Latin America may become an unintended casualty of September 11. Before the terrorist attacks, US policy-makers were warming toward their hemispheric neighbors. The meeting between US President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox brought hopes that the region would be a top priority in Washington. However, after the tragedy of September 11, one kind of US isolationism ended regarding Europe and the Middle East, but another began with respect to Latin America.
Many Latin American scholars and analysts share the same fears. As Harvard Professor Jorge Dominguez argues, the only Latinoamericanist of the Bush administration, Bush himself, is now too busy to pay attention to Latin America, and there are not many others in his administration who care about the rest of the hemisphere. Peter Hakim, director of the Interamerican Dialogue, explains that, "For better or worse, Latin America--which before September 11 was considered among the White House's highest priorities--will be profoundly affected by United States actions in the coming months. What remains in doubt is whether Washington will take much account of the region in its decision-making." Felipe Gonzalez, a former prime minister of Spain, wrote in November 2001 that Latin America risks becoming irrelevant because it is not a threat to the United Sates. However, he feels this may also create an opportunity because the region can be part of the solution. Moises Naim, director of Foreign Policy magazine, has pointe d out that the invisibility of Latin America is not too serious if it only concerns politics and military affairs, but it is very dangerous if Wall Street erases the region from its radar.
The United States' apathy toward Latin America also worries many leaders in the region. There is widespread uneasiness about what will happen in this new era: Latin America certainly does not appear to be a priority, and this is quite possibly not just a momentary separation but the beginning of a long trend in US and European policies. In this sense, a new focus on Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Muslim world will most likely represent a new blindness toward Latin America.
Furthermore, the ways in which the region can be a desirable partner with the United States and the European Union are not clear. Since September 11, world attention has focused on the war against terrorism and international coalition building, and the coalition seems to calculate the importance of a country only with regard to its potential support. As Bush said, the line is clear: you are either "with us" or with the terrorists.
Most Latin American governments are very committed to the effort against terrorism, at least rhetorically, but some in the region have a history of criticizing US policies. This can provoke an ambiguous position in which government cooperation with antiterrorist efforts is outside public view for fear of being seen as too close to the United States.
Latin America already had very complex difficulties before September 11. While the region has been doing all the things recommended to rise above its limitations, the programs are not working. The lack of growth, high poverty rate, and threats to democracy are bad omens. As Barbara Stallings and Wilson Peres have observed, "Post-reform growth was lower than the region's past performance, lower than in some other regions, and lower than necessary to deal with the region's social problems."
The implosion of Argentina clearly demonstrates that some problems cannot be fixed using international recipes for growth, and most other Latin American countries are suffering the political fallout from the same economic slowdown. It is not difficult to see that the Argentine government failed to keep its deficit under control and the exchange rate competitive. What is more difficult to understand is the extraordinary mix of social pressures and populist legacy that has led to financial distress. …