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Fri. September 29, 2023
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International Affairs Forum

Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

From the Cowboy to the Multicultural Summit

By Alvaro Henzler

During his campaign in 2000, Bush's foreign policy platform included support for a stronger economic and political relationship with Latin America, especially Mexico. Indeed, Mexico was the first trip that the new President George W. Bush made abroad, breaking the US Presidential tradition of visiting first the other neighbor: Canada. The former neighbor governors, Fox and Bush, named the visit the 'Cowboy Summit'. The Republican Administration began with priorities focus on the internal agenda and with a foreign policy where Latin America played a relevant role. However, during the last 8 years and from the very beginning, US should face unexpected and complex situations as 9/11 and the current economic crisis that forced President Bush to redefine priorities.

During these years, the bilateral relationships between US and the countries from the region had had a mix development. Mexico and Central America were mainly frustrated with the failure of a comprehensive immigration reform. Countries as Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua reunited forces to build a hemispheric axis against US values and practices. Brazil and Chile practiced a pragmatic approach signing deals beyond the traditional democracy and trade focus: Brazil signed a MOU related to renewal energy and Chile fostered a program for educational opportunities in US. Peru, Colombia and Panama worked for obtaining US Free Trade Agreements.

The case of Peru is particularly relevant. The last 8 years constituted a period of great engagement and of exponential improvement in the relationship among US and Peru. In the past decades, the US-Peru relationship has been focused mainly on a one-way trade preference program and on drugs cooperation. Late December 2007, after years of negotiations, the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement, which incorporated for the first time ever environmental and labor provisions to comply with and enforce international standards, was approved by US Congress and promulgated by President Bush. This FTA represents a milestone in the bilateral relationship. Since then, Peru has been upgrading its relationship with US in a comprehensive manner. Only in one year, Peru and US successfully worked in a broader alliance that included development, energy, environment and military topics. The Millennium Challenge Corporation approved a $36M-threshold program for Peru. Peru and the US signed a memorandum to advance cooperation in renewable energy. US Treasury and Peruvian Finance Ministry signed a $25 millions Debt-for-Nature Agreement to Conserve Peru’s Tropical Forests. Finally, US Congress approved the “Naval Vessel Transfer Act of 2008”, which cooperates with three US allies: Pakistan, Chile and Peru.

From now on, what should we expect from the new Obama Administration in terms of its relationship with Latin America. In the near future Obama must face an increasingly complex international panorama regarding the geopolitics situation in the Middle East and Russia and the handling of the claims for more power from China and India as global emerging economies. Moreover, the new US Administration must face the worst economic crisis since Great Depression. In that context, Latin America will not be a priority for the new administration and even could have less attention than during Bush years. However, there is a window of opportunity for real change beyond the traditional agenda of trade, migration and drugs.

Obama could foster a change in the US style and attitude in how to approach Latin America. In a Presidential campaign speech at Miami, President Obama draw up two general principles: “in the 21st century, we cannot treat Latin America and the Caribbean as a junior partner” and “we will pursue aggressive, principled, and sustained diplomacy in the Americas from Day One”. The first test for this new sort of style would be Cuba. In his Miami speech he mentioned more than 50 times different names of countries from the region. Almost 50% of the times where related to Cuba. And the moment could not be better. In early 2009 Castro brothers will celebrate 50 years of the Cuban Revolution. One President, Fidel Castro, has led Cuba during a period of time in which ten different Presidents led US. Obama could be an agent of change in promoting freedom in the island and thus reengaging with the region, in a moment when the Latin American population qualified President Bush as one of the worst leaders in the Western Hemisphere, only above Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua.

Obama could also introduce a new agenda for development focus on energy and education. In the next years, US will promote globally clean and renewable energy and sustainable management of the environment. Moreover, President-Elect Barack Obama stated during campaign his desire to launch an “Energy Partnership for the Americas”. Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru are top 5 in the world as countries with more mega-diversity. As well, the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon geographic area is one of the biggest and richest forests in the globe. In the Western Hemisphere, Peru, Chile and US are the most important sources of minerals. Uruguay, Bolivia and Colombia are top 10 in quantity of freshwater worldwide. Finally, the Western Hemisphere, lead by Brazil, today produces more than 80% of biofuels.

Obama understands the hemispheric inequality problem. He stated: “But every day, all across the Americas, there is a struggle … against the deadly threat of hunger and thirst, disease and despair. That is not a future that we have to accept …. We can do better. We must do better”. Despite of the fact that America is passing through a severe economic downturn and complex military wars, US have a more transcendent force: its innovation and educational soft power. US laboratories will remain as the main source of inventions in the world. US universities will remain being the most prestige ones, with the best professors worldwide.

US must promote human capital and capacity building programs for young leaders, small business, local communities and regional governments in the region. US could extend the Peace Corps and the Fulbright scholarships. For instance, the Chilean case could be an example. US-Chile signed recently signed a 10-year cooperation program, the “Equal Opportunity Scholarships”, which will train annually 100 Chilean Ph.D. on science, technology, environment and public health at 50 prestige US universities. 100 Ph.D. per year: science, technology, environment, public health.

Intergenerational political change and groundbreaking development issues could be a contagious trend that passes from US to Latin America. Both must face jointly global challenges. Both share several values. And for the first time in history, the multiculturalism that characterizes the people from Mexico to Argentina is personalize in a way in the new US President. The Summit of the Americas at Trinidad y Tobago next April is a window opportunity for the kind of change that the Americas deserve.

Alvaro Henzler is a consultant for the U.S.-Peru FTA at Peru's Embassy in the United States and is the Economic Assistant to the Ambassador. In addition, he is a professor at the Universidad del Pacífico and a lecturer at Georgetown University. While earning his degree in economics at the Universidad del Pacífico, he was a consultant to Peru's Vice Minister of Trade and co-led studies of FTAs with the United States, Singapore, and Thailand.

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