October 13, 1997
President Clinton is traveling to South America this week to strengthen ties to the United States' allies on the continent. After a background report, a panel of experts analyze America's diplomatic and economic position in the region and the President's mission.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We get three views now on the President's trip: Richard Feinberg was senior director of Latin American affairs on the National Security Staff from 1993 to 1996. He's now a professor at the University of California-San Diego. Bernard Aronson was Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs from 1989 to 1993. He's currently chairman of Acon Investments. And Santiago Canton, an Argentinian, is director of programs for Latin America at the National Democratic Institute in Washington. Thank you all for being with us.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
October 13, 1997
A background report on President Clinton's trip to Latin America.
February 26, 1997
A report on Chile's democratic status and economic revival.
February 10, 1997:
Ecuador's military leaders make Vice President, Rosalia Arteaga, the interim president.
March 20, 1996:
A Newsmaker interview with Colombian President Ernesto Samper.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Latin America.
National Demcratic Institute
Richard Feinberg, as we just heard, the President said in Venezuela that a new world is in the making in the Americas. Do you agree?
Clinton's goal: Selling a hemispheric agenda to Latin America and to Congress.
RICHARD FEINBERG, Former National Security Council Staff: I do, Elizabeth. I would see the President's trip as a voyage between two major meetings. The first was the Summit of the Americas in Miami ‘94 at which the entire Western Hemisphere of the United States and Latin America agreed on a consensus agenda for the post war period, including democracy, free trade, poverty alleviation, and environmental protection. At the next point in time at the second summit of the Americas in Santiago in April of next year the leaders will again meet from around the hemisphere to see how they are doing on fulfilling this agenda.
President Clinton on this trip has to address two audiences. He has to address his Latin American audience to convince them that the United States is serious about implementing this consensus hemispheric agenda, including free trade, as well as important for democracy, energy, anti-corruption, anti-narcotics, et cetera, and he has to project back to the United States his own citizens here a different image of Latin America. He has to move away from the negative stereotypes and emphasize the progress that the region has been making in the area of democratization, free trade, open economies, et cetera, so that Americans come to see the Latin Americans as worthy partners in this new one world.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: As, Mr. Aronson, he's been doing that, hasn't he, in Latin America? He's spoken of--I think he used the word a quiet revolution in Latin America--talking about the huge changes in Latin America. And he celebrated that. Is--has there been a quiet revolution in Latin America and is it worth celebrating?
BERNARD ARONSON, Former State Department Official: There has been. It hasn't always been quiet, but there's definitely been a revolution. If we had this program seven or eight years ago the question all of us would be addressing is: Can Latin America survive the debt crisis, and can we end the wars in Central America, and what we will do with Noriega, and can Peru survive the Shining Path guerrillas, and can Latin Americans survive thousands of percent hyperinflation? All of that is gone, and, as the President has said, as others have said, you have a hemisphere that is almost entirely democratic that is growing again. Inflation now is about 11 percent hemisphere-wide. Last year you had $74 billion in private capital flowing into the region. But I think the real question is not where the hemispheres come from but where it can go to. And there, the President is correct to use, you know, visionary rhetoric of a new world.
The real issue is: Are we going to be wise enough and show the leadership and pay enough attention to create that new world? And that depends on the President. It also depends on the Congress .
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: To do what to create that new world? What are you talking about specifically?
BERNARD ARONSON: Okay. I think this hemisphere can be the model for Asia, for Africa, for the nations of the former Soviet Union of the kind of community of nations that the democracies dreamed about when the United Nations was formed and that people renewed dreams about when the Soviet Union collapsed? And what does that mean? It has the potential to be the first completely democratic hemisphere in the history of mankind. And the only region in the world where all of the nations have come together through the Organization of American States committed to defend democracy if it's overthrown in any member country. It can be the only democratic hemisphere in which trade is free across all borders. It can be a hemisphere in which nuclear, chemical, missile, and conventional weapons are all under control. And if we work hard enough, it can be a hemisphere in which there are peaceful relations among all the countries, where human rights are respected.
