The US has lost ground in Latin America over the past decade, since the project to develop the Free Trade Area of the Americas flopped and since leftwing governments took power and used it with imagination and vigour. The US continues to try to block such emancipation by promoting more free trade agreements, and increasing military cooperation in the name of the war on terrorism and narcotics and the defence of market democracy.
Latin America is a lost continent according to the editor of Foreign Policy, Moises Naim. The president of the Inter-American Dialogue organisation, Peter Hakim, voiced the same concern when he asked: “Is Washington losing Latin America?” (1). Over the past decade the United States has suffered many setbacks in this part of the world. Voters, rejecting neo-liberal policies, have elected radical or moderate leftwing coalitions, claiming degrees of independence. In April 2002 the attempt to overthrow Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez failed. In 2005 the native movement brought Evo Morales to power in Bolivia despite US State Department efforts. Though it exerted pressure, the US was unable to prevent Daniel Ortega from being elected in Nicaragua or Rafael Correa in Ecuador (2).
But despite growing hostility, most of the free market groundwork is still in place. The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), launched by President Bill Clinton at the Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994 to open up a huge market from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, failed to materialise. But US firms nevertheless invested $353bn in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005, with their subsidiaries employing 1.6 million people. In 2006 US exports to the region increased by 12.7% and imports by 10.5%, according to the US commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez.
Though the FTAA failed, progress was made through bilateral and multilateral agreements, particularly free trade accords (FTA). The US market is a powerful asset when bargaining: “Our country must find the strength it lacks on account of its size through its relations with all the countries in the world, and particularly the United States,” said the economy minister of Uruguay, which is tempted by an FTA with the US. One consequence would be a conflict with Mercosur, the South American common market, which would please the US. Latin America’s elites may see themselves as representing the centre left but they soon yield to neo-liberal pressures.
The political content of the FTAs has gradually increased. A further step towards integrating the whole continent was taken in Waco, Texas, on 23 March 2005. The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) is a trilateral effort by the US, Canada and Mexico. “What is new about this agreement,” said legal expert Guy Mazet, “is that it adds the notion of security to the rationale of economic and trade processes, while institutionalising the power of business and the private sector to influence public policy” (3). The legal basis for an agreement negotiated without consulting national parliaments is open to question. “The private sector is using an international agreement to exert greater influence over national policy,” Mazet added.
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