TCS Daily


Bush Contra Chavez

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa - March 8, 2007 12:00 AM

President Bush's trip to Latin America starting this week will, for very different reasons, lift the spirits of friends and foes alike. Those who fear that Latin America is increasingly irrelevant will welcome the attention. Those under pressure from followers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will welcome the respite that a high-profile visitor brings. Those threatened by a protectionist Congress in the U.S. will welcome verbal reassurances. And those who thrive on anti-Americanism will welcome the chance to "strut and fret their hour upon the stage.''

Latin Americans who think the world cares too much about the Middle East, China and India have only themselves to blame. Unless you threaten world peace, the best way to be relevant is to emerge as a success story.

Since Latin America seems content with its middle-of-the-table status, it's no surprise it is attracting just one-sixth of the direct investment that flows into developing countries these days.

As for Chavez, Latin Americans -- again -- have only themselves to blame for letting him cut a larger-than-life figure. In 2005, at the hemispheric summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina, 29 countries supported the idea of a Free Trade Area of the Americas, yet five countries led by Venezuela were able to block it -- despite the fact that internal trade among those five amounted to just $26 billion, compared to $1.5 trillion in the rest of the hemisphere.

The lesson of the free trade fiasco was that leadership, not numbers, is what counts when facing Chavez. The failure of leadership in Latin America today includes the powerful Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has shed his Marxist past but panders to his Venezuelan friend. When I asked him a few months ago about his friendship with Chavez, Lula couched his answer in diplomatic language, explaining that one needs to respect other countries' internal policies.

Given these conditions, can Bush accomplish anything substantial during his trip to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico? At best, his mere presence will remind people that the left-wing ``tilt'' is not the real story coming out of the region. The real story is the gradual modernization of a good part of the left. Brazil and Uruguay are governed by leftists who share liberal democratic values and broadly support the market economy. By negotiating a trade agreement with Washington, Uruguay's Tabare Vazquez is defying his next-door neighbor, anti-American Argentine President Nestor Kirchner.

The other countries on Bush's itinerary are all governed by the center-right. That crowd was feeling pushed against the wall by the perception that the left was sweeping the region, but Felipe Calderon's victory in Mexico and his assertive language in favor of globalization are giving moderates new confidence. Bush's presence will certainly reinforce the thinking that the battle for Latin Americans' soul has not yet been won by Chavez and the loony left.

That, I suggest, will be the only significant outcome of this trip, because Bush is not in a position to give his interlocutors anything more tangible.

In the case of Brazil, for all the talk about a joint push for an ethanol revolution, the U.S. visitor has no intention of repealing the 54 percent tariff on ethanol imports, even if such a move would probably be the only way to make good on his aim to replace 20 percent of U.S. oil consumption with biofuels by 2017.

As for Uruguay's trade aspirations, the Bush administration is having trouble persuading the U.S. Congress to pass the free trade agreements recently signed with Panama, Colombia and Peru. Also, the president's authority to negotiate deals directly is due to expire in four months.

In Colombia, apart from passage of the FTA, President Uribe would like more aid for his fight against the narco-guerrillas. However, a protectionist U.S. Congress and the recent scandal in which Uribe has been (unfairly) blamed for links between right-wing paramilitary groups and the political establishment make Colombia's case a hard sell in Washington these days.

Finally, in Guatemala and especially Mexico, there is only one thing Bush could really do to make his hosts' day -- immigration reform. Mexican President Calderon has been courting U.S. favor since he came to office by leading a tough anti-drug campaign. And yet Bush, who probably has the right instinct on immigration, has so far been unable to move his party on the issue.

This trip will be about good will, redressing the perception that Chavez dominates the region, and little more. Not a bad thing, considering that it is about time Latin America assumed its own responsibilities.


Categories:

5 Comments

Great, another back-slapping junket
I hope the president has fun!

nobody with "a long driveway" has good instincts
about immigration, certainly not bush.

Too much wealth insulates them from the damage this massive invasion has wrought.

If any of you out there in TCS land disagree, I'm betting you're either illegal yourself or similarly insulated by wealth.
Those of us that have to live next to illegals have had enough.

Agreed
It wasn't as big a deal in the 80s when the problem was generally confined to border states and big cities(because they could blend into neighborhoods there), but illegals (mostly Mexicans with a smattering of other Latinos) are spreading out to all parts of the country and creating ghetto-like conditions in smaller towns.

But the big problem is that they are no longer almost all families looking for work. Entirely too many are young males coming here for the sole reason of selling drugs and getting involved in murder and mayhem. Only a handfull of high-profile cases have made the news; a lot more goes on that you don't hear much about (MSM media bias at work again??)

Then there is the national security issues. And the fact that so many from overseas are here illegally.

The best thing for the US to do: Drop tariffs and trade barriers, Second: Nothing.
Leadership from Bush? That is worthwhile.

The best thing the US can do for Latin America is to drop all tariffs and trade barriers including those on SUGAR, REFINED FUEL, ELECTRICITY and agriculture.

Short of that, the best thing for Bush to do is nothing. Latin America is progressing fine, and Brazil is one of the fastest growing economies on earth. Bush can only screw up the situation and make these folks dislike us more than they already do.

As for Chavez and his buds. I say let him go and do his thing. His plan is for misery, poverty and eventually mass murder. Let the Latin Americans see Chavez at his best and they should get the message that his philosophy is dead. Besides if Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao can get people to realize that socialism is bad then there ain't no way Bush can do it.

B vs. C
I wouldn't worry too much about the aspiring Castro protege, Chavey. It's also funny and ironic to see him blow about $20billion trying to buy friends around the area. Of course they'll take his money, but I think most know that Chavey can't probably last too long, and certainly not get to be the way he would like; same as Cuba. Many latin americans in their heart of hearts know that what happens if you're freindly to the States, you might end up like Chile, or Costa Rica, the best places down there. It must also be humiliating for Chavey that his private fiefdom know has about 20% inflation, thus price controls, thus shortages already. Does anyone notice that all the illegal immigrants DONT go to Venezuela, or Cuba.

TCS Daily Archives