Capitalism for Campesinos

Por Venezuela Real - 9 de Marzo, 2007, 9:27, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

The Wall Street Journal
March 9, 2007;

It's easy to dismiss Presidential trips as PR exercises, but President Bush's five-day swing through Latin America is more important than the coverage is making it sound. As much as Latins love to hate their northern neighbor, they hate to be ignored even more.

This is Mr. Bush's eighth trip to Latin America since 2001, and his most important stop may be his meeting with new Mexican President Felipe Calderón on Tuesday. The visit is designed to signal support for the new president and confirm Mr. Bush's backing for a guest worker program for Mexican migrants and better security cooperation along the border. With Congress threatening to build a wall between our two nations, Mr. Bush's visit will show Mexicans that the U.S. remains a friend and solid business partner.

Mr. Bush's stop on March 11 to visit America's most reliable ally in the region, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, will be the first visit to Bogotá by a U.S. President since Ronald Reagan. This is also a show of solidarity toward a nation that has suffered decades of terrorism at the hands of the rebel FARC army that is now heavily funded by American demand for cocaine. With Colombia's neighbor, Venezuela, engaged in a major weapons build-up, Mr. Uribe can use the support.

Defense and security initiatives have their limits without development, which is why Mr. Bush will visit an indigenous community in Guatemala where local entrepreneurs have blossomed as Wal-Mart suppliers. The success of these previously impoverished farmers will highlight the soft bigotry of low expectations practiced by Bolivia's President Evo Morales, whose assaults against property rights threaten to increase misery among Indians in his country.

In Uruguay, Mr. Bush will be welcomed by left-of-center President Tabaré Vázquez, who has had a strained relationship with neighbor Argentina and would readily embrace closer economic ties with the U.S. Alas, the U.S. farm lobby has blocked any new opening to Uruguayan goods so that visit will be largely symbolic.

Which brings us to today's stop in São Paulo, where Mr. Bush will meet with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva. The pair will sign some sort of ethanol production accord, but this is another case of lost opportunity thanks to U.S. protectionism. Lula wants a tax cut for Americans -- that is, an end to the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff that the U.S. imposes on Brazilian ethanol made from sugar -- and Mr. Bush agrees. But Congress's corn-ethanol lobby won't oblige. So Mr. Bush will have to satisfy Brazilian commercial ambitions with promises of "cooperation" on research and hype about a government-led international biofuels market. We doubt Brazilians will be impressed.

This is the root of the U.S. problem in Latin America: the lack of trade leadership. The 2002 Bush steel tariffs did their share of harm, but the biggest obstacle is Congress. The Central American Free Trade Agreement barely passed last year, and now Democrats are saying they want to renegotiate bilateral deals with Peru and Colombia that have already been signed. Trade is by far the biggest leverage the U.S. has in the region, and the best tool for improving living standards and strengthening democracy. If Congress fails to renew "fast-track" negotiating authority this year, the problem will get worse.

The best alternative to Hugo Chávez's Marxist revival is the vision Mr. Bush offered earlier this week to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: "Latin America needs capitalism for the campesino, a true capitalism that allows people who start from nothing to rise as far as their skills and their hard work can take them." It's a shame Mr. Bush can't reinforce that message with greater promises of access to the U.S. market.
     





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