BY JAMES ROBERTS
AND RAY WALSER
In 2007, parts of Latin America continued to backslide toward leftist, authoritarian political rule. However, mixed into the record were many positive developments for democracy and free markets. The future of Latin America will have a great impact on the United States' economy, energy supply, and border security. Below is a list of 10 storylines that The Heritage Foundation would like to see take place in 2008—and the U.S. measures that can help them become a reality.
1. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's political reversals of fortune continue. From the defeat of the December 2 constitutional referendum to his failure to secure the release of hostages being held in Colombia by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Chávez's once sure-if-bearish grip on the region appears to be slipping. Many in Latin America have begun to view him as a temperamental, disruptive leader who happens to have lots of oil money. Hopefully, a new sense of realism will prevail. In 2008, perhaps Chávez will be called upon to render a true accounting for the more than $600 billion in oil revenues that has flooded Venezuela during his eight-year rule. Then he should answer the following questions: Why aren't the people of Venezuela better off? Why are crime, corruption, inflation, and even food scarcities gnawing away at Venezuelan society? Why is PDVSA falling behind other major world oil companies? And just how much has Chávez given away—to the Castro brothers and to Presidents Morales of Bolivia, Correa of Ecuador, and Ortega of Nicaragua? And why was it important to send bags of cash to Argentina on the eve of its presidential elections? The Venezuelan people deserve answers—not evasions and apologetics—to these troubling questions.
2. Congress approves the U.S.–Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. Colombia would join Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, the countries of Central America, and the Dominican Republic as the latest U.S. trade and investment partner in the Western Hemisphere to have its own TPA. This would strengthen Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, a staunch ally of the United States and supporter of market-based democracy. President Uribe has been fighting with great courage and success since 2002 to build a more democratic, stable, and prosperous Colombia. To bolster prosperity and security for both the United States and Latin America (and to counter Hugo Chávez's illusory promises of "21st Century Socialism" and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), Congress has the opportunity to assist and engage one of America's closest friends in the Andean region and to strengthen an important economic link. Failure to close the trade deal in 2008 will reflect poorly on the reliability of the U.S. as a friend and partner in the Americas.
3. The Cuban regime relinquishes its iron grip on power. That includes Fidel Castro, "First Brother" and heir-apparent Raúl Castro, and the apparatchiks and secret policemen of the Communist regime.After suffering 50 years of revolutionary dictatorship and misrule, the Cuban people must be granted the political and economic freedoms they desire and deserve.
4. Congress funds the "Merida Initiative." A bold three-year program to provide U.S. counter-narcotics assistance to Mexico and Central America, the Merida Initiative should become an integral part of a stepped-up and cooperative fight by the U.S. and Mexican governments against Mexican drug cartels and narco-terror along America's southern border.
5. U.S. ties with Brazil grow stronger. Under the leadership of social democratic President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, Brazil continues to emerge as a regional powerhouse. From advancing international trade negotiations to peacekeeping in Haiti, from successful social and anti-poverty programs to the development of bio-fuels, the U.S. and Brazil have many shared interests. Relations between Brasilia and Washington are an important litmus test for the United States' ability to construct a positive hemispheric agenda. Washington should continue to seek opportunities to engage Brazil.
6. In Bolivia and Ecuador, Presidents Morales and Correa fail in their efforts to rewrite constitutions and disturb long-established political traditions. Realistic balances of political power in those countries should be strengthened, not weakened. Hopefully, consensus and common sense will prevail through peaceful political processes, without bloodshed and civil strife.
7. Mexican President Felipe Calderón takes bold new steps to break up monopolies and powerful public sector unions. If President Calderón succeeds in his efforts to tackle the powerful and entrenched special interests that control much of the Mexican economy (e.g. telecommunications, oil production, and electrical generation), new jobs will lower the incentive for Mexicans to enter the U.S. illegally in search of work.
8. Impediments to the U.S.–Panama Trade Promotion Agreement are removed. Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, Speaker of the Panamanian National Assembly, is wanted in the U.S. for the 1992 murder of a U.S. Army soldier in Panama. Gonzalez's departure will facilitate the TPA's full ratification by the U.S. and Panamanian governments, which will benefit both countries.
9. The Organization of American States (OAS) works harder to implement the spirit of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Passed by OAS foreign ministers on September 11, 2001, the Democratic Charter recognizes a right to democracy for all peoples of the Americas. As the world's oldest regional body, the OAS needs to redouble its efforts to support and strengthen representative government and the rule of law and to further develop pluralistic political systems for all 35 members of the OAS.
10. Latin America sustains its record of positive economic growth (5.6 percent in 2006). Everyone from political leaders and elites to the masses of citizens in Latin America must demonstrate a mature ability to advance wide-ranging fiscal, commercial, labor, and educational reforms that will sustain long-term development. Economic growth, trade, and institutional reform—not confrontational politics, resource nationalism, or another burst of redistributionist populism—will remain in 2008 the best hope for lifting up the more than 200 million individuals trapped in chronic poverty in Latin America.
James M. Roberts is a research fellow for economic freedom and growth in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation. Ray Walser, Ph.D., is senior policy analyst for Latin America in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.