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President Bush's Trip to Latin America

Speaker: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow, for Latin America Studies, Director for Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Moderator: Robert McMahon, Deputy Editor,
March 7, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations


OPERATOR:  I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Robert McMahon. 

You may begin, sir.

ROBERT MCMAHON:  Well, thank you, and good morning everyone.  Thanks for joining us on this snowy day.  This is Robert McMahon, deputy editor of, and I'm joined in our Washington office by Julia Sweig, who is the Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin American Studies and director of Latin American Studies at the Council.  She is the author most recently of "Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century."

Julia, I'd like to start the questions off with -- looking at the trip tomorrow.  President Bush begins his longest trip to Latin America, which administration officials have indicated will feature new emphasis on poverty reduction, even health care and housing needs.  Others stress it is a move to counter the growing influence of Hugo Chavez.  What kind of impact is Bush likely to have with this trip?

JULIA SWEIG:  Thanks, Bob, for having me, and thank you all for calling in this morning.  I understand some of you are leaving with the president tonight.

You know, the impact of the trip will be different than the impact of the programs and proposals he's trying to put on the table.  President Bush is stepping into an environment in Latin America in which anti-American sentiment has never been higher. I think it's possible, given what I'm picking up from reading around in the region, that there will be some major protests in many of the countries he goes to.  He is going to try to reframe, let's say, the American approach -- as Bob said, "emphasis" -- by leaving the trade-terror-drugs trifecta to one side and emphasizing the kind of issues that Latin Americans themselves have been clamoring for the United States to notice that they care about for the last 15 years, such as poverty and inequality.  And words like "social justice" are now in the White House talking points. 

I think that for many reasons in terms of perception of the United States in Latin America, the United States has no where to go but up.  But having said that, the reasons for the antipathy toward the United States -- and not just on the left or by Hugo Chavez but more generally -- have to do not just with America's bilateral approach to the hemisphere but a sense that America's global power projection has really gone overboard.  And so the unilateralism of American foreign policy -- Iraq, Abu Ghraib, counter-insurgency, regime change -- all of that -- those terms, those phrases, that emphasis on American foreign policy plucks very, very sensitive chords in Latin Americans who experienced that kind of American power themselves before we took it global. 

So by sprinkling -- and I'll finish here -- some new ideas, some new funds for social, domestic issues in Latin America, raising the issues of biofuels and energy independence and cooperation with Brazil -- I think that's all incredibly important and I commend it, but I'm not sure that one week alone is going to substantially turn things around.

MCMAHON:  And just as a final follow-up, the five countries that were chosen, then -- do they allow a sense of practical achievement -- you mentioned Brazil -- there's the ethanol agreement perhaps; Uruguay, maybe a trade agreement.  Are there -- these five countries offer something practical perhaps that they can [achieve] -- as a starting point?

SWEIG:  Well, I think they do, as a starting point, offer something practical.  But I have to say that, you know, this is an embattled White House, and although it does have strong allies -- allies of the left, allies of the right, allies of the center in Latin America -- it's just hard to imagine practical accomplishments coming out from this one week.  And part of that has to do with domestic politics in the United States.  Much of American policy towards Latin America is bound up in domestic politics, whether you're talking agricultural subsidies and trade, immigration, drugs, and even the dreaded Cuba issue.  So to extricate American foreign policy toward Latin America from all the domestic politics that clog it -- and then the same is true within Latin America.  There are domestic politics that heads of state are responsive to when crafting their approach to the United States.  It's a very long road ahead, but I think the Bush administration and its Latin America team in this second term is making an important attempt to turn this ship of state, and it will be a while until we can measure its effects.

MCMAHON:  Well, thank you, Julia. 

We have a number of people on the phone, so we welcome your questions.  And at this point we will invite the questions.

OPERATOR:  At this time we will open the floor for questions.  If you would like to ask a question, please press the "*" key, followed by the "1" key, on your touchtone phone now.  Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received. 

And our first question today comes from David Lynch. 

QUESTIONER:  Yes, Julia, I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about this de facto contest the U.S. seems to be in with Chavez for influence in Latin America -- where that's headed and what the outlook is for Chavez domestically in Venezuela.  What is this 21st-century socialism that he keeps talking about?  How do you expect to see that play out?

