28.8.06

Latin America - The End of and Era

by Mark Weisbrot

Published in the International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2006)
The changes that have taken place in Latin America in recent years are part of an epoch-making transformation. To borrow from the Cold War framework that still prevails in U.S. foreign policy circles: we have witnessed the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the formation of newly independent states. A region that has been dominated by the United States for more than a century has now, for the most part, broken away. Of course there are still strong commercial, political, cultural and even military ties; but as in the states of the former Soviet Union after 1990, these do not have the same economic or political implications that they had a decade or even a few years ago.

These changes seem to have been largely misunderstood – and vastly underestimated – across the political spectrum. They are certainly noticed. Hardly a day goes by without prominent warnings that the region – or at least a good part of it – is on the road to “populist” ruin, or worse. On the right – including the Bush administration – this process is viewed through a Cold War prism, a Castro-Ch├ívez-Evo Morales axis that poses a strategic threat to the United States. Imagined or implied links to terrorism and the drug trade (little or no evidence is provided) are sometimes added for effect, as when the State Department cut off arms sales to Venezuela on May 15 for “lack of cooperation” in fighting terrorism.

The liberal/center views are less bellicose, but similarly pessimistic about what is happening in the region. Foreign Affairs has run three articles since the beginning of the year warning of the dangers of Latin America’s left-populist drift, as well as sorry state of U.S.-Latin American relations. The news reports, editorials, and op-ed pages of America’s major newspapers mostly carry the same themes.

But from the point of view of the vast majority of the hemisphere, including people in the United States, there is actually much to be optimistic about. As French President Jacques Chirac noted during a recent visit to South America, "there is a strong movement in favor of democracy in Latin America, a movement that is growing.” He added that the newly elected leftist presidents cannot be cause for concern because they were elected in free democratic elections. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that the changes of the last few years will not be reversed, and that the region will continue in the direction of further economic and political independence, diversification of trade and finance, some regional integration, and more successful macroeconomic policies. Not all of these economic policies and experiments will succeed, but most importantly it appears very possible that Latin America’s long quarter-century of economic failure will be reversed in the foreseeable future, and that its hundreds of millions of poor people will be among the main beneficiaries.

Centre for Economic and Policy Research, article published in the
International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2006)

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