The United States has fewer and fewer friends left in Latin America, with Condi Rice making sure of that.
Certainly, the Bush Administration’s policies have left it with few friends anywhere. But Latin America is a special case because as a non-Muslim, non-Arab region, the excuse that “they hate us for who we are” doesn’t quite work. Instead, it’s Washington’s overweening arrogance and free-market zealotry that has made it unpopular in the Americas.
In her current visit to South America, Rice is alienating even more governments. She is snubbing Argentina by not including the country in her itinerary. It seems that the actions of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her predecessor husband, Nestor, over the past some years haven’t been to the Bush Administration’s liking. In a rejection of the free-market straitjacket forced on the developing world by U.S.-controlled multilateral institutions, Argentina crafted autonomous policies, such as fixing an exchange rate for its currency, prioritizing growth over inflation control, and reneging on much of its debt to international creditors.
The result? As economist Mark Weisbrot wrote in the L.A. Times last October, “Argentina [has been] the fastest-growing economy in the Western Hemisphere over the last 5 1/2 years. More than 11 million people, or 28 percent of the population, were pulled above the poverty line as Argentina's economy grew by more than 50 percent. . . . Unemployment has dropped from 21.5 percent to 8.5 percent, and real (inflation-adjusted) wages have grown by more than 40 percent.”
But the welfare of the Argentine people is not the concern of the Bush folks, just the welfare of U.S. banks and multinationals. And things weren’t helped when Nestor Kirchner denounced free-market policies in front of Bush himself at the Americas Summit in 2005, while protesters held anti-Bush demonstrations nearby. Bush pointedly avoided Argentina last year during a visit to the region, and now his deputy is following suit.
What’s further added to U.S.-Argentine tension is an alleged illegal campaign contribution from Venezuela to Argentina. The United States got involved in the affair because a part of the plot was said to be carried out in Florida. The Argentine government is crying “politics,” and given the Bush Administration’s record of politicized prosecutions, I don’t know what to make of the whole thing.
Rice is visiting supposedly friendly governments in Brazil and Chile. But with friends like these… Both Brazil and Chile’s presidents belong to socialist parties. Brazil, as part of the India-Brazil-South Africa coalition (IBSA), has been in the forefront of demands by developing countries to revamp the global economic system on issues ranging from patent protection to agriculture tariffs. Both Brazil and Chile have maintained friendly ties with the Bush Administration’s bete noire in the region, Hugo Chavez (although Venezuela-Chile relations were damaged when Chile, under pressure from Washington, cast an abstention vote on Venezuela’s campaign for a U.N. Security Council seat). What’s redeemed both Brazil and Chile in Washington’s eyes is that they have not been too outspoken in their opposition to U.S. policies and that they’ve not made fundamental departures from the free-market model, even if they have departed from it in certain respects, such as sharp increases in social spending.
Bush's two biggest friends in Latin America are President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia. The former came to power in a highly dubious election while the latter is intimately tied to murderous paramilitary death squads. The quality of its friends in Latin America reveals a lot about the Bush Administration itself.