SWEIG:  Hi, David.  Thanks for your question.

It is a de facto contest for hearts and minds.  I mean, the president's spokespeople announced that an American battleship is going to be traveling around the hemisphere providing medical care and -- a long time in coming.  I mean, I think it's fantastic that that's happening.  You know, you're not going to be able to declare a winner after this one week -- put it that way -- either -- between Chavez or Bush. 

And the Chavez phenomenon -- this 21st-century socialism issue, you know, really I think has to be understood in the context of a hemisphere and in a country in which there are -- is a history of domestic economic and social [polarization, but precisely because of the democratization that we've seen, even in a place like Venezuela and -- that is -- that allowed a guy like Chavez to come in. 

With more open societies and more open channels for people to protest and express themselves through voice and vote, I think it's likely that the United States is not essentially going to be able to take on Chavez and win.  The real actors that are going to have to sort of point the region in the direction toward more of a kind of market-based social democracy -- as opposed to this authoritarian concentration of power that we're seeing in Venezuela -- are Latin Americans themselves. 

And that's, I think, David, the crucial issue, is that will the United states -- what kind of tools can the United States offer or modeling can the United States exhibit to Latin American elites who themselves have been very much responsible for the polarization that Chavez plays into and exploits?  I think that's the key question because at the end of the day, what this trip is about and what this moment I think we're living in in American foreign policy is that American influence in the region has dramatically declined. 

MCMAHON:  Thank you, David.

Next question, please?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Kevin Mooney.

QUESTIONER:  Hi, Julia.  Kevin Mooney, Cybercast News Service.

I have a question about the tri-border region where apparently there's a high level of criminal activity -- ill-defined borders, and I'm wondering if you anticipate that being figured into any discussions, any assistance the United States could offer to Brazil or some of those other countries that have wrestled with some of those issues.

SWEIG:  Well, you know, the Latin Americans are pretty allergic to having to spend most of their time with the Americans talking about our security agenda.  And the tri-border area is this historically sensitive area. 

From reading what I can tell publicly and talking privately, I can't tell that there's going to be a big emphasis on counterterrorism in these talks, precisely because the Bush -- the administration is trying to broaden the discussion and the Latin Americans very much want that.

But having said that, you know, the Pentagon and SOUTHCOM are involved in trying to monitor what's happening there.  But sort of providing more security cooperation at this particular moment would be very politically sensitive.  And although I don't know for sure the answer to your question, I doubt it's going to be an emphasis of this trip. 

MCMAHON:  Thank you for the question.

Next question, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Letta Taylor.

QUESTIONER:  Hello.  Good morning.  Question -- if they could do it all over again, would Bush's aides cancel the trips to Colombia and Guatemala, given the huge embarrassments -- the political scandals there?  I'm talking about Uribe's aide's alleged ties to paramilitaries, and in Guatemala the executions of the -- the slayings of three Salvadoran lawmakers by -- supposedly by rogue cops who were then executed mysteriously in prison.

SWEIG:  Hi, Letta.


SWEIG:  You know, a lot of people -- myself included -- predicted in the case of Colombia that the issue of paramilitarism -- when Uribe was inaugurated, I had a piece in Foreign Affairs -- I have to say that immodestly -- predicting that this issue of paramilitarism was going to come back to bite him, Uribe, but also the United States.  And it's really bleeding out all over for the public to see, and very much weakening Uribe, but also casting a big shadow over this close alliance relationship that the United States has forged. 

But this White House, as we know, embraces its mistakes and is very reluctant to stand down from them.  And so I suspect that this President Bush would in absolutely no uncertain terms never consider canceling a trip.  In fact I suspect that he's going to go down there and sing Uribe's praises and embrace him as he has Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney in his own circle and other questionable allies, as well.

His staff -- sure.  I bet they're a little bit uncomfortable, and it may be that -- and I suspect more information will come out on the Uribe front and on the paramilitary issues in Colombia.  But what do you -- you know, this is -- this is -- they're eating the cereal that they've served to themselves, if you wish. 

