World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


Latin America's Populism: Is Bush Getting It Wrong

Analysis prepared by COHA Research Associate Cassidy Rush

Bush's Blast against Latin America's "False Populism" May Be Getting It All Wrong

Politicians find it exceedingly difficult to explain free trade's virtues without drowning the listener in a torrent of common coinage. For a recent example of this, take President Bush's speech in Miami, designed to shore up flagging congressional support for pending free-trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia and Panama. Echoing those all-too-familiar Bush bromides, he insisted that approving these FTAs would fortify "freedom," strengthen "democracy," and increase "prosperity" in Latin America.

Whether these present imperiled FTAs--particularly the one involving Colombia--are able to work the rainmaker miracle expected by their backers is certainly debatable. However, another argument that Bush is quick to unsheathe should be seen as a complete illusion: that "these [FTAs] will counter the false populism promoted by some nations in the hemisphere." Let's assume that by "some nations" he's referring to the "new left" leadership of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, among others. Their presidents have already made known, with varying degrees of frequency and virulence, their disdain for Bush's economic vision for Latin America. Nor is it only a coincidence that these leaders have all been elected or reelected during Washington's FTA crusade of recent years.

Look at Ecuador: during May of last year, the government of then-President Alfredo Palacio ejected U.S. oil company Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy) for alleged contract violations. In retaliation, the U.S. government suspended FTA negotiations with Quito, which brought cheers from indigenous groups who saw the agreement as detrimental to their culture and quality of life. Oxy's induced departure made presidential hopeful Rafael Correa, who at the time trailed more moderate candidates, happy as well: harnessing the support of students, leftist intellectuals and indigenous peoples opposed to the FTA, the populist went on to ride a wave of nationalist and anti-U.S. sentiment all the way to the presidential palace.

Unlike Correa, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez and Bolivia's President Evo Morales had no pending U.S. FTA to rally the people against; what they did have, like their Ecuadorian counterpart, was a bitter history of Washington meddling in their affairs and a gross income disparity, aggravated in the 1980s and 90s by wealth-concentrating neoliberal policies. Responding to popular discontent over the results of these policies, both reformers won their elections by campaigning for extensive state intervention in the economy--antithetical to the spirit of economic liberalization that neoliberals and White House sages aggressively promote and that FTAs, at least theoretically, incorporate. Both South American leaders have delivered on promises made to their core constituencies, especially where the sale of natural resources is concerned: Bolivia's Morales expropriated the country's gas industry only five months after being elected, and Chávez forced foreign oil companies to sell off majority stakes in their Orinoco Basin fields last summer to the Venezuelan state oil company, causing Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips to pull out.

Instead of effectively countering what Washington insists in describing as a "false populism," U.S.-backed FTAs--coupled with the unflattering legacy of Washington's continued endorsement of a rich man's Latin America--might inadvertently have been encouraging it, by promoting policies that augment rather than diminish the social unrest off of which populists feed. These populists, in turn, can jeopardize the wellbeing of U.S. economic interests in the region, as Chávez has done, by tarnishing Washington's regional motives and the sincerity of its concerns. This backlash may also come to negate some of the gains in market access that FTAs provide.

So how can Bush say that FTAs with Peru, Colombia and Panama would stem the tide of leftist "false populism" sweeping South America? If he really believed this assertion, he would end the Cuba trade embargo, which could certainly strike a sharper blow against anti-U.S. sentiment in Latin America than any FTA could.

It's easy to pretend that casting bilateral FTAs upon the region will heal all of Washington's political woes and fulfill Latin America's economic yearnings. It's much harder, however, to engage in constructive and painstaking diplomacy, which is probably the only effective prescription against the "false populism" that seems to so alarm President Bush.


More: Latest World News | Top World News | World Digest | Archives

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Human Rights: China Journalist Jailed For COVID Reporting Seriously Ill, Must Be Released

UN human rights experts* today urged China to immediately release imprisoned citizen journalist and woman human rights defender Zhang Zhan on humanitarian grounds, saying her health is deteriorating rapidly and her life is in danger... More>>

CID: PNG Deadly Covid Crisis Getting Worse
People in Papua New Guinea are not getting enough Covid vaccines due to misinformation. This is causing immense stress and suffering throughout the country, says Quenelda Clegg Chair of CID’s Humanitarian Network...More>>

Sudan: Bachelet Condemns Killings Of Peaceful Protesters

At least 39 people have been killed by security forces in Sudan since the 25 October military coup, 15 of whom were reportedly shot dead on Wednesday, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights...

Focus On: UN SDGs

Food: Three Billion People Cannot Afford A Healthy Diet

Approximately three billion people, almost 40 per cent of the world’s population, cannot afford a healthy diet and another one billion people would join their ranks should further unpredictable events reduce incomes by one-third, the UN food agency said, launching a new report on Tuesday... More>>

COP26: Enough Of ‘Treating Nature Like A Toilet’ – Guterres Brings Stark Call For Climate Action To Glasgow
As the World Leaders Summit opened on day two of COP26, UN chief António Guterres sent a stark message to the international community. “We are digging our own graves”, he said, referring to the addiction to fossil fuels which threatens to push humanity and the planet, to the brink, through unsustainable global heating... More>>

Climate: ‘Vague’ Net Zero Promises Not Enough: Planet Still On Track For Catastrophic Heating, UN Report Warns

New and updated commitments made ahead of the pivotal climate conference COP26 in the past months are a positive step forward, but the world remains on track for a dangerous global temperature rise of at least 2.7°C this century even if fully met, a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned... More>>