Monday, March 10, 2008

Latin America: like the French, they're there when they need you

Tony Saca, el presidente of El Salvador, wants the U.S. to create a "Marshall Plan" to invest massively in South America. There's only one phrase to describe what he and other Latin Americans want of the United States: wealth redistribution. Free trade is one thing, but when other nations bring up the Marshall Plan and "investment," Americans had better watch out for their wallets.
WASHINGTON -- El Salvador's President Tony Saca, a close U.S. ally, can scarcely contain his frustration.

He calls U.S. politicians "shortsighted" for failing to reform U.S. immigration laws. He says Latin American populism is "a pendulum swing towards disaster" that deserves more U.S. attention.

"The United States, in my judgment, should invest enormous resources in Latin America, along the lines of a Marshall Plan," he said in a recent interview. "Generally speaking, when you want to have a neighborhood that gives you peace of mind, you have to invest in that neighborhood."
"Extortion" is the only word to describe this. If you Americans don't appease us, he's saying, we're going to make you very sorry. It's no different than American citizens demanding that the government "invest" money in poor neighborhoods, with the implied threat that it prevents riots. Real, voluntary investment is one thing, when entrepreneurs realize a profit opportunity and seize upon it. But when government "invests" in American neighborhoods, or Latin American countries, it's as voluntary as a mugger stealing my wallet to give to Greenpeace (or any other organization I would never willingly give money to).

Saca isn't even to the level of being a "mojado." At least illegal immigrants from Latin America make the effort to come to the U.S. Saca wants to stay at home and receive American dollars.

I'm pretty open on immigration, believing the United States should welcome people who yearn for real freedom, but what I do not believe in is the redistribution of wealth -- whether it's by my neighbors "voting" to seize my property, by "Pablo" and "Maria" coming across the border so my tax dollars can pay for their health care and their children's education, or Latin Americans who feign "friendship" just so the U.S. will tax me to send them more money. American governments are as stupid and naive as a schoolboy who considers classmates his "friends" when they're merely taking advantage of toys and treats he gives them. It's worse with government, though, because the schoolboy's parents can realize his errors and put an end to it. Government, with its usurped power to lay its hands upon any and all tax dollars it can, has no such limitation.
There may be little the United States can do for Saca. President Bush has increased aid to Latin America by record amounts and visited Latin America more than any of his predecessors, but he remains unpopular and unable to pass initiatives that Latin Americans want, like immigration reforms and free-trade pacts. His legacy may be the biggest loss of U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere in recent memory.
This is no different than schoolyard "friends" who are never satiated with what they're given, complaining "I thought you were my friend!" when the schoolboy in fact has already given much.
"Requiem for the Monroe Doctrine" is how academic Daniel Erikson put it in an article for Current History, referring to the 1823 declaration by President James Monroe that put the Western Hemisphere off-limits to outside powers.
Erikson is the latest demonstration that "academics" tend to not know what the hell they're talking about. The Monroe Doctrine wasn't about the United States continually taking from American citizens to give "aid" to Latin America. The Doctrine was a warning to European nations that they were to cease colonization in the Americas and henceforth not interfere in the affairs of nations in the Americas, and that the United States would forcibly defend them against European incursions. Unfortunately, this sense of "guardianship" bred such arrogance that the U.S. did plenty of its own meddling in Latin American affairs during the 20th century, but that's a topic for another time.
Trade between South America and China is booming. Governments from Canada to Iran are cutting deals in the region, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has made challenging U.S. interests his foreign-policy mission, through everything from sweet oil deals to a TV news channel that rivals CNN.
If you read the rest of the article, the U.S. is still the most important trading partner of all Latin American nations. If they don't like what the U.S. is doing, fine, but the fact is that they need the U.S. a lot more than the U.S. needs them.

If Latin America can do so well without the U.S., why are economists worried that any U.S. economic slowdown will trickle south to Latin America?

