After Panama, What?
Ceremonies surrounding the transfer of the Panama Canal on Dec. 14 should not spell the end of U.S. strategic interest in Latin America. The region remains vital to national security.
Why should Americans care about Latin America?
* Reason No. 1: Our economy depends upon trade with Latin and South America. Forty percent of our trade - an engine of our world-beating economic expansion this decade - occurs with the nations of this hemisphere; Canada and Mexico are our largest trading partners. Venezuela is our top supplier of foreign crude oil and, after Saudi Arabia, Mexico is our third-largest supplier of oil.
* Reason No. 2: national security. In a hemisphere where every nation but Cuba is democratic, it would seem that threats to the United States are virtually non-existent. This thinking is gravely mistaken.
Colombia's vicious guerrillas have the potential to cause dramatic additional damage to Colombia and surrounding nations such as Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Economically, other nations in the region are struggling in the wake of the Asian economic crisis and Russian default. Unless North American leaders can find a way to deliver the promise of democracy to a majority of their citizens, not just a narrow band at the top, democracy itself will begin to be questioned. Over time, this could lead to the re-emergence of a cadre of populist leaders, perhaps democratically elected, perhaps not, reversing the trend toward freer markets and honest elections.
* Reason No. 3: The United States and its southern neighbors face common threats of illegal drugs, immigration and terrorism. Some 80 percent of the cocaine that reaches the United States comes from or through Colombia. Mexico and the Caribbean Basin including Central America send more immigrants to the United States, legal and illegal, than anywhere else.
* Reason No. 4: Latin America is also a source of solutions for vexing social problems. Chile's open market approach leads the world as an example of successful economic reform focusing on Chile's innovative social security privatization plan. …