After High Expectations, a So-So Year for US-Latin America Relations

Article excerpt

Following the highly successful Summit of the Americas in Miami a year ago, 1995 was expected to be an exceptionally productive year for United States-Latin American relations.

On virtually every important issue, Washington and other hemispheric governments reached wide-ranging policy agreements at the summit. The stage seemed set for a vigorous and comprehensive US policy to enhance political and economic cooperation.

Expectations haven't been met - for a combination of reasons. Good policymaking, international and domestic, was frustrated by the extreme partisanship of US politics this year. The Mexican peso crisis and other setbacks in the region dissipated the spirit generated by the summit. Responsibility for US policy in the hemisphere remained fragmented among many departments and agencies. Nevertheless, Washington can still claim a series of modest accomplishments for its Latin American policy in '95.

Mexican bailout

The administration's most important initiative was assembling a $50 billion package in January to stabilize Mexico's economy following the peso devaluation. Disregarding congressional and public opposition, President Clinton contributed $20 billion in US funds and, despite European objection, persuaded international organizations to put up the rest.

The aid package was crucial in stemming Mexico's slide; it did not, however, propel a quick turnaround, nor will it necessarily produce a sustained recovery. The US could not have done much more, although a visit to Mexico by Mr. Clinton (following the precedent of his last three predecessors) may have bolstered the Zedillo government.

US relations with Brazil, a nation that boasts Latin America's largest population and economy, continued to improve. The summit preparation helped start more productive communication between the two countries, and this was reinforced by the successful visit of Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso to Washington in April. But Brazil and the US haven't yet turned better communication into cooperation on key issues. The US still pays too little attention to Brazil and often lets minor disagreements dominate the relationship.

No one can be happy about progress made toward the summit's central goal: building a hemispheric free-trade area by 2005. The statistical and technical foundations for eventual free-trade talks are being set. …