Monday, November 24, 2008

Rethinking U.S.-Latin American Relations

Today the Brookings Institution released a new report entitled, "Rethinking U.S.-Latin American Relations." The commission that put it together was co-chaired by Ernesto Zedillo and Thomas Pickering. It contains a variety of policy recommendations, though most (like stripping away restrictions against Cuba, albeit not the entire embargo) have been voiced quite a bit recently.

I must say that I agree with many of the report's recommendations. However, I find it lacking in imagination (I hate to say "vision" but that is what first came to mind). The prologue notes that the report is based on the following two propositions.

The countries of the hemisphere share common interests; and the United States should engage its hemispheric neighbors on issues where shared interests, objections, and solutions are easiest to identify and can serve as a basis for an effective partnership.

We have now reached Platitude Central.

In a 36 page document, the word "dialogue" came up 9 times. I didn't even bother counting "partnership" because there were too many. Given the recommendations, the general idea seems to be generating a lot of commissions, task forces, etc. to facilitate dialogue and partnership.

If it means to be serious about its goals, then this and related reports must first explicitly address the issue of difference. For example, the report pushes hemispheric economic integration. How do we achieve "dialogue" and "partnership" if other countries view this as contrary to their own economic interests?

Along similar lines, the report does not address what I consider a critical element in improving hemispheric relations: the acknowledgment of a massive gap between rhetoric and reality with regard to the state's role in the economy. "Partnership" must begin with the recognition that leadership is not based on talking market while nationalizing or partially nationalizing your own industries.

In other words, I don't see this study as "rethinking" much at all.


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