The Other America
Latino economies are emerging, licking their wounds in recovery, from the painful lessons of the 1980s and ’90s.
To be sure, deep structural problems still exist in many Latino nations. But there are increasingly brighter lights shining on the horizon. Constitutional democracies seem to have taken root in Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay. Argentina and Brazil are showing signs of having turned the corner into more positive economic territory. Despite the political instability of countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela, what is most evident is that many Latin American nations now permit free and largely fair government elections.
The main problem in many, however, is the resistance of firmly entrenched self-interest groups to advancing democratic reforms. These groups feel threatened by efforts to regulate business and government, substantially reduce fraud and genuinely restructure their countries’ economies. Some of the big players on the world scene are seeking to make inroads into Latin America before the requisite reforms are instituted. They intend to be in on the ground floor when Latin America’s huge potential is fully tapped.
In the process, the U.S. may yet be left out in the cold.
Competition for access to Latino markets, to the continent’s rich pool of resources, to its cheap and ready labor force, and for tariff-free arrangements for exports is heating up. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently made it clear that he sees Latin America as one of the frontiers for expansion of Russian trade and even the sharing of nuclear technology with such countries as Brazil. China is already involved in Central America and other Latino regions, most particularly in the rapidly developing economy of Chile. Japan continues as a favored investor. Then there’s the European Union, already having the edge through strong cultural and religious ties with the southern Atlantic continent.
All this competition is arousing concern in Washington, with its own North American Free Trade Agreement (nafta) suffering from lack of visionary leadership and reaction from the anti-U.S. culture that pervades much of Mexico, and Central and South America.
Compared with the level of its foreign adventures away from home shores, the U.S. seems to view Latin America more as a poor country cousin. This is quite intriguing when compared to other First World powers, which place a premium on developing and maintaining good, close, neighborly relations with bordering countries. The U.S. is about to rue the day that it did not take advantage of the geographic closeness of Latin America to develop relationships more akin to that which its proximity demands. America’s neglect is just the window of opportunity that other nations, with contrary agendas, will seize to their strategic advantage!
Take China, for instance. Successive U.S. administrations might have us believe that positive trade relationships with that emerging monolith will work to develop friendly ties with the land of the dragon. This ignores the long-term, seemingly ponderous, yet innately calculating strategic Asian vision for ultimate dominance over the Western “foreign devil,” in particular the Anglo-Saxon peoples. It was the preponderance of such long-term thinking over the seemingly inborn forgetfulness of the American mind that led to the U.S. throwing away the powerfully strategic sea gateway of Panama to the Chinese in 1999 (refer to “The Rise and Fall of a Superpower” in our January 2000 issue on www.theTrumpet.com). This will yet prove to be one of America’s greatest follies. China now has its eyes on the crucial southern gateway of the Straits of Magellan. It is heavily investing in Chile at present—one of the reasons Chile is becoming a driving force in the collective Latin American economy. With the major sea gates of Panama and Freeport, Bahamas, already in its possession to the north, should China do a deal with Chile to secure the southern gateway of the Magellan Straits, it would be in a tremendously strong position to control major shipping routes to and from the South American continent.
China pursuing its national development program while paying no deference to the U.S. is one thing. But the more astute analysts of U.S. foreign policy are starting to worry about the re-emergence of individual agendas, out of sync with the U.S. global strategy, from nations formerly perceived as being friendly allies. Jose Luis Fiori, an influential Latin American political scientist, refers to an emerging, yet “badly disguised nervousness of the American establishment facing ever-more-evident signs that Germany, Russia and Japan start to return to their national development projects as a way of getting out of the swamp they fell into during the 1990s” (Asia Times, June 12, 2003).
Consider Russia. The old Soviet Union penetrated Latin America deeply with communist ideology in the past century. But that is now an ideology that is largely seen in Latino countries as simply not having delivered any lasting, beneficial reforms in Latin America. Along comes comrade Putin with nuclear weapons rattling in his quiver. The gravest danger to the U.S. of Putin’s overtures to the southern continent is his declared willingness to share nuclear technology with such countries as Brazil. This is a tempting carrot to offer nations that have struggled for years in a love-hate relationship with their giant, seemingly all-powerful neighbor to the north.
Leaders such as Putin, whose real agendas are in direct conflict with the U.S., understand the psychology that creates a prevailing hatred of U.S. global dominance.