Furthermore, why should the U.S. fear additional trade anywhere? "A rising tide lifts all boats," whether it's China trading with Mexico, or Canada importing ethanol from Brazil. This "news" article is employing the old liberal fallacy that if your neighbor grows more prosperous, it somehow "steals" or at the very least "competes" with your own prosperity. Nothing could be further from the truth. If China grows more prosperous, that's more real wealth flowing through the global economy. Everyone -- that is, everyone competitive -- can benefit from the increased wealth, which creates a greater capability to buy goods and services from others, and invest in others who provide goods and services.

What also couldn't be further from the truth is believing that Chavez is a threat to the U.S. For all his saber-rattling, as McQ noted at QandO, the U.S. is still his most important buyer of Venezuelan crude, and one of the few buyers who can actually do something with Venezuela's somewhat unique type of crude oil. And if you want to talk about Chavez's alleged competitor to CNN, playing along with the ludicrous notion that CNN is some gold standard of journalism, Chavez's "news" isn't based on competition, but shutting out the competition so it can control what's broadcast, including broadcasting soap operas so that the regular Venezuelan Jose en la calle ("Joe on the street") doesn't know about the anti-Chavez protests.
Think-tank specialists are debating whether Bush, globalization or both are to blame, and whether a change in the United States' unpopular position on Cuba might help. Democrats say the Bush White House has ignored the region. But the reality is that whoever wins the White House in November will confront a dramatically different geopolitical situation from the one that Bush faced when he was inaugurated in 2001.
The "reality," as the article admitted just a couple of paragraphs before, is that Bush has been throwing more money at the problem than anyone before ("President Bush has increased aid to Latin America by record amounts and visited Latin America more than any of his predecessors"), but his political opponents at home have prevented him from pursuing his desired policies toward Latin America.
"The world has changed in fundamental ways, and the big question is whether the next administration can understand that and adjust to that," Michael Shifter, with the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, told a recent gathering in Washington.

"The United States is not as important as it used to be. A lot of countries -- I'm talking about Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela -- have much more complicated international relations," he added. "There are much more options than there were before."
If the United States is so now unimportant, then let Latin Americans prove it. They can stop trading with the United States, and they can stop trying to immigrate here. Let's see who missed the other side first, shall we?
In the 1990s, most of Latin America and the United States shared a common purpose of promoting free trade, democracy and free-market reforms known as the "Washington Consensus."

But many Latin Americans became disenchanted with economic reforms of the 1990s and resented the Bush administration's focus away from the region after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Iraq invasion only angered Latin Americans more.
Naturally. They wanted to be the center of attention, and they looked at all the money being spent on Iraq and wished they could have the money spent on them.
"There was a rejection of Washington Consensus-era policies," says Geoff Thale, with the left-leaning advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America. "We haven't had anything to offer in its place."
Contrary to the article's implications (since it is, after all, talking about "free trade"), Thale is a socialist who doesn't care about free trade so much as he wants the United States to wave a magic wand and fix Latin America's self-induced problems of "poverty" and "income equality."

That's right: Latin America's problems are self-induced. Back in 1996, Peter Hakin wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs that half-blamed the U.S. but also pointed out that "The United States is not the only culprit, however. Latin American leaders have also performed badly. Most Latin American governments have only partially completed the political and economic reforms needed to sustain robust growth and healthy democratic institutions. They have mostly neglected the region's deep economic inequities and social tensions. Too often, Latin American governments have only grudgingly cooperated with the United States and one another. Some of the region's leaders have turned to populist and anti-American rhetoric to win supporters and votes."

