With a visit this week from the Canadian prime minister and a
trip to Mexico planned for Feb. 16, President Bush has begun what
he calls a new foreign-policy emphasis on the Western Hemisphere.
In doing so, Mr. Bush is trying to start his White House tenure
with an agenda that plays to his strengths - including his
friendship with Mexico's President Vicente Fox.
Yet in taking on the Western Hemisphere, Bush will face difficult
issues that have been simmering for years, including the expansion
of free-trade agreements, drug trafficking in Colombia, and
troubling political developments in Venezuela.
Although President Clinton made improvements in some of these
areas, he was criticized for not having a comprehensive regional
policy and lacking long-term focus. Analysts say Bush will have a
hard time reversing that trend.
"I expect the Bush administration to continue the Clinton policy
of focusing on trade rather than dealing with issues like poverty
and social justice," says Larry Birns, director of the Council on
Hemispheric Affairs here.
After meeting this week with Canadian Prime Minister Jean
Chretien, Bush was optimistic he could gain ground in free trade, a
contentious topic in the United States.
"I want the people of my country to understand that a foreign-
policy priority of my administration will be this hemisphere," Bush
said. "And we have great opportunities in this hemisphere to spread
South of the border
Bush's first test could come during the visit to Mexico. Although
Bush will surely applaud the democratic election of Mr. Fox, which
ended decades of one-party rule in Mexico, he will also have to
confront some subtle disagreements between the US and its southern
For one, Fox has proposed opening the 2,000-mile border for
immigration and labor, which is troubling to many in the US. Also,
Mexico is urging Washington to change its policy of holding an
annual congressional review of Mexico's drug policy, which has been
a steady source of embarrassment. Instead, Mexican officials have
said, the US should work with them as an equal partner on drug
issues, to stem both the supply and demand.
After his trip to Mexico, Bush is expected to meet in Washington
with the president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Brazil is
considered to be the region's linchpin, yet it has had differences
with the US on key topics, including how to stop the regional
But the meeting between Mr. Cardoso and Bush will probably focus
on something different: the April 20 Summit of the Americas, to be
held in Quebec City, Canada.
At the summit, Bush is expected to try to cement a long-term US
goal of creating free trade within the hemisphere, all the way from
Antarctica to Alaska. …