America's election cycle provides a
regular opportunity to review national policies, including U.S.
relations with Latin America. Of particular interest to candidates
and campaigns is how Hispanics--now the largest minority in the
United States at 13 percent of the population--will vote. Their
numbers have doubled since the 1980s, and many are first-generation
immigrants who fled conflict and poverty back home. In the national
campaigns, proposals are divided between helping the region through
free trade and helping through more development aid. Candidates
want votes, but what is really in America's best interest?
Although Latin America is less stable and
secure than it was 10 years ago and half of the people live in
poverty, the region is rich in resources and human capital. Most
leaders are now democratically elected. However, at the core, many
Latin American societies are not well organized to take advantage
of their potentials. Free trade is not a stabilizer without open
markets, and more development aid could prompt continued financial
policies toward southern neighbors should encourage behavioral
changes that counter traditions of impunity and weak institutions.
Specifically, the U.S. should promote:
- Opportunity through free trade, economic
reforms, and the rule of law;
- Stability through better governance,
checks and balances, and effective local representation;
- Security through regional and sub-regional
military and law enforcement cooperation; and
- Peace through democratic progress in
countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Haiti, where dictatorship
and populism have bred misery and stifled growth.
25 years ago, military dictatorships outnumbered civilian-elected
governments by two to one. Today, all Latin American countries,
except for Cuba and Haiti, hold competitive elections and have
adopted some market-oriented reforms. Even Haiti is inching back
into the democratic column, following the recent resignation of
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Mexico is now the United States' second
largest trade partner, and cooperation on counternarcotics and
border issues has improved for more than a decade. Chile is a
bastion of democratic stability and economic growth in South
America. Abandoning destructive populism, it has signed 20 free
trade agreements, cut poverty from 48 percent to 20 percent, grown
its economy by an average of 6 percent annually, and doubled per
capita income over the past 20 years.
help from the United States, Colombia is successfully prosecuting a
20-year-old drug trafficking industry and resolving a 40-year
guerrilla war. According to the Colombian Ministry of Defense,
homicides are down by 13 percent, kidnappings have fallen by 44
percent, and guerrilla and paramilitary attacks on towns have
dropped by 67 percent in the first five months of 2004, compared to
the same period in 2003. Meanwhile, demobilizations and desertions
among guerrilla and paramilitary groups are up by 62 percent, and
1.2 million jobs have been created since President Alvaro Uribe
took office in 2002.
Meanwhile, cooperative efforts with the United States, Brazil,
Ecuador, and Paraguay have struck blows against arms and drug
trafficking further south.
the minus column, many South American democracies are precarious,
except for Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay. Even though
60 percent of Latin Americans are satisfied with democracy and
market economies, the latest polling data show that 50 percent
would support authoritarian government if it would solve their
problems. Despite elections, weak legislatures and inadequate
judiciaries do not yet check autocratic presidencies or curb
corruption. Political parties often represent their leaders, not
constituent members. Few have platforms that define ideology or
policy agendas. Volumes of complicated and contradictory laws
Transnational crime and gang activity prey on citizens in Central
America where law enforcement is weak and unemployment is high.
Meanwhile, almost 1 million illegal migrants stream across U.S.
borders each year, as 41 percent of Latin Americans live below the
Despite the end of 71 years of single-party rule in the 2000
presidential elections and more than a decade of free trade with
the United States and Canada under the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), broad-based prosperity continues to elude most
Mexicans, whose living standards have not improved since the 1970s.
Although President Vicente Fox's ambitious reform agenda has helped
to streamline business licensing procedures and the maquiladora
(parts assembly) industry has experienced renewed growth, a
fragmented National Congress, partisan unions, and outdated
traditions block more rapid change.
constitution still limits foreign investment in telecommunications
and energy to protect state monopolies like Petróleos
Mexicanos (Pemex) from competition, even as Pemex loses $1 billion
annually to internal corruption and waste. Mexico's centralized, union-controlled
education system pays teachers who fail to show for work and
graduates less than 25 percent of all students from high school. A fifth of Mexico's
workforce of 40 million remains in the agricultural sector, but
half of them are tied to an 80-year-old land-tenure system that
deprives them of property rights and denies access to capital and
modern technology. As a result, more than 90 percent of illegal
migrants apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol come from Mexico,
largely fleeing economic roadblocks back home.
