THROUGHOUT the 1980s, the United States and Latin America
clashed on many issues - Central America, the debt crisis, drug
trafficking, and the Malvinas-Falklands war. These conflicts are
today mostly resolved or muted, and the US and Latin America have
begun to enjoy an "era of good feeling." Consider these
* The US is negotiating a free-trade arrangement with Mexico to
accelerate the economic integration of the two countries.
* George Bush has proposed a Western Hemisphere free-trade
system, and virtually every Latin American nation has responded
* The US is cooperating with Latin American nations to restore a
leftist, populist president to power in Haiti.
* Latin American leaders have been pressing President Fidel
Castro of Cuba to join the world trend toward free politics and
* The US is being praised in Latin America for its efforts to
promote peace in El Salvador.
This positive turn in US-Latin American relations should not be
exaggerated. Disagreements and frustrations remain. But the
discourse of US-Latin American relations has changed. It is
increasingly rare for Latin American leaders to confront Washington
or to seek political advantage at home by denouncing the US. Just
the opposite: Most Latin American governments say they want
stronger ties with the US.
President Bush, almost surely without fully realizing it,
captured the new mood of hemispheric affairs when he announced the
Enterprise for the Americas Initiative in June 1990. The Initiative
offered to reduce the $12 billion debt Latin American countries owe
the US Treasury, and proposed creation of a $300 million a year
fund in the Inter-American Development Bank to promote private
To be sure, the Initiative was not conceived as an economic
recovery program for Latin America. It is, in fact, hard to point
to any immediate and tangible economic gains from the proposal.
Bilateral debt reduction will cut Latin America's yearly interest
bill only by about 1 percent. The investment fund is very small.
Despite the current enthusiasm in Washington and Latin America,
hemisphere-wide free trade will be a long time in coming.
What the Enterprise Initiative does is establish a new structure
of incentives to reinforce the region's own reform efforts.
Providing no substantial resource transfers, this is a "self-help
initiative" that promises Latin America an eventual economic
partnership with the US once the region gets its economies in shape.
In the past 18 months, the Initiative has become the centerpiece
of US policy toward Latin America, replacing Washington's waning
interest in Central America. …