March 9, 2007

Commentary:

A Meaningless Trip

By Humberto Caspa, Ph.D

Finally President George W. Bush has decided to go on a trip to Latin America, and coincidently right when the ship is about to sink.

Three of the four regional powers of Latin America, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, have formed a leftist block, which neither shares Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s political vision, nor agrees on the economic strategy promoted from Washington. The other major actor, Mexico, is precariously navigating amid turbulent neoliberal economic winds.

Given the above conditions, Latin America has lost control and leadership. It has no clear leader. Most candidates are working almost too hard to get behind the steering wheel to prop up change.

Hugo Chavez is the most desperate one. He has been flirting around with the other Latin American leaders, showing off his oil barrels and signing up trade agreements. He says he has created work opportunities at home and abroad and has given free gasoline to low-income families in the most powerful county of the world, namely the United States.

Chavez’s “good Samaritan” demeanor has a specific goal: Sharing Simon Bolivar’s legacy and to be recognized as the ultimate leader in the region.

Despite the economic benefit yielding from high oil prices and a delirious craving for power, Chavez won’t get his desires. Not because he isn’t incapable of building up and leading a populist regime, but because the system he pretends to place in Latin America doesn’t coalesce with the latest global economic trends. Market economics is embedded within the most anti-capitalist regime today. And for that matter even Chavez’s populist regime breathes and makes profits through market pathways.

China is a good example of capitalist upsurge. This country had built a “Great Ideological Wall” along its borders during its communist period, but now is more capitalist than Donald Trump himself. China has turned into an economic power because its leaders shifted its economy toward a market system. However, unlike most Latin American countries, China’s economic growth developed under a tight state scrutiny, which allowed China to free out from outside influence.

Then what’s the deal with Bush’s trip? Why is he going to Latin America? Perhaps he wants to stop a socialist spread in the region? Maybe to tear down “El Chavismo” regime?

Bush should get some credit for this decision, but only an unwise individual like him would linger around in such volatile neighborhoods. Some people in this region would love to have their hands on him; give him a few knocks on the head, and kick him back to the United States. Among the world least respected leaders, Bush gets an “Oscar” in Latin America.

Only a stubborn man like him believes that Latin Americans have forgotten about his policies in the Middle East, which have turned Iraq into mayhem and has facilitated terrorist groups to multiply across the world.

Only a C student like Bush continues to believe that Neoliberalism will get Latin American economies on their feet. It is precisely this orthodox market-economic model which brought into these countries, among other things, poverty, high-crime rates, skyrocketing unemployment, and millions of workers seeking out foreign labor markets.

Only a naïve Bush would expect a welcoming hug in Uruguay, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia. In fact, a slap on the face could be a distasteful end result, as angry street demonstrators and pro-Chavez crowds might decide to throw pounds of tomatoes and eggs at him. An experience Americans would like to avoid seeing on television networks.

Consequently it isn’t the best time for a visit to Latin America. Maybe there hasn’t been one during his administration. Bush’s cowboy inflexible style, his reckless approach at world environmental summits, his proximity to big financial institutions and transnational corporations, and his confrontational attitude, are some reasons why Bush won’t receive a bouquet of flowers during his trip to Latin America.

However, President Bush can still make history. He could provide a negotiating table to reassess debt of Latin American countries. Bush is a tough minded individual but he is no revolutionary man. It will be a disappointing journey.

Dr. Humberto Caspa, Adjunct Professor at California State University, Long Beach. E-mail: hcletters@yahoo.com

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