Now, that sounds like rhetoric, but some of the elements of what I'm talking about are already in place, but that's going to require the United States developing a new attitude toward the Americas. Historically, we don't pay much attention. We pay attention to Europe where we come from to the Middle East, to the Soviet Union, where we have strategic interests. And we neglect Latin America until there's a crisis. Then we plunge in and try to solve it, usually not so ably. So we really need to, as Richard said, and as the President said, understand the enormous opportunity we have in the hemisphere but then show the kind of political leadership and sustained attention that's going to take to realize that opportunity.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Santiago Canton, do you agree that those are the main questions right now?
SANTIAGO CANTON, National Democratic Institute: There's no doubt that today Latin America is very different from the Latin America of the past, as Richard was saying, as Bernie was saying. We can just remember the last trip of a U.S. President to Latin America, when Bush went to Argentina, a couple of days before Bush arrived in Argentina, there was an attempt at a coup d'etat. Today the situation is completely, completely different. We have a political stability. The region is growing economically. Culturally, it is very similar to the U.S. So right now there is some historic moment in the region which hopefully will be--the U.S. and Latin America will take advantage of.
Despite advances, poverty still plagues Latin America.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is pretty optimistic talking about Latin America, still, it's a place where just about everybody's poor. Some things haven't changed at all, have they?
RICHARD FEINBERG: Elizabeth, there has been a lot of progress, but there are still a lot of problems that remain in Latin America. The number of people who are poor today is in absolute terms more than was the case ten or fifteen years ago.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I mean, even percentage-wise.
RICHARD FEINBERG: Percentage-wise--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It's just about the same as it was when I first went there 30 years ago, right?
RICHARD FEINBERG: Percentage-wise the number of poor is about the same, therefore, the absolute number has increased significantly throughout Latin America. There are also major problems with governance. The quality of government, the quality of justice, of law enforcement--is very weak in many countries. And there are also severe problems of inequality of income. The rich and particularly even in the last few years have gotten very rich as in the United States; whereas, the poor have yet to see the benefits of the recent economic recovery.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, Bernard Aronson, that's what you're talking about, that even though there's all this reason for hope and optimism, there's still a lot to be done? Let's talk about Venezuela specifically, starting there. What did the President need to do there? Did he do it, and what did the Venezuelans want from the United States?
BERNARD ARONSON: You know, I think what the Venezuelans wanted first and foremost is recognition of their importance, not only as our No. 1 oil supplier but also is one of the oldest democracies in the region, and I think they got that from the President's trip. But, clearly, in all these countries a presidential visit is always greatly appreciated. It has a benefit, but the real question is what kind of follow through there is. I think the Venezuelans would like to see increased investment in their private sector beyond oil. They obviously would like to see greater cooperation on counter narcotics and so would we. I mean, one of the points that comes out of the President's trip, which I think is true, is that we have shared problems and we can work together to solve them. The drug problem is our problem. It's their problem. You can't solve it just by dealing with demand. You can't solve it just by dealing with supply. You have to tackle both together.
But Venezuela's also a good example of what you talked about as far as the incredible gaps between rich and poor. In Latin America today 40 percent of the people earn 10 percent of the income. And the big question that hovers over all of the hopes and the time bomb that will explode all of this progress is that festering poverty. There are now rising expectations and hopes that this new world of markets and investment and income will trickle down and give real opportunity to ordinary people. But until they see that and taste it, beyond having stable currencies, which has made a difference, then it's still going to be a promise unkept.
And the other point is equally important, which is governments have to begin to deliver the things that governments need to do. They have to get out of the business of managing the economy. But they have to get into the business of delivering, you know, sanitation and clean water, and protection from crime, which in Venezuela is enormous, simply street crime and violence, and judicial systems where ordinary people or corporations can go into a courtroom and get justice according to the law, not based on who paid off the judges.
