. I would say what you would call the moderate left very clearly in the driver’s seat in that sense.
Now, the tragedy is the United States is unable to relate — in some sense, of course, they’re able to relate to those governments well. They seem to go along well with them. But they don’t seem to have enough of an understanding of the desire for sovereignty, the desire for creating what I would call the Brasilia consensus. And I think that Brasilia consensus, which would have Chavez on his left let’s say and Ricardo Lagos on the moderate center left, I think there’s a large group of those countries where we can see a new policy and a new — it’s really a new way of looking at where the economic policies are joined with a desire for social justice and a desire to find ways of mobilizing people to solve their own problems in their own barrios, in their own shantytowns, in their cities, in the countryside.
RAY SUAREZ: Alvaro Vargas Llosa, is that left-wing shift part of a rejection of what Professor Dorfman called the Washington consensus? Is Condoleezza Rice traveling through a region that’s sort of had it with the IMF and the World Bank and other institutions like that?
ALVARO VARGAS LLOSA: Well, what happened in the 90s was there was really no free-market reform. There was another way of doing exactly the same kind of stuff we had been doing forever through 200 years of republican life, three centuries of colonial life, creating a lot of kind of mercantilistic policies whereby politicians and bureaucrats would engage cronies and people who were close to power in corrupt type of deals and leave most people out of the great opportunities of a real free market economy.
So, yes, there is a rejection now in Latin America against free markets, even in Mexico, the United States neighbor, there is a rejection against free market reform and that’s why Lopez Obrador might be president next year in Mexico, and, yes, that’s a reason why people like Lula in Brazil and Tabare Vazquez in Uruguay and Kirchner in Argentina have been elected.
However, I would say that the interesting thing is that some of these governments have been able to understand there’s a huge difference between the type of reform that took place in the 90s and the ideal type of free market reform that other countries including New Zealand and Ireland and Estonia governments either of the left or the right have undertaken. So these governments are more moderate than they would have been in a different type of situation. Of course, the case of Chavez who represented the loony left in Latin America is a very different case.
But I do think it’s important for the United States to engage this left. And I have interesting news. I don’t know if you have received this news yet from Chile, but, you know, we’re in the middle of an interesting process. They’re selecting the new secretary general of the OAS, the Organization of American States. There was a fierce kind of competition between Mexico and Chile, the current foreign minister of Mexico was competing against a minister in Lagos’ government in Chile, called Jose Miguel Insulza. Well, today we received the news that Derbez, the foreign minister of Mexico has dropped out of the race and so this makes the man Insulza from Chile the next secretary general of the OAS.
RAY SUAREZ: I’m going to have to end it there. Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Professor Dorfman, gentlemen, thank you both.