Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hemispheric Relations

The balance of power in the Americas has been shifting for more than a decade. N. America’s clout in C. & S. America is at its lowest point in decades of decline. The dollar still goes further when it goes south. However, the USA’s economic meltdown has led to the raising of Latin American eyebrows. For decades we have preached about financial austerity measures. Our neighbors now question the value of economic advice from an economy reeling wildly out of control.

South, Central & North America have each had their share of revolution and civil wars since the 18th Century. Recently, unrest in Latin America has been too often instigated by the USA. Who can name one major Latin American country where the U.S. government did not meddle, finance opposition governments, send covert operatives, or otherwise intervene in affairs outside our borders? We've been a bully with our neighbors, in too many cases. The Bush Doctine of overt pre-emption is just a new twist on a long history of covert pre-emptive actions.

Congress continues to fund intervention in Latin America in its unwinnable “war on drugs”. Yet, the current administration can’t even take care of domestic problems and is running up record deficits. We are overextended and in debt to foreign governments, which was once the norm in Latin America. Our neighbors see the USA as increasingly unreliable and, when it comes to advice about their financial markets, they see the U.S. position as hypocritical.

How does this effect tourism? First of all, we must go beyond the U.S. State Dept. to get a useful travel advisory. Visiting host country's websites is quite helpful. For objective advice in English, visit websites from the governments of Canada, the UK, and Australia. We do this for our clients. We find our own State Dept’s information to be the least useful, the most biased, its not geographically specific, and its not updated frequently enough.

In my work, we don’t rely on vague State Dept. advisories. We prefer detailed, up-to-date analysis on protests or conflicts taking place in Latin America. We prefer pertinent details and nuanced analysis. The U.S. State Dept. plays politics with travel advisories, knowing that tourism is a key revenue source for rival leftist governments in Latin America. Do we have a problem with peaceful protests of misguided government policies here or there? Not necessarily. Does the State Dept. use objections about a government’s policies to overstate a travel advisory? Yes.

The result of this hemispheric shift is positive for tourists. North, Central & South Americans are becoming closer neighbors on economic terms. We have a shrinking middle class. We're engaged in nasty wars. Our economies are crippled. We’re facing the same struggles and this brings people together. The current administration’s misguided policies have eroded our economic standing in the world. We’re slipping from the “1st world” to the 2nd as Latin America has been reaching up from “3rd world” to the 2nd. We’re meeting our neighbors in the middle, slowly but surely.

The poverty rate in Mexico has dropped from 21 percent to 18.5 percent over the past 10 years, said a report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The poverty rates in Turkey are 17.5 percent and in the United States 17 percent. Denmark and Sweden are with less inequality with only 5.5 percent of poor people. Out of dozens of countries in the OECD study, only Turkey and Mexico have more poverty to the USA. We are not even close to the top of the list on this measure because too many of U.S. workers earn less than half the median wage - a two class system is growing and the middle class is shrinking. Denmark and Sweden are 1st world countries. The USA and Turkey have the same levels of poverty, a level very close to Mexico's.

Approach the USA's 2nd world reality frankly, with humility, and you’ll make many friends when traveling. Increasingly, we're in the same boat and it may be a banana boat. According to Micheal Shifter, an Inter-American Dialogue Analyst in DC, "Latin Americans have every reason to view the U.S. as a banana republic. U.S. lectures to Latin Americans about excess greed and lack of accountability have long rung hollow, but today they sound even more ridiculous."

Bush has the lowest ranking of any U.S. President in the history of polling. In Latin America, his poll numbers are as low as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro, places where people have little control over their own lives and where the middle class is nonexistent. What lesson will we take from this emerging reality?

The USA has done much good in the hemisphere, and more than a little harm. Now, more than ever, it is time to work together with our neighbors for a better future, and treat them the way we would like to be treated. For a related report, see the one below about Argentina…

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