South American Presidents Assess Regional Problems

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, August 2, 2002 | Go to article overview

South American Presidents Assess Regional Problems


Much of Latin America is experiencing increasing economic, social, and political instability. A recent UN Development Program (UNDP) report confirms that most countries have seen declines in the categories that make up its human development index (HDI). Meanwhile, Latin America's leaders, dealing with growing anger at home, gathered in Guayaquil, Ecuador, for the II Meeting of South American Presidents and expressed their irritation with US protectionism, the abuses of globalization, and the tyranny of a world financial system that they say threatens their democracies.

As the leaders gathered, they were mindful of old and new storms, including the financial collapse in Argentina that is spreading to Brazil and Uruguay; the aftermath of the April attempted coup in Venezuela with thinly veiled US approval; violent anti-government and anti-privatization protests in both Peru and Paraguay; and an expanding war in Colombia that is spilling into neighboring countries.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks in the US, there has also been a growing perception in Latin America that the administration of US President George W. Bush is more and more disengaged from the region.

The agenda of the July 26-27 meeting was devoted to integration, security, and democracy. Many leaders noted that the free-market reforms implemented in the last 20 years have failed in their promise to lift all boats. Although Latin American countries have lowered trade barriers and carried out other reforms, they have not seen the hoped for economic growth or a greater access to US and European markets.

Six of the 10 presidents at the summit are scheduled to leave office by early 2003, which may have contributed to their candor about perceived problems.

"Latin America continues to be marked by its extreme vulnerability, today sharpened by the persistence of protectionist policies and subsidies in industrialized countries," Ecuadoran President Gustavo Noboa said at the opening session. "It is clear that global trade benefits some, but not others."

Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso went further, saying he does not believe conditions exist for finalizing the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), especially when the US is closing its doors and increasing its protectionist measures and farm subsidies.

"They speak of integration [of our economies] as if we are the ones who don't want it, when it is we who most want a democratic integration that tears down trade barriers--but all of them, not just the ones that interest the powerful," said Cardoso. He said he does not see the will among the countries of the industrialized North to "modify the current path of the global economy."

"We witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall but have not seen the transformation of the UN into a tool for building a multipolar world," Cardoso said. "We are in a world governed by a global directorate, the G-8, who fear meeting openly because people distrust them, and, when they meet behind closed doors, they do nothing that benefits the people."

Participants said the best way to promote development is for developed countries to open their markets to Latin American products without tariffs or other protectionist barriers. "We aren't asking for aid but for trade," said Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvar.

Some were quite blunt in calling for the US to preach less about free trade and buy more from the region.

"I've gotten so many pats on the back from the US government that I have a backache," Ecuador's Foreign Minister Heinz Moeller told Guayaquil's Expreso newspaper. "These offers mean nothing. Action means something."

Efforts against drugs and terrorism linked to trade

The presidents committed themselves to the anti-narcotics fight, "taking into account the principle of shared responsibility" between producing and consuming countries, but they also tied the drug war to a need for greater liberalization of markets for alternative products. …

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