Thursday, August 15, 2002

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Andres Oppenheimer seems optimistic about the possibilities of economic revival in Latin America following the recent vote in Congress granting Bush fast-track trade negotiating authority. I'm not so hopeful. For one thing, the Bush Administration had ample opportunity to exercise leadership in resolving the economic crisis in the region before the fast-track vote by influencing the IMF, the World Bank, and other international lenders to help Argentina weather its economic storm. The Bush Administration let Argentina down and hung that desperate country and its people out to dry. (Larry Rohter has a very good take on this story.) Now, it has come to Brazil's and Uruguay's aid in ways that it wouldn't (apparently still won't) do for Argentina. But it is interesting that the change in attitude towards Brazil and Uruguay took place only after fast-track approval got the Bush administration drooling over the prospects of greater access to Latin American markets, and specifically to the significant Brazilian market. Free Trade deals, which offer more tangible and immediate $$ benefits to the US, are not the only way to stabilize economic woes in the region. Leading multilateral bailout and relief packages for the sake of helping a neighbor in crisis is another way - though the tangible benefits to the US in such a strategy are not as immediately obvious. I'm all for free trade; and, like Oppenheimer, I am glad to see the Bush Administration with the authority to pursue this means of helping to resolve Latin America's economic difficulties. But a fair-weather friend is not necessarily a good friend, nor is a fair-weather friend an apt leader to rally and unify the region. At this point, the recent economic legacy of the Bush Administration in Latin America, in spite of the hot-air puffery regarding the region that came with the fast-track approval, is certainly not worthy of my hopeful optimism. And it will take more than just a hemisphere-wide free trade agreement, if Bush can even pull that off, to change my mind.

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