Courtesy Reuters

The Uneasy Americas

KEEPING IT TOGETHER

This April, President George W. Bush will travel to Quebec City for a summit meeting of the western hemisphere's heads of state. Thirty-three other leaders will attend the conference, the third such gathering since 1994, and each will come eager to hear the new U.S. president's plans for dealing with the region. The summit will be an ideal place for Bush to try out his ideas before an attentive foreign audience. But if he really wants to improve hemispheric ties, Bush must come prepared to do some serious listening, to get to know his Latin American colleagues, and to hear firsthand their priorities and concerns.

Should he make such an effort, Bush will learn that the United States' relations with Latin America are fundamentally sound. Most American governments are happy to cooperate with Washington, and they expect it to take the initiative on many crucial matters.

Probing a bit more deeply, however, Bush and his advisers will discover a number of serious problems under the deceptively smooth surface. Hemispheric affairs are far more troubled today than they were only a few years ago. Many of Latin America's leaders face serious political and economic troubles at home, and many are disappointed with current U.S. policies -- particularly with Washington's expanding intervention in Colombia and its lagging efforts to pursue economic cooperation and hemispheric free trade.

Bush should heed the warnings. If Latin America loses confidence in Washington -- which has seemed indifferent at some points and headstrong and inflexible at others -- the opportunities for American leadership in the hemisphere will diminish, along with hopes for an effective U.S.-Latin American partnership.

COOPERATION AND CONVERGENCE

For the last 12 years -- roughly since the start of the first Bush administration and the end of the Cold War -- relations between the United States and Latin America have been more cordial and cooperative than at any other time in memory. With almost every Latin American nation scrambling for U.

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