Latin America: The President's Agenda

We are approaching a decisive moment in our relations with Latin America. It is a time of major transition in the Americas, North and South. Not only is national leadership changing in the United States, but new presidents have recently come to power in Mexico and Ecuador, and presidential elections are scheduled in many other key Latin American countries. By the end of next year new leaders should be chosen in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Jamaica and El Salvador. In 1990 elections are due in Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Peru and Uruguay. A changing of the guard also now seems likely in Chile, and is not out of the question in Panama.

These shifts in leadership will inevitably transform the political map of the hemisphere. They are coming at a time when U.S.-Latin American relations are deeply troubled and uncertain—as much as they have been at any time in recent history.

The new U.S. Administration of President George Bush will need to come up with fresh and practical proposals to deal with some very difficult problems: the debt crisis, which has brought economic distress and deep frustration to much of Latin America; the burgeoning traffic in illegal drugs, now a shared tragedy for the entire western hemisphere; deep friction over migration and trade; and the persistence of Central America’s turmoil. The hard fact is that U.S. policy is not effectively addressing any of these crucial issues. Conflict—not cooperation—has come to dominate U.S.-Latin American relations in the 1980s.

Not surprisingly, Latin Americans blame the United States for these strains. They criticize our impatience, our persistent impulse toward unilateral action and our repeated attempts to insist on Washington-designed solutions to regional problems. For our part, we charge Latin American governments with being too passive in the face of hemispheric security threats, too suspicious of our motives and too wedded to outworn principles that hinder effective action. In recent years, each of these stereotypes has dangerously reinforced the other.

It is urgently important that we break out of this unproductive circle of rhetoric and get on with the business of trying to solve common problems.

II

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