In Guatemala, I was surprised, Letta, even before this scandal broke that they would even go to Guatemala.  It struck -- strikes me as an enormously bizarre choice, not just -- primarily because of -- this is an administration which itself has recognized that the corruption in the country is so severe and that the drug-related mafia criminality has gotten so strong that it's a very difficult government to support.  So I was very surprised they chose it even before that scandal broke.  And I don't really understand the rationale.

MCMAHON:  Thanks for the question.

Next question please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Sam Logan.

QUESTIONER:  Hi, Julia.  Good morning.  I actually have a couple of questions if I could squeak them in there.

SWEIG:  Can you tell me what the international security network is, Sam?

QUESTIONER:  Sure.  It's a not-for-profit news and analysis organization based out of Zurich.

SWEIG:  Got it.

QUESTIONER:  And I write for their daily news magazine called "Security Watch."

SWEIG:  Okay.  Thank you.

QUESTIONER:  Okay.  The first question would be regarding Bush's visit to Uruguay.  Friends of mine in Argentina have suggested that his choice to visit Uruguay and not Argentina may actually damage Washington's relationship with Buenos Aires in the sense that Kirchner would be miffed.  And maybe that's only a creation of Kirchner's own ego, but at the same time, considering the history of the U.S. relationship with Argentina, I'm just curious to know your opinion on why he's chosen not to visit Argentina.

And secondly, earlier on you mentioned that the counter to Hugo Chavez should come from a Latin American leader.  I was wondering if you would maybe comment on who or what leaders you think would be able to stand up to Hugo Chavez.

SWEIG:  Okay.  Well, I think the reason that they've chosen Uruguay is because Uruguay -- and you can read this in Steve Hadley's press conference the other day -- Uruguay, according to the administration, is making right choice, correct choices, and is a leftist government which is -- has former armed guerillas in its cabinet that despite that kind of ideological predilection looks to have a rational relationship with the United States.  And the United States, by choosing Uruguay, is trying to send a signal to a country like Argentina but also to Chavez and to the rest of us that the United States is capable of having a relationship with a government that it doesn't necessarily share ideology but does share common values. 

Uruguay, as you know, is pursuing a bilateral trade agreement with the United States, and after the Mar del Plata summit a year and a half ago, the Bush administration kind of held on to that one fact in terms of the southern cone rejection of trade with the United States, held on to the fact that there was this small, tiny country, Uruguay, that was even willing to, you know, buck Mercosur's and the dominance of Argentina and Brazil within Mercosur to pursue a relationship with the United States. 

So it's picking up allies where you can find them.  It's not so much about Argentina as sort of the demonstration effect more broadly.  And I think the calculus is that the United States can afford to annoy Kirchner -- that there's not a great cost involved there.

On the [other question], what I meant to say was not that a Latin American leader could replace or contest or challenge Chavez.  What I said was that the issues that Chavez is responding to, of economic inequality and poverty and political exclusion -- those -- these sort of long-standing, grinding issues in Latin America -- those are only going to be ameliorated by choices that Latin Americans themselves make about investing in their own people and building a social contract -- weaving together a social contract.  And by that I mean creating institutions that are functioning and that are transparent, but also making the kinds of investments in human capital so that Latin Americans can grow a middle class and can compete globally.  And that means infrastructure and it means education and it means nutrition -- it means all of the basics that Latin Americans are just now beginning to make. 

And so that's why this is really a long-term issue where the hearts and minds question -- you know, the thing about Chavez is that he sucks up all the oxygen in the room, and many of the other Latin American leaders that might otherwise -- we would maybe want him -- to challenge him like -- want to challenge him, like Lula or like Michel Bachelet in Chile -- they have their own domestic lefts to worry about, and they have obviously made a calculus that it's better to work with Venezuela and Chavez quietly rather than to take him on publicly -- which, by the way, is just a few degrees different from the Bush administration's own -- now -- own approach to Chavez.

MCMAHON:  On the issue of Chavez and the Uruguay visit -- he'll be just across the river in Argentina at that time -- is there a danger or is there a likelihood of this becoming a bit of a sideshow like we saw at the U.N. with the Chavez appearance there after Bush?

