Most Latin Americans were pleased that President Bush made his
first foreign trip to Mexico, seeing it as the necessary forerunner
of the enhanced US attention to the entire region that Mr. Bush has
pledged. Bush knows the United States comes out ahead economically
and politically when its close neighbors progress.
But the president's trip to Mexico has to be followed by
initiatives that engage South and Central America, too. Invitations
to Brazilian President Fernando Enrique Cardoso and Colombian
President Andres Pastrana to visit Washington in the coming weeks
are promising signs.
In overall US-Latin relations, Mexico was the right place to
start. No country in the world affects the lives of Americans as
much as Mexico, and vice versa. Mexico buys more from and sells
more to the US than any country except Canada. Almost as many US
immigrants come from Mexico as from the rest of the world combined.
US relations with Mexico are better today than at any time in
memory - and there is every reason to expect them to improve
Most Latin American countries want from Washington what Mexico
already has: a free-trade arrangement providing secure access to US
markets and investment capital. They want a clear signal of the
Bush administration's commitment to hemisphere-wide free trade,
meaning that the White House has to move quickly to renew fast
track negotiating authority, which expired in 1993.
Achieving that authority from Congress will require the White
House to compromise with Democratic lawmakers on how labor and
environment issues should be addressed in trade talks. Without
compromise, there will likely be no fast track, which will be taken
as an unambiguous sign that hemispheric relations are not a high
priority for the administration. Another bad sign would be the
faltering of US free-trade negotiations with Chile, initiated in
the Clinton administration's waning days.
Latin Americans will also be watching President Bush's choices
with regard to Colombia. While appreciating Colombia's need for
help with drugs, criminals, and guerrillas, Latin American leaders
are concerned that the massive US aid effort is too weighted toward
military hardware, that Colombia's violence will spill into their
territorities, and that US military involvement will escalate. They
are also troubled that the United States did not consult with them
in the shaping of its Colombia policy - a mistake that the Bush
team can and should correct. …