Back to the Miami Herald's propaganda:
At the same time, other countries have stepped up their diplomatic and commercial outreach, with Europeans and Canadians pointing out that their foreign policy is more aligned with Latin America's preference for multilateral actions.
The same "multilateral actions" that failed to stop Hitler in 1938 are failing to control Chavez today. Just because several nations come together in agreement does not mean the agreement is correct or just.
The European Union has signed trade and investment agreements with Mexico and Chile, and is negotiating similar pacts with Central America and the Andean Community of Nations, which includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. The Europeans have also signed an "Economic Partnership Agreement" with the 15-member Caribbean Community.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, declaring Latin America a priority of his administration, last summer embarked on a week-long tour of Chile, Colombia, Barbados and Haiti.
As I said above, this is nothing to fear. My neighbors' prosperity does not steal from my own, and in fact may sooner or later help to increase my own.
He cast Canada, which is close to signing a free-trade agreement with Colombia, as a middle course between the United States' hard-edged capitalism and Venezuela's state-centered populism.

"Canada's very existence demonstrates that the choice is a false one," he said.
And in the time for Harper to say this, another Canadian went south of the border for American health care, rather than risk death while waiting at home in Canada.

Logically speaking, Harper's a moron, i.e. on par with your typical Canadian PM. There are always choices, good and bad, righteous and evil. Now as a matter of political philosophy, he's even more of a moron. The only choice is between freedom and coercion. It's still coercion, still tyranny, whether you call it "democracy," "socialism," "fascism" or anything else you want.
Canada is the region's second-largest investor, owning assets worth more than $96 billion. The Canadians are in free-trade talks with Caribbean nations and trade more than $1 billion a year with Cuba.
And why doesn't the article mention here who is the largest investor? Because it happens to be the United States.

Then there's China.

Bilateral trade between China and Latin America jumped from $200 million in 1975 to $47 billion in 2005. According to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, between 2000 and 2006 Brazil increased its imports from China six-fold, to $8 billion. China is Chile's second-biggest market.
It's not all Latin America, despite what the article would have you think. The main driver is China as an emerging export powerhouse. Still, it's wonderful that China and Latin America have grown so prosperous. What rational person wouldn't be happy that the Chinese are exporting so much to Brazil, and that Brazilians and Chileans have become wealthy enough to afford each other's products?

Even so, these statistics aren't as great as you'd think. For one, they're over thirty years, which is hardly a "jump." Now adjust the 1975 figure for inflation, and it becomes more like $790 million. You should experience no more surprise than looking at pictures of an 8-pound newborn, then pictures of it grown up to be 250 pounds at 30 years old.
While seeking raw materials for its industries, China has kept a low political profile, maintaining friendly ties with Cuba and Venezuela but not directly challenging U.S. interests.

China also has historic ties with big left-wing parties in Mexico, Peru and Argentina, writes Argentine scholar Sergio Cesarín in a recent Woodrow Wilson International Center report on China's rise in Latin America.

"When Chinese leaders speak out about their aims and goals in the region, they utilize concepts like growth, mutual benefits, non-interference in internal affairs and, most importantly, development," he writes. These are more palatable to left-wing leaders than free trade or free-market reforms recommended by Washington, he adds.

In 2005, Air China started weekly flights between Beijing and Sao Paolo, the first such route between China and Latin America by a Chinese carrier. Presidents Hu Jintao of China and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva swapped visits in 2004.
The U.S., surprisingly, could take a real lesson from China here. China, at least not overtly, isn't looking to interfere with the governments; it's only looking to trade peacefully.
Since 2005, Chávez and Iran's President Ahmadinejad have visited each other seven times, signing deals on issues as varied as tractor manufacturing and oil exploration and establishing a direct flight between Caracas and Tehran, with a stopover in Damascus. Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have also visited Chávez's allies in Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia.
Tyrants tend to ally with other tyrants. Why shouldn't we be surprised that a known terrorist like Madman Mahmoud wants to be friendly with the likes of socialist dictators Chavez, Daniel Ortega and Evo Morales, and terrorist ally Rafael Correa?
The United States, of course, remains the hemisphere's dominant power. Brazil imported six times more from the United States than China. Immigrants to the United States sent $45 billion in remittances to their families in the region last year.
Of course. Without the United States, the main economic engine of the world, where would Latin America be?
And Bush administration officials dispute the notion that they've ignored the region.

