The Washington Times
February 18, 2003
Latin America's woes
Country by country, Latin America is boiling over. From the
fatal police-military clash last week in Bolivia, to the ongoing social
upheaval in Venezuela and economic calamity in Argentina, the region is
showing signs of distress. Paraguay, Ecuador and Uruguay are tottering
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While the Bush administration has wisely made its pursuit
of terrorists its first priority, the problems in Latin America have grown
severe enough to merit the attention of the White House.
Last Wednesday and Thursday, 23 persons were killed and scores
were injured in Bolivia after the military opened fire on a peaceful protest
by striking police officers. President Gonzalo Sanchez Lozada, who won
in a tightly contested election, has been severely weakened politically
by the violence. In Venezuela, more than 200 people have killed or injured
since spring, when a coup briefly ousted President Hugo Chavez. The country
has become so polarized, that groups against and supportive of Mr. Chavez
are arming themselves. That situation remains highly volatile. Argentina,
meanwhile, has succumbed to full-blown economic crisis after suffering
several years of recession. And on Friday, Paraguay defaulted on some of
its $20 million in dollar-denominated debt, as bond holders exercised their
right to cash in their bonds before they mature in 2005. Ecuador and Uruguay
will have considerable trouble paying their public debt of about $11 billion
On Wednesday, President Bush spent 40 minutes with Ecuadorean
President Lucio Gutierrez. The head of state of Ecuador, with a population
of 13 million and a gross domestic product of $21 billion, ordinarily wouldn't
get so much time with the leader of the world's only superpower. But Mr.
Bush clearly is interested in supporting stability wherever he can in the
A week ago, the White House offered to eliminate tariffs
on all imports of textiles and clothing from 34 nations in the Americas
by 2010, as part of negotiations for creating a free-trade zone in the
Western hemisphere by 2005. The administration also has proposed cutting
tariffs on about 65 percent of U.S. imports of consumer and industrial
goods from the Americas when the free-trade zone becomes a reality, and
to eliminate all tariffs on these goods by 2015. Also, 56 percent of agricultural
imports would enter tariff-free once the zone is established.
The Bush administration is certainly on the right track in
adopting measures that will allow Latin America to develop economically
in the long-term. But it also should consider granting the region more
immediate tariff relief, given the scale of current economic.
While Latin America's current economic crises are certainly
troublesome, the Bush administration must steer clear of such quick fixes
as bailouts, which certainly could cause more problems in the long term.
Those troubled nations would best be served with foreign aid that focuses
on micro and small businesses — rather than large-scale public works
projects, for example. The United States clearly has a stake in Latin America's
present and future, as Mr. Bush seemingly is aware.