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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Foreign Policy Association - U.S.-Latin American Relations Post-9/11

Foreign Policy Association - Resource Library

U.S.-Latin American Relations Post-9/11
Source: Peter Hakim
Author: R. Nolan

Welcome to the Great Decisions 2004 author interview series. Today, FPA speaks via e-mail with Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialog, the leading U.S. center for policy analysis and exchange on Western Hemisphere affairs.
July 7, 2004

A common theme in your Great Decisions article is that the U.S. neglects Latin America at its own risk. Senator Richard Lugar, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said as much this week, noting that, “The United States must treat its own hemisphere as a priority, not as an afterthought.” As democracies struggle to take root in Latin America, what are the costs and benefits of paying more attention to Latin America when many see top American priorities as laying elsewhere?

You may be overstating my position. The U.S. does come out ahead when it focuses quality policy attention on Latin America, and so does the region. A democratic, prospering, and cooperative Latin America serves U.S. interests in many different ways. The region is a better economic partner, it is less crisis prone (and crises in Latin America can be costly to the U.S.), it serves as a better associate in international institutions, and it is more likely to pursue the values U.S. policy seeks to promote.

Still, the Latin America in recent memory has not been a high priority for the U.S. Aside from the period between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, security threats from other regions have been far more critical than the threats or opportunities from Latin America. Aside from Mexico, Latin America is just not that important in the war on terrorism. And aside from Mexico, Latin America is not even that commercially vital to the U.S. My conclusion is that a sound and productive U.S. policy toward Latin America should not depend on the region being a high priority on the U.S. agenda (and such a policy should not pretend it is). Latin America is unlikely to be at the center of US interests for many years to come.

You begin your piece with some pretty discouraging public opinion numbers. Has public sentiment and support for U.S. policies improved or dropped off in the past 6 months in most Latin American countries, considering developments in the Middle East and elsewhere?

In overwhelming numbers, Latin Americans oppose the U.S. war in Iraq and U.S. post-9/11 security policies. If only Latin Americans could vote, Bush would lose the presidential election to any Democratic challenger by an enormous margin. The anti-Bush, anti-U.S. sentiment is not changing. Yet, most Latin American governments recognize the vital importance for their economies to maintain good relations with the U.S., and they will continue to do so.

What was the overall response to U.S. intervention in Haiti? Do you think the U.S. (and the international community for that matter) is committed to seeing democracy flourish in Haiti, or simply containing the chaos there?

Frankly most of Latin America does not care very much what happens in Haiti. Most Latin Americans didn't like the intervention, because they oppose U.S. interventions generally. The good news, and this may signal an important change, is that Brazil is leading the U.S. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, and it has been joined by three or four other countries. This is really unprecedented, although it may be an effort more to find areas of common ground with the U.S. than to support Haiti. The U.S. and the international community would certainly prefer democracy in Haiti to any of its alternatives and are putting in some resources. But they don't appear yet ready to put in enough political and economic resources to make it likely that democracy will, in fact, succeed. Containing chaos cannot work over time. If it could, it would be enough for many in the U.S. and elsewhere.

You write a lot about trade in the GD piece, and there have been a number of developments on the trade front, particularly with the signing of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (Cafta) and with some progress on an Andean trade pact. Could you update us on those two agreements, and how they might impact developments on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)?

The U.S. has signed a free trade agreement with the five Central American republics (and the Dominican Republic and Panama) are likely to follow soon. The presidential election in the U.S., however, makes it very unlikely that the treaty will be sent to Congress for approval until next year. If Bush wins, it will almost certainly pass; Kerry says that, as president, he would revise the treaty to include stiffer labor and environment provisions. That may do the treaty in. Similar free trade negotiations have recently been initiated with three Andean countries -- Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador -- and Bolivia is an observer. These negotiations should proceed quickly because they will follow the Cafta template, and should be completed next year. Again a Bush presidency is the more likely to gain Congress's approval—although it is worth noting that it was Clinton who won the Nafta battle in Congress, with a treaty negotiated by Bush, Sr. Maybe history will repeat.

The FTAA is going nowhere for the time being. And that's precisely why the U.S. is negotiating the bilateral deals. The U.S. and Brazil are deadlocked over too many issues to achieve an FTAA by the current end of 2004 deadline. Even after that, the best anyone can hope for is a version of FTAA that is much watered down from the initial aspirations expressed at the Summits of the Americas in 1994, 1998, and 2001. That is, unless, the WTO round of global trade negotiations makes progress on the issues that have the FTAA tied in knots, i.e., agriculture and services. But that too now seems unlikely in the near future. Still, trade negotiations are like Sumo wrestling—nothing seems to be happening all, and then suddenly, the match is resolved.

You point out that the U.S. has managed its relationship with Brazil fairly competently. Do you still feel this is true? What about the stalled Doha round of trade talks at the WTO, and adversity between the two nations on a number of trade issues, particularly the FTAA? Will these be resolved anytime soon?

The U.S. and Brazil are getting along pretty much as they always do. They are not antagonists, but neither are they allies. Both the U.S. and Brazil understand the cost of any serious clash between them. The U.S. continues to demonstrate a willingness to tolerate disagreements with Brazil over a wide range of issues—including global and regional trade negotiations, President da Silvas visits to Cuba and hostile Middle Eastern states, and Brazilian criticism of the war in Iraq and broader U.S. security policy. For its part, Brazil under Lula has shown greater support for Colombia's wars against guerrillas and drugs (and acceptance of U.S. military aid to Colombia); has agreed to head the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, which is of great importance to the U.S.; and—most significant of all—continues to manage its economy in a highly disciplined and orthodox fashion, which has ended U.S. concerns about a possible Argentina-like default.