SWEIG:  Well, clearly it happened at Mar del Plata, at the Summit of the Americas II, and then we saw that at the U.N., Bob.  It's possible that it will become more than a sideshow.  It really very much depends, and it's not only Argentina where protests are being planned.  Some of it will have to do with what kind of -- how colorful the protests are and the show that Chavez mounts, because of course the media is going to want to characterize this story as a contest between Bush and Chavez, and Bush is not going to have any of the flair or fun that Chavez is going to bring along to the party. 

MCMAHON:  Thanks.

We'll take the next question, please.

OPERATOR:  Again, if you would like to ask a question, please press "*, 1" on your touchtone phone now. 

We do have another question from Ms. Letta Taylor.

QUESTIONER:   Hello again.  Two things:  One, I'm wondering if maybe on Guatemala, this is a "thank you" for Guatemala putting forward its futile candidacy at the U.N. for the Security Council seat. 

And on Chavez, if I could follow up on that, do you think that countering Chavez's influence was a primary reason for this trip?  Or would you guess that it's one of many reasons?

SWEIG:  The U.N. -- sure it's a "thank you" for that.  But you know, I think the Central Americans probably see the United States as having an excessively -- a relationship of favoritism towards El Salvador.  And he could have gone to El Salvador and that would have been most predictable.  The Salvadorans are the last Central American country to have troops in Iraq.  The Saca administration and the Bush administration are very, very tight.  But I think this is just a bit of spreading the love, if you will.  And the U.N. piece is one element of that.

Now maybe he'll surprise us and go down there and make some very tough comments that will be helpful to strengthen the domestic security environment in Guatemala, but I -- that remains to be seen.  I mean, we'll see how this all plays out.

You know, Letta, on Venezuela, I think the stars have sort of all converged and aligned in a certain way.  In my view, Chavez is a barometer of how bad things have gotten in Latin America.  He is a -- you know, he's responsive to a number of deep-seated problems, as I've said, and he has exploited them domestically and attempted to do it with mixed results more regionally -- that is, he's not responsible for the election of Evo Morales or Correa in Ecuador, even Daniel Ortega in Managua.  Each of these individuals comes -- grows out of their own domestic and social circumstances. 

But the Bush administration in the first term had tremendous blinders on and was so focused on an agenda that sounds from the Latin American perspective so bereft.  And then of course you had the coup in 2002, which strengthened Chavez, and you know, you know the story of how the bilateral polarization and domestic polarization in Venezuela unfolded, that by the time we get a new team on Latin America in the Bush administration, you have a number of elections coming up and you have the continued degradation of American credibility and opinion toward Latin America. 

And so countering Chavez, of course, if Chavez is a metaphor for everything that's gone wrong in the hemisphere, that's what this trip is about, and also I think attempting to resurrect some good will that has clearly been lost.  And also I think this administration understands the importance of the hemisphere and maybe sees it as low-hanging fruit by comparison to the other enormously difficult foreign policy issues it faces more globally.

MCMAHON:  Thanks for the question.

Another question?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  We have another question from Sam Enriques (sp).

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, hi.  I'm wondering if we could just move north for a minute -- what you think Calderon's best strategy is in dealing with Bush.  You know, he wants immigration reform but he's dealing with a lame duck president and a pretty divided U.S. electorate.  And on the drug war, you know, Calderon sent out the military to a quarter of the states in Mexico, but its partner, the U.S., has reduced spending on military surveillance flights, ocean surveillance and all of that pretty dramatically because of the war in Iraq.  What's Calderon got to do with Bush up in Merida?

SWEIG:  Well, Sam, you put your finger on exactly the nut of the issue, which is that the United States as a partner is increasingly bereft of policy tools it has to offer its allies, even such an important ally and partner and neighbor as Mexico.  Even assuming that President Bush has actually, when it comes to Mexico, an enormous amount of good will and good intentions on the immigration front and even on the drug and security front, the fact is that the United States -- its resources are depleted economically and politically. 

And I think on the immigration front, it's hard for me to imagine that there's going to be a major immigration reform law coming out of this Congress.  We're too close now to the presidential election, and I fear that this is going to have to be dragged out until after the 2009 inauguration of the next president. 