and Haiti. In 1998, Venezuelan President Hugo
Chávez used discontent with the oligarchy's monopoly over
political power and markets to get elected and begin constructing a
populist dictatorship that is strangling private enterprise and
provoking internal conflict. Having restricted citizen rights to
counter threats to his rule, he now controls Petróleos de
Venezuela, the state oil industry, and is using it to finance
social spending to maintain popular support and the Bolivarian
Circles, an unofficial partisan network of neighborhood spies,
patterned after Cuba's Revolutionary Defense Committees.
After obstructing a referendum on his rule
since 2002, Chávez allowed a vote to take place on August
15, 2004--a vote that he reportedly won. However, opponents say
that exit polls showed him losing, while the government's
manipulation of the voter registry and other irregularities suggest
Venezuela, Chávez has encouraged up-and-coming caudillos
(strongmen), including Colombia's leftist rebels and Bolivia's coca
union leaders, and
is playing petroleum politics by shifting sales away from perceived
enemies toward friends like Cuba and oil-thirsty China.
Fidel Castro's 45-year-old dictatorship in
Cuba blocks the realization of the dreams and aspirations of some
11 million citizens. Although no longer a direct threat to the
United States following the collapse of the Soviet empire and
withdrawal of Soviet troops, Cuba remains hostile, sharing
electronic espionage and warfare capability with China and offering
support for and solidarity with international terrorist groups.
Venezuela's agreement to supply cheap oil at concessionary rates
has revitalized a struggling command economy to the point that
Castro has been able to reverse grudgingly approved market reforms,
such as limited self-employment, that followed the Soviet
Ousted by coup in 1991 and restored to
office by the United States in 1994, Haiti's despotic President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned on February 29, 2004, when street
mobs that once supported him turned against his corrupt and chaotic
regime. In accordance with the constitution, Supreme Court Chief
Justice Boniface Alexandre assumed the presidency and began
organizing a provisional government to manage national affairs
until new elections can be held in 2005. Thanks to interim Prime
Minister Gérard Latortue, his coalition cabinet, and
multinational peacekeeping forces from such countries as Chile and
Brazil, Haiti is recovering from years of despotic rule under
previous governments' corruption and malfeasance have left Haiti
with an empty treasury and broken public institutions. Haiti needs
international assistance to rebuild and active donor supervision to
prevent future governments from wasting international assistance.
Trade Versus Aid
Republicans and Democrats see a prosperous, stable, secure Western
Hemisphere as in the United States' interest. Latin American
countries are of primary concern because they are less democratic
and economically self-sustaining than Canada and much of the
Caribbean. Accordingly, Republicans have defined a trade approach
toward engaging Latin America, while Democrats rely more on
sides agree that the United States needs to pay more attention to
Latin America. However, what the region should be doing for itself
is left unsaid.
the record, President George W. Bush took office promising a closer
relationship with hemispheric neighbors called the "Century of the
Americas." However, the White House, occupied by the war on
terrorism, took two and a half years to assemble its Americas team,
leaving Congress and career bureaucrats to handle Latin American
affairs much as they did during the Clinton Administration. To his
credit, President Bush has improved on a number of Clinton-era
trade, security, and development policies.
First, President Bush won bipartisan
congressional backing for trade promotion authority, enabling him
to conclude a free trade agreement with Chile in 2003, negotiate a
trade pact with Central America and the Dominican Republic, and
begin talks for separate accords with Andean countries.
Second, a bipartisan majority approved his
initiatives for expanded counternarcotics and counterterrorism
support for Colombia and surrounding countries, while the
Administration secured greater cooperation from such partners as
Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay.
Third, he incentivized development
assistance by creating a Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) to
reward states that have already adopted basic liberal reforms aimed
at governing justly, investing in their own people, and promoting
Bush Administration has also tightened travel restrictions and
limits on remittances to persons and institutions in Cuba to deny
resources to the Castro dictatorship in hopes of weakening it.