There's a huge backlog of social issues and governmental responsibilities that really were neglected and in some ways went backwards during the lost decade of the past that has to be addressed in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Santiago Canton, that's especially true in Brazil, isn't it? But Brazil has a president who in some ways is--is emblematic of all the changes in Latin America. This is a man who was a political exile under the military government. Tell us about that and about Brazil's key problems right now.
SANTIAGO CANTON: Basically, just as Bernie said we were talking here, we are talking about two Latin Americas. And the same is true of Brazil. Latin America is asleep and Latin America has waken up. We are talking here, Richard, Bernie, and I, hopefully, the Latin America that's waken up will leave the other one behind. And that will be the past, and all Latin America will keep growing economically and all the problems of the past will not be here anymore. What Brazil--it has the same problems that the rest of Latin American countries--poverty is--poverty in Latin America is --50 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, and that's--Brazil--this corruption problem's in Brazil. There is human rights problems in Brazil. We're talking about police brutality in many cases. And that's what we want to leave behind.
What's the reality--what's the other new reality--the one that I refer that Latin America has waken up? In the case of Brazil with Argentina, Uruguay, and--Paraguay--it's a common market among these four countries--and here we're talking about a GDP of $1 trillion. This is very significant. Today the U.S. exports more to Brazil than it does to China and exports more to Argentina than it does to Russia. So this is the new reality and this is what, more or less, we all agree here that we hope is going to be the future of the region.
"What Brazil wants is to be treated by the United States as an equal leader..."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what is--I know you want to say something but first what does Brazil want from the President?
RICHARD FEINBERG: What Brazil wants is to be treated by the United States as an equal leader in the western hemisphere. They want to be embraced as the clear leader in South America and as a true partner of the United States. And if President Clinton can do that with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, then I think you have the possibility of much closer relationship to the United States than Brazil, which is absolutely necessary, given Brazil's weight in the hemispheric diplomacy, if we are going to go ahead and actually fulfill the promises and the agreements signed at Miami, at the Summit of the Americas.
I want to make one point, Elizabeth, about implementation, which is what we've been emphasizing here. There have been a lot of beautiful agreements signed in the western hemisphere in the last several years promising better education, better health, better human rights. People now want to see implementation of those agreements. But this is not easy because we don't have much practice really in implementing international agreements at the national domestic level on tough issues like corruption, like education, like better health, like protection of the environment, and respect for women's rights for example. That's the real challenge. We have to have initiatives that are more concrete, specific, with deadlines and targets. We have to have sufficient resources. And we have to have more monitoring and surveillance by the private sector and by non-government groups and by academia.
And I might mention, if I could, that that's why we have set up something called the Leadership Council on Inter-American Summitry, the Leadership Council on Intern-American Summitry consisting of about 15 distinguished individuals from around the hemisphere, including Bernard Aronson on your show, and we are going to be monitoring whether or not governments actually implement these very nice lofty agreements that they are signing to see if they really do result in implementation that betters the lives and the living standards of people throughout the western hemisphere.
Argentina: One of America's strongest allies in the region.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Interesting. Mr. Aronson, what about Argentina? Explain the non-NATO alliance, the designation of Argentina as a non-NATO ally.
BERNARD ARONSON: Well, what really happened was this. The administration made a decision to end a 20-year ban on the sale of sophisticated weaponry to Latin America and made it clear that Chile would potentially receive advanced fighter aircraft from the United States. Chile and Argentina are historic rivals. That created problems for our friend, the president of Argentina, with his own military problems that he did not need. So the United States tried to correct those problems or overcome them by creating the status for Chile, which is largely symbolic. There's some--some special advantages in getting used military equipment and some exercises you do together. It's largely symbolic, but it does recognize a reality which is in Latin America, Argentina, has been our closest ally and has gone out of its way to be a friend to the United States. And it has mattered. It has been a friend, as was said in your broadcast when we faced conflict in the gulf; it's been a strong ally in the fight for democracy in Haiti and elsewhere. It's been an ally on the trade front. And so it deserves some symbolic recognition. Unfortunately, in this case it was really done to correct what might have been a mistake by the administration as far as arms sales.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. We have to leave it there, but thank you very much for being with us.