And so Calderon -- you know, he will I'm sure not make the mistake of President Fox in representing the partnership with the United States as having the capacity to deliver Mexico from all of its major ills and will keep expectations low domestically within Mexico and try to extract as much as possible.  And maybe that's going to be just words of praise and attention and momentum toward immigration reform. 

And you know, I hadn't looked at the numbers in terms of the reduction of the security cooperation programs that you're talking about, but that's a very big concern because I think this administration, more than Fox, would be very, very inclined to accept American assistance.  So I see that as very ominous.

MCMAHON:  Thank you for the question.

Next question please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Kevin Mooney.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  I have a question about just free trade in general.  I'm wondering with regard to Brazil especially if there's any way the administration can pursue a free trade agenda without making it appear as though it's just something that is weighted toward the American perspective -- if it's something that actually would benefit and would plug into some of those questions of social justice in Latin America.

SWEIG:  I think the fundamental issue on free trade, especially with a country as big as Brazil, is that Brazil has its own domestic political interests to worry about.  But our -- you know, our tariff on ethanol imports, plus our agricultural subsidies are just two huge obstacles, and we have to have the domestic political fight at home, I think, before any kind of bilateral trade agreement can be jump-started with Brazil.

And I think on the social justice front, you know, the Brazilians in fact without a trade agreement with the United States and by virtue of implementing social programs like Bolsa Familia, which is a cash-transfer program to poor families, and it goes to many, many families -- I don't know the numbers -- in Brazil -- they've actually begun to reduce their Gini coefficients, their inequality numbers. 

So I think that what we have to do in my view is disentangle the idea of a trade agreement from the capacity for a country that we would cut a deal with to enact social -- to improve their social justice numbers.  Access to America's market will of course stimulate growth domestically, but then the question is, how do you spend that revenue?  And that's not something I think that the United States can negotiate.

MCMAHON:  Julia, you mentioned the tariff issue, which -- it basically is seen as a non-starter because of congressional opposition, among other things.  Congress also seems to be overshadowing Bush in terms of its restrictions or potential new restrictions for deals with Peru, for example, the immigration issue you mentioned.  Congress seems to be this other party here that's not really taking part in the trip.

SWEIG:  (Laughs.)  Yes.  I wonder, do you -- does anybody know whether any members of Congress are accompanying President Bush on this trip?

Well, I don't know, but I don't think so, and not even some of his closest allies in the Senate -- for example, Senator Lugar, who's been a pioneer on this issue of biofuels and energy independence and reducing America's agricultural subsidies.  He's not going along, and that's too bad.

The -- you're right, absolutely, Bob.  I think that in a certain sense the Bush administration has a bit of liberty to go down there and talk about -- and start this new conversation knowing that its hands are in many ways tied because of the Congress, and it can -- it can demonstrate good will and talk about best practices and new initiatives, but at the end of the day on trade, on immigration, and even on restructuring how we spend all of our aid money, the majority of which now goes to Colombia and plying Colombia -- all of that is in fact in the hands of Congress.

MCMAHON:  Well, thanks.

Next question please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Sam Logan.

QUESTIONER:  Hi, Julia.  Regarding the -- as far as congressmen coming to Brazil, I know that there aren't any.  And I'd like to return to Brazil or stay with Brazil briefly.

Burns and Shannon and Gonzales were all down here not too long ago.  Many people down here thought that they were sort of paving the way for Bush's visit.  And I'm curious to know what you think may come of Bush's discussion with Lula.  I know that the idea of the U.S. importing more ethanol from Brazil is more of a market driver than a tariff reduction question, but at the same time I think Bush may have an opportunity to offer other sort of incentives for a closer U.S.-Brazil relationship.  Do you -- would you have any comments to that?

SWEIG:  But what are the other incentives that he might be offering?

QUESTIONER:  Well, specifically I think some of the incentives might have to do with closer cooperation between the Brazilian federal police and the DEA.  I think other incentives may be with helping Brazil deal with its border issues, specifically with Colombia and Venezuela; closer military ties.  I think other incentives may have to do with trade but not ethanol.  And finally I think just a better personal relationship between key members of the State Department and key members of the Lula administration.

