The United States and Latin America

Article excerpt

Days after the troublesome events in December 1994 of the collapse of the Mexican currency a bipartisan coalition in the US Congress, led by Rep. Peter DeFazio (Democrat from California), Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (Republican - New York) and Sen. Ernest Hollings (Democrat - South Carolina), backed by a significant segment of the US public, called for the repeal of the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and a lessening of ties with Mexico. Many in the US were outraged at the offer from President Clinton to support the Mexican currency with billions of dollars in US guaranteed loans.

What many in the US fail to realise, however, is the close interdependence of not only the US and Mexico, but also of North and South America. The American media in this country have failed to convey to the American electorate the growing significance of its southern neighbours. One consequence is the narrow and stereotypical understanding that Americans have of Mexico and the rest of Latin America. The media, and therefore, the public, are only interested in Latin America and the Caribbean when the news is about drugs, violence, guerrillas, natural catastrophes and coups. In short, news organizations treat the region as little more than a source of drugs and brown-skinned immigrants. In the end, the public only mirrors what the media feed it.

The media have opted to ignore the relevance of Latin America. On the eve of the historic Summit of the Americas held in December 1994 in Miami, the television network CNN led its newscast by asking Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown several questions concerning the firing of US Surgeon General Jocelyn Edwards. Perhaps more disconcerting, none of the major newspapers including The New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today, gave front-page coverage to an event and a region that not only promises to have an enormous impact on the US economy and jobs for the next twenty years, but currently has significant political and cultural relevance for the US. This chronic ignorance and disinterest in its southern neighbours, at a time when US economic growth and jobs depend on growing markets like Latin America, is both counterproductive and irresponsible.

The thirty-three other nations of this hemisphere, which include Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, do not represent nations on distant continents, but nations in our neighbourhood - a neighbourhood that has grown increasingly tight-knit due to telecommunications, transportation, cultural and economic links. The success of the region in confronting problems of crime, narcotics, poverty, migration, the environment and political stability have an enormous impact on the United States. So arguments and misguided questions coming from less informed people who ask, `with all the demands at home and elsewhere in the world, what's so important about Latin America and the Caribbean? What's in it for us?' are irrational and counterproductive. The interdependence of North and South America has become undeniable in light of the technological revolution and our common needs and interests for the coming 21st Century.

In the 1950s, only about one per cent of the US GNP came from exports. Today, that number has increased to 23 per cent which signifies that a larger percentage of US jobs are in the export sector. United States merchandise exports support approximately 7.2 million jobs - that figure could rise to 13 million by the end of the decade. In 1992, candidate Clinton claimed that one in five US jobs was tied directly or indirectly to global trade. As a result, President Clinton has sought to convince the US public that hemispheric integration and economic growth in Latin America translate into US jobs. In other words, it is only through trade with Latin America that North Americans can find more markets for their products and services - and thus create more jobs at home.

In light of this, how can the US undervalue a region that has moved further than any other region in the last five years in restructuring and opening their economies to US trade and investments? …