The U.S. alone seems to lack a basic conception of how its collective attitude, culture and general ignorance of the world affects other nations. Dr. George Friedman of Stratfor Systems puts it this way: “There is a deep ambivalence, a love-hate relationship between the United States and the world. On the one hand, no nation is more imitated than the United States. The United States serves as the standard against which the rest of the world measures progress. There is no nation that others would rather go to, if forced to leave their own home. The United States and its culture is overwhelming, powerful and penetrating.
“On the other hand, it is this very power that makes the United States so deeply hated. Precisely because it overwhelms, overpowers and penetrates everywhere, precisely because the United States is so relentless and indifferent to the rest of the world, the United States is profoundly resented. The sense of helplessness in the face of U.S. power breeds a sense of rage against America” (www.stratfor.com, April 10, 2000).
A case in point was Brazil’s reaction to the U.S. mandating the photographing and fingerprinting of all inbound travelers hailing from countries where a visa is required to enter the States. In a tit-for-tat judgment, Brazilian Federal Judge Julier Sebastiao da Silva immediately ordered that all U.S. citizens entering Brazil be similarly fingerprinted and photographed. In the process, the judge described the U.S. action as “absolutely brutal, threatening human rights, violating human dignity, xenophobic and worthy of the worst horrors committed by the Nazis” (ibid., Dec. 31, 2003). We may think this an overreaction by an overly zealous Latino judge. Rather it is a reaction born of the deep resentment that such people hold against the U.S. due to its tendency for unilateral action.
The danger of such deep-seated hatred of U.S. power is not so much in the angry actions of a Brazilian judge. It is in how Brazil will put its nuclear program to use, given its refusal to commit to spot inspections of its nuclear facilities and Russian overtures to assist in their development. Such overtures may prove too tempting a carrot for Brazil, the country with the largest economy in South America, to resist.
In respect of Japan, current trends make it obvious that this nation, with the second largest of national economies, will soon buy into the application of nuclear power for its defense. Possessing the second-largest navy in the world, always on the lookout for raw materials to feed the furnaces of its highly developed industrial base, Japan continues to make inroads into Latin America via programs of aid and business investment.
But aside from China, Russia and Japan all vying for various slices of the Latin American pie, there is another player on the Latino scene, which has the edge on all others—the rising, confusing, fractious, trundling federation of nation-states called the European Union.
Although, as stated, many Latino countries now have a democratic approach to free and mostly fair elections, this has failed in many instances to translate into effective government policies administered efficiently in the interests of both domestic and foreign affairs by accountable institutions. Corruption and high crime rates are endemic to much of this resource-rich continent. Attempts by governments to regulate reforms are often sabotaged by politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen on the take. This has frustrated the process of privatization that spread through Latin America in the 1990s.
Countries with the most effective governance have inevitably shown the highest rates of democratization and relatively high growth in productivity. Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay are cases in point.
Brazil and Argentina, the two largest Latino economies, are worth watching as both show signs of improvement under their respective leaders Luiz In‡cio Lula da Silva and Nestor Kirchner. These two leaders could hardly be more different. The left-leaning Brazilian leader seems to be oriented at present more toward heeding Russia’s overtures and strengthening ties with such unlikely friends as Libya and Syria. On the other hand, Kirchner, the German Catholic son of a wartime Nazi, reflects a background more in tune with the EU agenda.
European Commission President Romano Prodi was quick to invite Kirchner to a face-to-face meeting following the Argentine president’s election in May last year. Prodi stressed that he was keen to “discuss regional integration and cooperation projects involving the European Union and Mercosur” (EU press release, June 26, 2003). Mercosur is the largest Latin American free-trade bloc, comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. It is the emerging link between the EU and Mercosur that could dictate the direction of Latin American foreign policy from now on.
NAFTA Vs. EU
Simply put, given the choice between a free-trade treaty with either the U.S. or the EU, the odds are significantly stacked against Latin America opting for a U.S. deal. Indeed, already the existing fabric of nafta is beginning to fray at the edges.
Mexico, the U.S.’s largest Latino trading partner, has found little to benefit from in its linkage to the U.S. via nafta. The World Bank reported in December that “the country has benefited marginally in the 10 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (nafta) was implemented on Jan. 1, 1994. However, many of the gains actually were due to reforms made before Mexico joined nafta” (www.stratfor.com, Dec. 18, 2003).
