June 14, 2004


Free trade, progress vs. isolation, poverty (Carlos Alberto Montaner, 6/01/04, Firmas Press)

The Bush administration put aside the shameful photographs taken in the Iraqi prison and found time to sign a free-trade agreement with Central America. It was done without excessive fuss. [...]

For Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, who ends his term today, the Central American Free Trade Agreement is a personal triumph, the culmination of a brilliant stage in his life. The same can be said of Presidents Abel Pacheco of Costa Rica, Ricardo Maduro of Honduras and Enrique BolaƱos of Nicaragua. They managed to forge the agreement. Guatemalan President Oscar Berger just came into office, so the merit of the negotiations is not his, but it is fair to acknowledge his enthusiasm. He knows that CAFTA benefits his country.

Mexico and Chile are already on board. The next nations to reach a pact with the United States and Canada will be the Dominican Republic and Panama. Later, probably Peru, Colombia and Ecuador, provided that in these three countries the trend toward economic freedom and the will to cooperate with the First World, are not derailed.

From this point on, however, the outlook is more doubtful, and we could say that there is an epidemic of bad historical eyesight: That's the tired vision of politicians who are ideologically old.

The official ruling classes in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Venezuela, encouraged from Havana by Fidel Castro, defend another model of development, anchored in the populist superstitions of the mid-20th century. If the next elections in Uruguay are won by the Broad Front, Uruguay will tilt in that direction, too -- traveling fatally into the past.

Manuel Rocha, the former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia and a diplomat with more than 20 years of experience in the region, sums up these events succinctly: In the Hispanic world, two Latin Americas are taking shape.

There is a modern Latin America, whose most successful exponent is Chile, that believes in the market economy and in emulating the more-prosperous nations, that cooperates in all aspects with the West's leading nations. And there's another Latin America, which insists on rejecting capitalism, reaffirms its unyielding faith in the State as the engine of the economy and continues to search for an invariably elusive third path that will redeem it from its misery.

The Latin America that will progress is the former. The latter -- the one that will remain backward and see a senseless increase in the percentage of its poor citizens -- will be described by the left as ''progressive and revolutionary.'' These are perversions of the language.

One black mark on the Reagan record--the Castro regime survives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 14, 2004 9:27 AM

Castro's a museum exhibit -- last of the Banana Republic Strongmen -- and he's not immortal.

Posted by: Ken at June 14, 2004 12:31 PM

It's interesting how not having a Pacific coast seems to be a defining marker. (Dominican Republic and other Caribbean islands excepted.)

I would guess the historic ease of ties across the Atlantic might have something to do with it.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 14, 2004 12:35 PM