Reversing Clinton's support for personalities over institutions in
Haiti, Bush refused to rescue Jean-Bertrand Aristide when his
corrupt regime fell, ushering in a fresh start.
Other Republicans support similar
prescriptions. In June, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman
Richard Lugar (R-IN) told the General Assembly of the Organization
of American States (OAS) that the region's democracies are in
trouble and specified steps to strengthen the institution. He
suggested an agenda to alleviate poverty, expand property rights,
prepare nations to trade successfully through capacity-building
programs, and raise U.S. contributions to strengthen the OAS. In an article in
Foreign Affairs, Senate International Trade and Finance
Subcommittee Chairman Chuck Hagel (R-NE) declared that "the western
hemisphere must be moved to the front burner of U.S. foreign
policy." He stressed that prosperity through trade agreements such
as NAFTA could finance reform and relieve some of the conditions
that cause people to migrate to the United States.
the other side of the aisle, lawmakers like Representative Bob
Menendez (D-NJ) believe that more aid money should be directed to
improve education, ease housing shortages, improve public health,
and relieve hunger. He sponsored legislation in November 2003,
along with Representatives Cass Ballenger (R-NC) and William
Delahunt (D-MA), to spend $500 million per year on a new Social
Investment and Economic Development Fund for the Americas. While
this would substantially increase U.S. foreign aid to Latin America
(currently $1.3 billion annually), it pales next to the $30
billion in remittances that Hispanic immigrants in the United
States already send to relatives back home.
Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry
(D-MA) has embraced the Menendez proposal and favors tripling the
budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, which funds
projects to enhance democratic governance and civil society in
developing countries. However, progress on trade might languish
under a Kerry presidency. His running mate, Senator John Edwards
(D-NC), has spoken out against U.S.-Latin America free trade pacts
and might persuade Kerry to revisit accords already achieved. New
labor and environmental standards--which Democrats have
consistently tried to attach to recent trade agreements--could
bolster regional distrust of the United States, already exacerbated
by lingering, unproductive trade barriers in the U.S. farm and
Finally, Kerry has added U.S. immigration
reform to his Latin America agenda, favoring changes that would
ease entry and residency requirements without necessarily
addressing the lack of opportunity that causes illegal migrants to
head north. Easing restrictions could encourage a new flood of
jobless migrants, which has occurred after every previous amnesty
and immigration "adjustment."
Partners in Prosperity
America's interests are best served by
measures that encourage Latin American nations to do more to
address their own problems of ineffective governance and blocked
opportunity--troubles that prompt desperate masses to follow
populist demagogues or seek better conditions in the United States.
Trade liberalization without economic freedom creates
opportunities, but it does not always stimulate the behavioral
changes needed to allow people to become prosperous. Aid is a double-edged
sword that can leverage self-initiative or easily halt progress if
not carefully and sparingly applied. Likewise, lax immigration laws
and amnesties take away incentives for neighboring governments to
open their economies so that new businesses can provide more
do what is best for both Latin America and the United States,
candidates of both parties should consider policies that will:
opportunity through free trade and economic reform.
Advances toward hemispheric free trade through new accords with
Central and South American countries should be promoted by the
White House and ratified by the U.S. Congress. At the same time,
American lawmakers should abolish subsidies on U.S. agricultural
products. Any U.S. backtracking on such an agenda could weaken
Latin American economies, threaten jobs, slow reforms, and trigger
more illegal migration to the United States.
Beyond trade, the United States should
persuade more Latin American countries to embrace banking
competition to help the working class and poor obtain affordable
credit, simplify business licensing to help establish more small
enterprises, strengthen property rights so that non-elites can
accumulate wealth, and apply the rule of law so that statutes apply
to everyone--including privileged elites and high government
stability through better governance. Without stable
government, gains in health, infrastructure, and the environment
that are supported by traditional development programs can be
undone. U.S. support should leverage existing private and state
efforts at political reform. Political goals should include
improving citizen representation, enhancing separation of powers,
and promoting equal treatment of all citizens before the law.
Civic education programs and technical
assistance to political parties by the National Endowment for
Democracy, the International Republican Institute, the National
Democratic Institute, and the International Foundation for
Electoral Systems should promote greater member control
(democratization) of political parties--particularly in countries
like Bolivia where the majority indigenous population is
Continued support for judicial reforms
should help to modernize criminal codes, separate prosecutorial and
judicial functions, and establish systematic rules of evidence to
strengthen courts and make them more transparent.