Although the U.S. announced plans to negotiate bilateral free-trade agreements with Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia last November, then wrapped up similar agreements with the Central American countries El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in December, the approach has been piecemeal at best. The U.S. appears to give little thought to how its actions with one Latino nation may affect relations with another.
At present, U.S. relations with Brazil are somewhat tenuous. No doubt that is another reason why Putin made his timely overtures to Brazil, to capitalize on anti-U.S. angst as leverage to get a firmer foot in the door of that country. As Stratfor observed, “Washington’s strategy seeks to advance U.S. interests in the unstable Andes region, but it likely will heighten tensions between the United States and Brazil, and it could make U.S. assets and citizens more conspicuous targets for political violence in several Andean countries” (Nov. 18, 2003).
As Washington fiddles around with this piecemeal approach to its Latin American diplomacy, the EU works at ripping the rug out from under the U.S.’s feet. Three years ago, the EU and Mexico launched a comprehensive free-trade agreement. A year ago, the EU, which has continuously opposed the U.S. trade embargo against Fidel Castro’s Cuba, reached out to that island nation and opened an office in Havana. Already, the EU, Cuba’s most significant trading partner, accounts for 80 percent of Cuba’s imports.
Turning to the Andean community, the leaders of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela are in the final stages of establishing a free-trade zone, which they hope to link with Mercosur, and have declared their intention to launch negotiations on a free-trade association with the EU.
Flurry of Diplomacy
In relation to the seven nations of Central America, already the EU has placed a free-trade offer before the Central American leaders, predicated on those countries that comprise the Central American isthmus negotiating their own regional free-trade deal.
During visits by Latin American leaders to Europe last summer, repeated calls were made by the Latinos for a major effort to cement free-trade ties with the EU. These visits were undertaken at a time of rising diplomatic friction between the U.S. and Latin American countries such as Brazil and Argentina. Last November, Mercosur and the EU agreed to conclude a trade deal by the end of this year. The same month, German President Johannes Rau, leading a delegation of German businessmen keen on investing in Latin America, visited Mexico, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil. He also sought to strengthen ties between these countries and the EU.
This flurry of diplomatic horse trading between the EU and Latin America will coalesce in an EU-Latin America summit in Guadalajara, Mexico, in May. Watch for anti-America rhetoric to fill the air as Mexico and Central and South America move, step by step, back into the fold of their old colonial masters. The EU, already the leading donor and premier foreign investor in Latin America, now only has to pip the U.S. at the post in the area of free-trade agreements to replace it as the region’s most important trading partner. That is the clear goal of the EU and the obvious preferred option of Latin America.
Shared Confusion—Shared Institution
One thing that the EU and Latin America have in common is the confusion that results when many differing nation-states, reflecting varying national aspirations, consider a united front on any particular issue.
Despite the EU’s desire to regulate everything from the shape and size of bananas to their own definition of just what it is that constitutes an island (notwithstanding the facts of geography), when the chips are down, as we saw last year with France and Germany, the bigger nations will always flout the very rules they frame to bring everyone else into line. Latin America faces a similar challenge with Mexico, Brazil and Argentina set to call the tune for the rest of the continent.
But there is one particular institution that has the potential to be a binding force within both Latin America and Europe, in addition to strengthening ties between the two continents. Just how this long-entrenched organization can be stimulated into action has been demonstrated in Mexico under the leadership of President Vicente Fox. “[T]he role of the Catholic Church is fundamentally changing with the election of the country’s most openly religious president in nearly a century. É [T]he church is now poised to take a more prominent role in public life and have an impact on policy” (Washington Post, Aug. 6, 2000).
That is where Latin America and the EU merge.
Nothing within the U.S.—given its moral turpitude, its social decay, its confusion of religion, and its foolish insistence on banal “political correctness”—can lift a candle to the binding force that the deeply entrenched Roman Catholic Church can and will have on EU-Latin America foreign policy. A reading of the prophecies of Revelation 13, 17 and 18 ought to make that clear to any open mind seeking the visionary truth on the near future of Latin America.
For a vision of the long-term future of Latin America, Europe, the U.S. and indeed all other nations, request your free copy of The Wonderful World Tomorrow. It puts all of the global political machinations of our day into true perspective.