Sunday, July 20, 2008

U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America

The following excerpts are from Nadia Martinez, a native of Panama and an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Ms. Martinez recently became a U.S. citizen and wrote about "Respecting Our Neighbors to the South" in Yes! Magazine, Summer 2008.

"The United States become notorious during the 20th century for backing brutal dictators under the guise of preventing a communist takeover of Latin America. Past military interventions in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, and elsewhere, and support of repressive regimes like that of Augusto Pinochet in Chile have made Latin Americans skeptical of U.S. motives. More recently, U.S. policy toward the region has focused on two issues: drugs and free trade. Both policies have harmed the economic and political lives of the region.

Today, Latin America is undergoing a transformation as indigenous and social movements are rising up and demanding a say about the future. Elected leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and to varying degrees, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay are asserting themselves as symbols of an independent and even defiant Latin America. And votes in those countries are overwhelmingly backing them.

So how should the United States respond? A successful policy begins with respect. The U.S. should give the elected governments the space to succeed rather than flooding discredited opposition movements with aid in an attempt to influence elections and undermine governments as they are doing in Bolivia and Venezuela.

Respect can be shown also through abandoning our insistence on so-called "free" trade policies, which favor transnational corporations over the environment and the rights of workers. Instead, we can join the region's move toward fair trade policies that support sustainable development in poor countries and protect small farmers from unfettered competition with heavily subsidized agribusiness. Our trade policies should be based on the idea that our hemisphere is more secure when all peoples can develop diversified economies that meet local needs first, and raise people out of poverty and hopelessness. Strong local economies would also reduce pressure on poor people to migrate, easing much of the illegal immigration in the United States.

Respect can be extended by ending the senseless war on coca farmers, which has fueled conflict and human rights abuses. Instead, we could help countries deal with drug trafficking, money laundering, and other organized crime through good policing - if they request the help."

The time has passed for heavy-handed interventionist policy, especially in our own hemisphere. Read more from Nadia Martinez about What the Rise of Democratic Movements in Latin America Means for the Rest of the World.

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