The Americas' New Left Challenges Bush
A hemispherewide summit yields an accord on corruption, but Latin leaders refuse to reaffirm a U.S. deadline for a free-trade deal.
By Richard Boudreaux
Times Staff Writer
MONTERREY, Mexico — Ending a contentious two-day summit on how to fight poverty, the leaders of Latin America and Canada joined President Bush on Tuesday in pledging to "deny refuge to corrupt officials, those who corrupt them, and their assets."
But the leaders rebuffed a U.S. proposal that would punish noncompliant countries by ousting them from the Organization of American States. Bush's counterparts also pointedly refused to reaffirm a deadline for concluding a hemispherewide free-trade deal that Washington wants by the end of this year.
The Summit of the Americas produced a declaration that required an unusual
degree of haggling between U.S. officials and a new crop of left-leaning
American presidents, who used the gathering to challenge Bush's assertion that free trade "is the most certain path to lasting prosperity."
Their joint statement acknowledged that the region's growing political
unrest stems from a wide gap between rich and poor in each country and
must be remedied by
"attaining a higher standard of equity through good governance."
As Bush left the summit before Tuesday's closing lunch, U.S. officials
portrayed that document as an endorsement of his approach. The president,
who had paid
scant attention to Latin America since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, came here insisting that the region's problems were political, not economic, that free
trade cannot help a country that does not help itself.
A pledge to extradite corrupt officials to their home countries and
repatriate ill-gotten gains was just one of the remedies promoted by Bush
and adopted by the
summit. On Monday, he issued an order barring people deemed corrupt from entering the United States.
The leaders also pledged to work at home for stronger property rights,
expanded support for small entrepreneurs, a rating system to spur better
public schools, provision of antiretroviral therapy to 600,000 HIV/AIDS patients by next year, reduced fees for migrant workers who wire money home to their
families and laws to instill a "culture of transparency" in public financial management.
The summit document set goals to triple by 2007 the amount of credit
given to small and medium-sized businesses and to "reduce significantly"
by next year the time
needed to start a business. Latin American bureaucracies typically require months of legal steps to register a company, a process that can take less than a week in
Canada and the United States.
Bush also won a commitment by his neighbors to "take all necessary steps
to prevent and counter terrorism and its financing." Despite his impact
on the written
pledges, Bush found himself on the defensive nearly from the time he landed Monday in this industrial city 150 miles south of the Texas border. His Latin American
counterparts — only Cuba was excluded from the meeting — lectured him repeatedly on what they called the bankruptcy of the "Washington consensus," which
prescribes fiscal austerity, open markets and export-oriented incentives for ailing economies.
A defining image came Monday during the opening ceremony at Monterrey's
Parque Fundidora, an arts and conference center built on the reclaimed
site of a
defunct steel foundry. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a left-wing populist accused by Washington of working with Cuba to undermine democracies in the
region, took his turn at the microphone and rambled well past his three-minute limit.
Calling for a "new moral architecture" in the region to "favor the weakest,"
Chavez said the rules of international economics have created "an infernal
produces more poor people each minute." He pointed out that the United States escaped the Depression not by relying on free markets but by launching a
job-creating socialist program called the New Deal.
As the Venezuelan leader spoke, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula
da Silva nodded and smiled enthusiastically. Across the room, Bush leaned
on his hand,
Other leaders were more diplomatic in their criticism and credited Bush
for coming to listen. Speaking to reporters after a 20-minute private meeting
Lagos, the elder statesman of the Latin American left, Bush said he was "honored to be here with el presidente de Chile." "Your Spanish is improving," the Chilean
leader told Bush.
Nearly half of Latin America's 524 million people are poor, and they
increasingly elect leftist leaders willing to stand up to the United States.
Led by Venezuela and
Brazil, the summit rejected a U.S. bid to reaffirm a year-end deadline for negotiating a free- trade zone from Alaska to Argentina — the hemisphere's most ambitious
project of the last decade.
Brazil and others have demanded that the United States' $20 billion in annual subsidies to its own farmers be an issue in the talks, but Washington has balked.
In his summit speech, Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo said the Bush
administration was ruining farmers across Latin America by refusing to
subsidies while asking their countries "to play ball in the free trade court."
Outside the meeting site, about 100 anti-globalization activists clashed with riot police after hanging and igniting an effigy of Bush on a security barrier.
As an alternative to freer trade, Venezuela's Chavez suggested that
a percentage of Latin American countries' foreign debt be dedicated to
social causes such as
health, education and poverty reduction. That proposal also failed to win approval.
The U.S. proposal to bar corrupt governments from taking part in hemispheric
meetings was equally contentious. Some leaders said Washington's anti-corruption
agenda is a politically motivated tool to exclude leaders who are out of favor with the United States. Others recalled U.S. decisions — after a "certification" process
they considered arbitrary and demeaning — to deny aid to countries judged soft on drug trafficking.
One Latin American official said privately that Bush was on shaky moral
ground in wanting to punish entire countries for corruption after scandals
in recent years
over corporate wrongdoing in the United States.
Instead, the summit leaders agreed to "hold consultations" if their
anti-corruption objectives are "compromised to a serious degree" in any
of the hemisphere's
But there was no open opposition to the pledge to go after corrupt fugitives and seize the illegal wealth siphoned from their countries' treasuries.
To set an example, U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Monday
handed the Peruvian president $20 million found in U.S. bank accounts linked
corrupt former intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is thought to have at least $210 million more stashed abroad.
The summit agreement is a challenge to a centuries-old tradition in
which Latin American leaders protected their corrupt peers from neighboring
countries — and
part of a growing international movement to strip legal protection from depositors of dubious funds.
Specifically, the hemisphere leaders agreed to support a U.N. Convention
Against Corruption signed last month by nearly 100 countries. The list
of signers notably
lacks such well-known dirty-money havens as Honduras, Belize, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica — all represented at this summit.
Maura Reynolds of The Times' Washington Bureau contributed to this report.