Brazil's economic management is the major issue to watch because problems in Brazil will likely spread quickly and disastrously across the region. A retreat from tight fiscal control is what would most cause conflict with the U.S.. Other key issues are Brazil's policies toward Bolivia and Venezuela, two countries in which democracy is dangerously threatened, and its willingness to allow enhanced inspections of its nuclear program, now that Brazil has decided to begin enriching uranium. No one questions that Brazil is doing it for peaceful purposes, but with the U.S. tangling with North Korea and Iran on nuclear development, Washington is very sensitive to any unwanted precedents Brazil's actions regarding inspections may produce.

It is reported that some 3,500 people die in Colombia each year as a result of an ongoing civil war that the U.S. remains heavily involved in. Has Plan Colombia yielded the kinds of results the government and the U.S. have sought since 2000 in dealing with the FARC and other paramilitary groups? Is cocoa eradication working or simply shifting the problem elsewhere?

In part because of the leader of President Uribe, Plan Colombia has turned out to be the most successful U.S. policy in Latin America. The FARC and other guerrilla groups as well as the right-wing paramilitary forces are increasing on the defensive; on most indicators Colombia is a safer, less violent place than it was a few years ago. And drug production is down. Still, on none of these fronts, is the battle even close to being won. It will take many years to resolve Colombia's multiple problems. And true, with increased eradication in Colombia, we are seeing expanded production in Peru and Bolivia.

The U.S. needs a better drug strategy, one that is fully regional in scope, not a series of bilateral schemes, and one that adequately conceptualizes and funds alternative income and job producing activities in rural areas, not simply more and more eradication, and not just alternative crops. It also needs to do more on the human rights and humanitarian fronts, which could be substantially helped by greater support from the international community.

What is the status of the drive to change the Colombian constitution to allow President Uribe to serve another term? Is this a good idea for a fragile Latin American democracy?

There is a risk in Uribe trying to change the Constitution to allow him to run for a second term. And it is an issue that is hotly debated in Colombia. Yet it is hard to deny his exceptional leadership, the support he enjoys among the Colombian people (upwards of 70 percent), and what he has managed to accomplish. Colombia may be at a turning point, where it can see the path to resolving its multiple and deadly problems and Uribe's leadership for four more years may be a critical element. In short, there are good arguments on both sides. I personally support re-election, despite the real risks and cost, because I think Colombia needs exceptional leadership in the coming period and Uribe has shown he can provide it.

How great of a threat to Latin American democracy is Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, if at all?

Chavez, of course, is mostly a threat to Venezuela's democracy; indeed, he has already done away with many of the restraints that democratic leaders have to serve under, and the polarization of the society is bodes badly for the kind of give and take and constant compromise that is essential for democracy. Elsewhere, Chavez can be a disruptive force because he has substantial resources coupled with a hazy populist ideology, and little caution or constraint. He can be particularly threatening in situations like Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador where the politics are already so combustible.

What is the status of the referendum on his rule? Does Chavez pose a threat to world oil supplies?

The referendum on his rule is scheduled to be held on August 15. While there is increasing optimism that it will, in fact, take place, most analysts bet against his leaving office. Recent polls suggest he may actually win the referendum, because the opposition has not been able to put forth a program or a candidate. If he doesn't win, there is concern he could come back and win the presidency again. Then again he may cheat in the referendum—and he could still end up delaying or canceling it. Venezuela is tense and uncertain—and Chavez is clever, unpredictable, and dangerous. Venezuela represents about 12 percent of US oil imports; turmoil in that country can push up the price of oil considerably.

What are the greatest challenges facing U.S.- Mexico relations, which started on a very positive note but have been largely in disarray since the war on terrorism began? Will this have any impact on the U.S. election in November?

There are a huge array of critical challenges—the inability of the two countries to reach any reasonable agreement on how to deal with the massive flow of unregulated migration; the continuing enormous disparities in income and wealth between the U.S. and Mexico with no real commitment or efforts underway to try to reduce them; the unwillingness of Mexico to consider any changes in its state-centered management of energy resources, while U.S. entrepreneurs are eager for opportunities to invest in these resources and Washington is eager for expanded oil and natural gas production; and, in this period of heightened security concerns, U.S. law enforcement and security officials continue to lack trust in their Mexican counterparts, who are considered, with some justification, to be riddled with corruption. In the end, it may well be that security issues turn out to be the most important source of strain in the relationship.

In your opinion, what is the most critical issue facing the United States in Latin America today?

The political turmoil in so much of Latin America, particularly but not exclusively in the Andean region, which threatens the prospects for secure democracies; the lack of economic growth and jobs which has eroded the legitimacy of governments in many places—and has been a major source of the political turmoil, which makes difficult to effectively manage economic policy; and the potential for another round of economic crises as much of Latin America remains deep in debt.

The central challenge for the US is how to strengthen economic and trade relations with Latin America in order to (1) help promote steady growth at reasonable pace and (2) support and help sustain the important economic and political reforms (and the people who have led them) that have occurred in Latin America in recent years.

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