The State Department routinely lists achievements like a $3.4 billion debt-relief package for the hemisphere's five poorest countries, an ethanol-promotion deal with Brazil and a new $1.4 billion anti-drug-trafficking aid package for Mexico and Central America awaiting congressional approval.

Total U.S. aid to Latin America jumped from $1.2 billion in 2001 to -- if Congress approves a budget request -- $2.7 billion in 2009, according to the aid-tracking website
But as I noted above, this is not about encouraging Americans to make true investments in Latin America. It's taking Americans' money against their will and giving it to Latin American governments. And as long as Latin American governments anticipate the steady stream of money continuing, they have no need to pursue necessary economic reforms, let alone be prudent about how they spend the "aid."
Bush has negotiated numerous free-trade deals and met his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva nine times. Bush's trip to Latin America last year was his eighth, more than any president in U.S. history.

The free-trade umbrella now includes Chile, Central America, the Dominican Republic and Peru, with Colombia and Panama waiting in the wings.
What would go a long way is if the U.S. government stopped the half-dollar tariff on Brazilian ethanol. For a couple of years, Bush has talked about reducing the tariff, but it's gone nowhere.
But all that doesn't impress the critics.

"Certainly, there is no consistent pattern of interest or concern in the administration for Latin America," said Riordan Roett, of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and an informal advisor to Sen. Barack Obama's campaign. "Maybe we can't expect this, but there's been no grand scheme, broader integration between the U.S. and Latin America. We're each kind of going our own way."
"Consistent" meaning what? Bush has gone above and beyond liberals' own standards of "foreign aid." Or does Roett use "integration" to mean even more forcible redistribution of Americans' wealth to Latin America?

Why should sovereign American individuals, let alone Brazilians and Colombians and everyone else in the Americas, be subjected to the U.S. and Latin American governments' "grand scheme, broader integration" of their lives?
Luigi Einaudi, a former U.S. diplomat and head of the Organization of American States, says the United States would generate more goodwill if it shuttered the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba, passed a free-trade agreement with Colombia and stopped deporting 70,000 "criminal aliens" every year to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean ill-equipped to receive them.

Some critics say changing the Cuba policy also will help. A new Cuba approach, says Lawrence Wilkerson, a former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, would be a "superb opening toward refurbishing" the Latin America policy that he describes as "bordering on failure."
While it might "generate more goodwill" to shut down Gitmo, it's still fact that a lot of the "detainees" were captured on the battlefield. They're now being given opportunities for trial, albeit military trials, but most were, after all, taken prisoner while fighting American soldiers. It's true that some have been released after having been found innocent (typically turned over to Americans by neighbors with whom they've had feuds), but we've also released "detainees" only to fight and capture them again.

But that, "free trade with Colombia" and Cuba relations are red herrings. The main thing is that Latin America wants unfettered immigration to the U.S. It isn't out of some notion of "freedom," but because their own economies can't sustain the populations, and they need their people to head north and send American dollars back home.
One program initiated by Bush is seen as working: the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which gives aid to countries that pass a set of 17 development indicators, put together by outside watchdogs like Transparency International.

John Danilovich, who heads the program, says MCC is so popular that even Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, an old Cold War foe and Chávez ally, had to admit as much when he visited an MCC program in the northern town of Chinandega.
Once more, it's government taking money from Americans and giving it to Latin Americans. And of course Ortega would be very pleased at the "success." Who doesn't like free money? Returning to the example of schoolchildren, a classmate will happily pretend to like someone, if it means candy and getting to play with toys.
With Danilovich at his side, Ortega ended his speech at a local plaza with the words "Viva Estados Unidos!"
While this sounds very friendly toward the United States, an examination of the Spanish reveals what Ortega really said. He was not referring to the United States. He said only "Estados Unidos," not "los Estados Unidos" or "los Estados Unidos del Norte de America." The latter is the United States' proper name in Latin American circles: "the United States of North America." Along the same lines, Mexico is officially "Estados Unidos Mexicanos," and what Ortega is actually referring to is a union of states, nations, across the Americas.

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