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Latin America: Kerry’s Promises or Goals?

By Alexandra Beech,

Until recently, I wondered whether Senator Kerry’s battery was depleted. However, recent actions, such as refusing to cross a picket line in Boston for a mayor’s conference, and today’s article in the Miami Herald, prove that Senator Kerry does indeed have a pulse. And that pulse has a faint Latin beat.

In today’s Miami Herald, Senator Kerry writes that Latin America enjoyed a “remarkable period in the 90’s”. During the Clinton years, “soldiers returned to their barracks, civil wars were quelled, new democratic leaders were elected,” bringing in “new opportunities for cooperation on issues ranging from fighting poverty and crime to enhancing education and promoting freedom of the press.”

Then Bush took office, and “since 2000 democracy has taken a dramatic turn for the worse.” Kerry blames the “deterioration” on “President Bush's failed policies.”

I’m not a Republican. I once voted for Bob Dole as a protest to keep President Clinton on his toes, but then it was obvious that Clinton was going to win New York.

However, to blame Bush for Latin America’s problems is laughable at best, and racist at worst. Bush is neither the creator nor the solver of Latin America’s problems. Most of Latin America’s problems have been created, and certainly exacerbated, by its own inefficient and corrupt governments – right, center, and left.

And to state that Latin America’s problems started in 2000 may indeed win Kerry votes - among Hispanics with amnesia.

Senator Kerry writes: “In Argentina, the Bush administration stood aside and watched as the economy spiraled downward and mob violence forced the president from office.” The Bush administration “stood aside”? What was it supposed to do? Argentina’s economic woes started way before Bush, back when Menem’s chic dollarization plan was applauded by so-called world “experts”. These experts, many based in New York, wined and dined then economy minister Domingo Cavallo, even when the ship was already filling with water. In fact, even the IMF praised Argentina’s policy; the country was considered a rising star through most of the 1990’s. Argentina’s problems were created by the Argentinean government, which never pursued a strong fiscal policy. In fact, its fiscal policy was incredibly weak; in addition, it failed to pursue structural reforms, such as fiscal, tax, spending, and provincial revenue co-participation reforms. In 1999, it failed to phase out the convertibility regime, which pegged the Argentinean peso to the dollar, to a floating regime. That compounded the magnitude of the economic imbalances, culminating in, but not beginning the crisis of 2001-2002. The bottomline is that Menem spent more than he received from privatizations, so he indebted the country to the point of no return. The Bush administration did fail Argentina, by acting way too late and in an irresponsible way, by pursuing a political solution for an economic crisis and irresponsibly providing large amounts of IMF financing that worsened the country’s looming debt crisis. The magnitude of the crisis ended President De la Rua’s administration, which was weak and hesitant. But it was not Bush that created the country’s problems. Fundamentally, former Argentinean governments, such as Menem’s and De la Rua’s, should be held accountable.

Senator Kerry writes: “In Bolivia, Bush encouraged the election of a pro-market, pro-U.S. president and did nothing to help the country when riots shook the capital and the president was forced to flee.” Again, it was the Bolivian Congress which in 2002 elected Sanchez de Losada, a 72 year old millionaire. The other option was the radical Indian leader Evo Morales. Did Bolivia’s problems begin and end with Sanchez de Losada? Bolivia’s greatest problem is its endemic poverty; over 80% of the country’s Indian population is poor. “Per capita income of $930 is the lowest in the Spanish-speaking Americas, and rural poverty and infant mortality compare to sub-Saharan Africa’s, “ according to Freedom House. Democracy combined with misery breeds rebellion. Sanchez de Losada remained in office only for one year – in October 2003, he resigned, following a month of protests and road blockages by Bolivia’s indigenous groups, which opposed a planned energy project and natural gas sales. What was Bush supposed to do then? Send in Marines to quell the riots? Mediate with the indigenous groups? Finance social marketing campaigns to explain why the economy had failed the poor? Isn’t that precisely the interventionism that democrats deplore? Now, evidence is surfacing that it is Chavez, not Bush, that may have financed Evo Morales and the indigenous movement. It’s likely that Bolivia’s indigenous movement will not rest until Morales is in power. Bush can’t take the blame for Bolivia.

Senator Kerry writes: “In Venezuela, Bush welcomed a new government installed by the generals as the elected president sat in military custody, only to see the president restored to power within hours.” What Kerry fails to mention is that the “elected president” was President Chavez who had activated a deadly plan which gave the military discretionary power to shoot civilians. That same evening, mysterious bullets were shot from the tops of buildings surrounding the presidential palace – and nineteen Venezuelans died. The generals who acted that day believed that President Chavez had violated the constitutional and democratic principles that they were trained to uphold. To state that Bush welcomed a regime change is to disregard the will of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who had marched that day demanding change. Today, it is the Venezuelan opposition, and not Bush, which is fighting for change by pursuing a recall referendum enshrined in the Bolivarian constitution. Only one coup clearly took place in Venezuela, and it was in the 90’s. It was lead by Lt.Col. Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias on February 4, 1992.

Senator Kerry also mentions “a quasi-military coup that ousted a democratically elected, albeit flawed, regime” in Haiti, and Cuba, “the angry red scar in a sea of democratic blue.” Again, Haiti’s problems were created within Haiti. It was the Haitian government’s inability to address economic problems at home, including poverty, which led to Aristide’s flight out. Concerning Cuba, George Walker Bush was around thirteen years old when Castro first soiled his hands with the blood of dissidents. What could the Bush administration have done to prevent the latest rash of arrests? If Castro survived Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton, he will certainly survive Bush.

What countries does Kerry omit from this ode to the nineties?

- Chile, which has enjoyed an yearly average growth of 3.5% since 2000;

- Brazil, (its largest country), which recovered from a shattering 1999 crisis to grow at an average rate of 2.2% since 2000; Lula’s personal popularity is 54%*;

- Colombia, which has grown at a yearly average rate of 2.3% since 2000; Uribe’s popularity is over 60%.

Why not congratulate President Bush for these Latin American successes? If he’s responsible for the region’s failures, he should certainly be held accountable for its good fortunes. That doesn’t make sense, does it? It doesn’t make sense because Latin American governments are responsible both for their own failures and successes.

Still, President Bush’s inefficient policies in Latin America have alienated the US government’s relationship with Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay, and even Mexico. There is an anti-US trend in Latin America, which should concern future US governments for decades to come. The only solid relationship that the US government enjoys today is with Colombia. That may hinder future trade relations, drug wars, anti-terrorism initiatives, overall economic performance, and potentially, debt commitments.

I congratulate Senator Kerry for offering “practical goals”, such encouraging international support for dissidents, the creation of a Council for Democracy which can “work with the OAS to resolve crises”, and increased funding for the National Endowment for Democracy. Those are tangible and realistic goals. Let’s hope that these initiatives are not campaign promises, and that if he’s elected, Senator Kerry will focus on Latin America. Now more than ever, the region urgently requires attention and support.

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