May 09, 2005

Credit Where It's Due

Latin America should be easy.

Compared to most other areas of the world, Latin America presents us with far less terrorism than the Middle East, many fewer national basket cases than Africa, far less economic tension and incipient great power rivalries than east Asia, and no embittered former empire as in Europe (and, by the way, all my best to you too, Vladimir). We have problems with immigration and illegal drugs, as much because of what Americans do in America as of anything done south of the border. We have the Cuban issue, which is annoying but manageable; we have the clown prince of Venezuela to deal with. We have some important environmental concerns, especially with Brazil, and a somewhat lengthy list of trade disputes that will take time to resolve as trade disputes always do. But the number of issues on which American vital interests and those of Latin American countries clash in ways that patience, flexibility and goodwill cannot cope with is thankfully very small.

I have not been an especial admirer of Secretary of State Rice, regarding her as a match for her responsibilities only in the area of public relations. But I have no stake in being right about something like this, and am happy to acknowledge that Jackson Diehl's summary of an early success of Rice's in ending a disagreement over a new Secretary General for the Organization of American States is testimony for the opposite point of view. It's true this dispute, which began last year, probably shouldn't have happened in the first place, and with a State Department firmly under the control of its Secretary it might not have. But we shouldn't underestimate the importance of fixing problems before they have time to fester, or of getting the (relatively) easy stuff right.

Posted by at May 9, 2005 02:59 PM | TrackBack (27)

Is that despite or in spite of the Contra Rebels scandal of the 80's and the Columbian fiasco of the past 10-15years?

Posted by: Aran Brown at May 9, 2005 10:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The OAS Secretary General election is a tangled web. Former Costa Rican president Miguel Angel Rodriguez was elected in 2004 and had to resigned in after only 2 weeks (!!) because he was exposed to have taken big bribes from French telecom company Alcatel which he used to fund his campaign to head OAS. Rodriguez was probably seen as the US's guy (I don't know if he was) because he had been at George Washington University as a distinguished visiting professor, or some other ridiculous title for former presidents. The OAS was stunned, but although their candidate had ended so ignominiously, the Central Americans thought it was still their turn at the SecGen slot. That combined with the US support for Flores was enough to kill his chances. The OAS member states couldn't agree on a consensus candidate and it degenerated from there. Chavez, Fidel and their cronies opposed anyone else the US supported.

Posted by: Delilah at May 9, 2005 10:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

More important than the OAS election is the fate of the Central American -Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). If this is not passed by Congress, forget the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and face increased shenanigans from Chavez et al. Our credibility and all our initiatives in Latin America will be dirt. Now that's a scary scenario.

Posted by: Delilah at May 9, 2005 11:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I wouldn't call this an accomplishment --- its really just avoidance of another diplomatic blunder by the Bush regime. Basically, Rice capitulated to the 'anti-US' faction of OAS, apparently in exchange for a sound bite from the new OAS president that was critical of Castro.

On second though, given the Bush regime's record, maybe not doing something outrageously stupid should be considered an accomplishment......

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 10, 2005 12:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Screw CAFTA; we should give Doha the old college try.

Posted by: praktike at May 10, 2005 12:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, praktike, I think CAFTA was part of Zoellick's Doha strategy -- it and other bilaterals and regional agreements would give us some measure of trade liberalization if Doha stalled out, and show that the administration could get a trade treaty through Congress if Doha got moving. Under the circumstances, this was a clever and resourceful strategy, though in the abstract a general trade agreement would of course be preferable to a lot of local ones.

Posted by: JEB at May 10, 2005 03:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

yeah, well Portman is already doing better, it seems, than Zoellick on the WTO round front. I haven't followed it closely enough to understand why, though.

Posted by: praktike at May 10, 2005 03:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zoellick clashed rather strongly with his EU counterpart Mandelson, in terms of personality and also over the Airbus/Boeing dueling subsidy issue. As to Doha, 3 or so years ago it looked like Doha wasn't going to get anywhere. Partly this was the signal Bush himself sent with the steel tariffs, but mostly it was the difficulty of the issues in a global negotiation that of necessity requires most of the concessions in several important areas to be on one side or the other -- e.g. America and the EU on Agriculture, the developing world on services -- and countries have to trust that in the final agreement it will all balance out.

Zoellick answer was to try to keep momentum going by negotiation smaller, regional trade liberalization agreements. An actual Doha agreement would make any more of these moot, but back in 2002 it looked like these or nothing. I don't think Portman is really doing anything different, substantively, from what Zoellick would have done -- he hasn't been there long enough for one thing -- but eventually he'll have to make his own path. From what I've seen of him he is quite able and will do fine.

Posted by: JEB at May 10, 2005 04:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think that the issues in South America might be a little bit more serious than what you seem to believe.

Castro end will be very painful and hard to manage.

Chavez with lots of money will be trouble for quite a while. And he is helping some other areas to become rather intractable for US interests, such as Bolivia right now and potentially Peru. Not to mention the never ending war in Colombia.

Posted by: daniel at May 22, 2005 06:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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