Telling Latin America to Go Take a Hike

By July 11, 2007Trade

In the post below on U.S. trade agreements, we characterized congressional backtracking on a bipartisan trade understanding as not just economically damaging, but also causing harm to U.S. foreign policy. It’s important to recognize that we do not operate in some Latin American vacuum, with no consequences for instructing our partners to take a hike. Anti-market, anti-American political forces are ascendant even as we alienate our allies. Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez are actively working to harm the United States. And we’re telling Colombia to prostrate itself to organized labor’s demands? And Peru to stop bothering us?

Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s former foreign minister, paints the picture in Newsweek, addressing both immigration and trade in an op-ed, “There Goes the Neighborhood.

Despite persistent lobbying by President Alvaro Uribe and the striking of a deal with the Democratic Congress over renewed financing for Plan Colombia, the controversial drug-enforcement and counterinsurgency package in place since 1999, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Rangel announced on June 29 that they would block the trade deal due to human rights, trade and strategic concerns. Uribe—Washington’s closest ally in Latin America, as he recently called himself—was outraged.

At the same time, the leader of Latin America’s other faction was courting new friends. Chávez, angry at his Mercosur colleagues for not backing him in his conflict with Venezuela’s independent RCTV network, ditched their Paraguay summit two weeks ago and headed to Russia, Belarus and Iran instead, where he got a warm welcome. In Moscow, Chávez got promises to invest in Venezuelan gas and oilfields from Russian firms like Gazprom.

Must we remind people that Chavez is also bad for business, for foreign investment, for U.S. exporters? Expropriating private property, as he does, does not help U.S. workers, that’s for sure. Yet every blow struck against Colombia or Peru for U.S. domestic political reasons strengthens Chavez and his fellow socialist caudillos. As Castaneda concludes:

Where does all this leave Washington? Isolated and weakened. There’s now a power vacuum in the hemisphere that Castro and Chávez are more than willing to fill. And more and more Latin Americans are receptive to their gestures. For example, several hundred elderly Mexicans recently traveled to Caracas for free cataract surgery, provided by Cuban-trained Venezuelan eye surgeons or by the Cubans themselves. In these and other ways, Chávez and Castro are taking advantage of Bush’s absence to strengthen their influence in the region. As Nicaragua’s Ortega put it to Mexican President Felipe Calderón when he heard of the failure of immigration reform, “You see, Mexico should look south; it’s useless to seek solutions from the north.” Most Latin leaders would still disagree, if south stands for Fidel, Hugo and Evo. But they are finding it harder to counter the argument.

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