- Improve security
through regional military and law-enforcement cooperation.
To counter today's transnational threats more effectively, the U.S.
should encourage regional partnerships based on day-to-day
military-to-military and civilian-to-civilian cooperation to
promote common standards and protocols. Congress should amend
Section 660 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to allow targeted
support for training and assisting foreign police to ensure their
inclusion in a broad range of programs from justice reforms to
human rights seminars. U.S. Southern Command and the Department of
Homeland Security should use training opportunities to promote
interoperability of military and law enforcement agencies, while
the Organization of American States should be encouraged to direct
its Commission on Hemispheric Security to develop cooperative
protocols to curb emerging threats of transnational crime and
Meanwhile, Congress should continue
support for the Administration's Andean Counternarcotics
Initiative. Over the past two years, drug use has declined in the
United States and, since 2000, coca cultivation in Colombia has
been reduced by about 50 percent. To make the program sustainable over
the long term, the Administration should encourage Colombia to take
greater responsibility for conducting drug crop eradication and
intelligence gathering--tasks that are now performed by U.S.
pressure for reforms in countries where dictatorship and populism
have robbed people's pocketbooks and suppressed popular
Venezuela. As long as President Hugo
Chávez is able to act with impunity, the United States
should insist on international scrutiny by many and varied monitors
to safeguard civil liberties and human rights. U.S. officials
should press consistently for a retreat from populist politics and
markets manipulated by powerful politicians--the curse of many
nations otherwise blessed with abundant natural resources. U.S.
leaders should reduce dependence on Venezuelan petroleum as long as
sales by a state monopoly can be manipulated by the president and
shifted elsewhere--such as to Cuba and China.
The United States should continue to deny U.S. credit and resources
to dictator Fidel Castro while the same time promoting purposeful
contact with ordinary Cubans as well as Cuban human rights and
democracy activists, who represent the future of the island. Recent
limits placed on remittances and family-member travel should be
exchanged for new controls on Cuban immigration to keep Castro from
sending spies and collaborators to the United States. Most of all,
America should encourage international solidarity with Cuban
dissidents and Cuba's captive labor force.
Haiti already has a workable democratic constitution, but donor
nations with a long-standing interest in Haiti--such as the United
States--should urge a more basic understanding, or social contract,
between the citizens and what should be a servant state. They
should implement interim Prime Minister Gérard Latortue's
proposal for a Haitian civil society commission of donors to ensure
accountability of reconstruction aid. Finally, U.S. officials
should investigate charges of corruption and drug trafficking that
have been lodged against the previous regime.
immigration reforms that will enhance border security and ensure
legal entry and exit. To enhance homeland security,
lawmakers and regulators should simplify procedures for granting
non-immigrant worker visas to help organize and screen the flow of
temporary labor into the United States. At the same time, Congress
should reduce tax and paperwork burdens on small businesses,
thereby reducing the incentive to hire illegal migrants "off the
books" in order to evade cumbersome bureaucratic requirements.
Under no circumstances should the United States enact another
amnesty for illegal aliens.
Latin America faces a choice between the
closed economies and populist governments of the past and the
prosperity and freedom that come from open markets and deeper, more
complete democracy. Bolstering the status quo with untargeted aid
would likely prove far less effective than applying incentives and
pressure to spur Latin America's democratic transformation,
liberate the region's economies, and strengthen the rule of law.
Moreover, Hispanic Americans--now becoming a significant electoral
force in the United States--may not want to see their tax dollars
spent on aid programs that benefit corrupt officials or promote
dependency in their countries of origin.
Democratic states make good neighbors, and
open, competitive markets provide more opportunities for citizens
to become prosperous. Effective public security undergirds these
achievements. Sustained, consistent policies to achieve all three
are the only way for the United States and Latin America to become
partners in creating opportunity, jobs, and self-fulfillment in
hometowns throughout the hemisphere.
Stephen Johnson is Senior Policy
Analyst for Latin America in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies at The Heritage