US-Latin America Policy Running on Empty

By Hakim, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

US-Latin America Policy Running on Empty


Hakim, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor


Washington's relations with Latin America now appear as good as they've ever been. These ties are largely devoid of conflict, anti- Americanism has diminished sharply, and governments throughout the region seek greater economic cooperation with the US.

These favorable circumstances, however, reflect accomplishments earlier this decade, and are now sustained mostly by inertia. US policy today is running on empty. Across the board, Washington's initiatives toward Latin America have stalled.

*The US hasn't had an ambassador in Brazil for a year - and none in Argentina for three years. Together these nations account for almost half of Latin America's economic activity. Embassy vacancies may not make substantive policy differences, but they are interpreted as a sign of declining US interest in the region. The Senate foreign affairs committee, led by Jesse Helms, is mainly to blame, but few in Latin America grasp the distinction between purposeful US policy and congressional obstructionism. *In December 1994, at the first Summit of the Americas in Miami, President Clinton agreed with the 33 other participating heads of state to establish a free-trade area encompassing the entire hemisphere. Formal negotiations were officially launched at the 1998 summit in Chile - but the administration's failure to gain congressional approval of fast-track negotiating authority has raised doubts about US interest, and diminished hemispheric enthusiasm for the enterprise. Mr. Clinton's continued declarations of commitment to regional free trade have lost credibility, because no one sees how he can make good on them. *Also at the Miami Summit, Clinton pledged to bring Chile quickly into the free-trade agreement among the US, Canada, and Mexico. He promised as well to enhance trade links with Central America and the Caribbean so that they would not lose export and investment opportunities to Mexico. The US is no closer today to fulfilling either of these commitments than it was four years ago. *In 1994, the US sent armed forces to Haiti to oust a military dictatorship and restore elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to office. Haiti hasn't advanced much in establishing a minimally effective government, but small contingents of US and Canadian troops have helped keep a measure of order there. …

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