SWEIG:  Well, those personal relationships -- you're right.  They're good for something, and they are substantially better.

What I don't know is how favorably disposed Brazil is toward -- in deepening the relationship with the United States on the security front.  I mean, Brazil has taken a number of initiatives on its own without the United States, including now allowing for a shoot-down policy along the border area, and that was a big -- that was a big political move when it happened a couple of years ago.  But -- and were there to be cooperation with the DEA, it obviously -- I mean, they have a huge domestic security issue because of the drug problem in Brazil.  Perhaps that would be positive for Brazil; perhaps it wouldn't be.  I just don't have a read on how gung-ho the Lula administration is to deepen the security relationship with the United States, especially because, although it is -- Brazil has major problems on that front, the security toolbox is what has become so radioactive, if you will, in Latin America in terms of the relations with the United States.  But I could be wrong.

MCMAHON:  Thanks for the question, Sam.

Next question please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Connie Watson.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  I work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but I'm based in Mexico City.  And I'm just wondering, Julia, if you can put a little bit of this in context, because what I'm reading around this region seems to be that a lot of people here feel that this visit is too little, too late; that they finally woke up to the fact that Latin America is in the backyard, that they're not expecting much out of this.  And these programs -- I don't know if you'd say they're significant in any way or if they're just a bit of a -- I think one paper here called it "a tiny little carrot" that he's brining.  And I'm wondering if you could characterize what you're hearing and seeing in the region and maybe putting this trip into that kind of context.

SWEIG:  A boutique carrot.  You know, I think that when you sit down and you read the list of programs that they're talking about, it does seem -- you know, it's about American soft power and there's some programs there that probably nobody knows about because we've all been focused on the big-ticket items and the controversial items. 

But the context, I think, is that over the last 15 years -- not just the last six years -- the United States has promoted globalization as the panacea, the bridge to the 21st century, and in Latin America globalization is perceived to be -- have deepened inequality between countries and within countries, and probably has.  In the last 15 years, the United States has focused on trade agreements as this leveler of the playing field, but in fact they're really investment agreements to help the American private sector, and Latin Americans are clear about that.

We've also -- the United States has promoted democracy but have looked until the last couple of years as if we only like democracy when our guy wins, so there's skepticism about that.  And then the global foreign policy issues I mentioned before have reinforced Latin America's sense that the Bush administration, especially the Bush White House, is a danger to global security -- not a Sir Galahad ready to protect us all.  So that's the context. 

And then the other context is that historically the United States has allied itself -- and this is similar with the Middle East -- has allied itself with the -- you know, the ruling elites of countries, of the very countries that Bush -- with the exception of Brazil, I believe -- is going to visit -- and Uruguay, too.  But -- and so there's a skepticism that Washington doesn't have Latin America's interests at hand but only its own interests, and that to make those interests manifest, it pursues policies that are harmful to most Latin Americans. 

That's the context, and that's why you are picking up this notion that this is too little, too late, and it's just, you know, a package of handouts where Bush is spreading about "caramelos" instead of, you know, a Marshall Plan or something like that.

But here's the rub -- and with this I'll end -- this notion of -- Latin Americans are ambivalent, right?  They have invested a lot in getting from the United States aid packages, weapons, debt relief -- all kinds of things that the United States has to give out, and I think the fact is that this notion of neglect is at this point in time misguided and that Latin Americans have to realize that the United States is not going to be able to solve their problems, some of which -- many of which we have -- the United States has exacerbated.  But at this point, because of our double deficits that we have; because of our preoccupation in other parts of the world; and because Latin America, for all of its security problems, does not pose the strategic challenge that an Iran or a North Korea or an Iraq does, the United States is just not going to be able to deliver deliverance to Latin Americans.  And so this neglect issue is yesterday's story, in my view.

MCMAHON:  Thanks for the question.

Another question, please?

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Garrett Mitchell.

QUESTIONER:  Julia, hi.  It's Garrett Mitchell from "The Mitchell Report," and I want to --

SWEIG:  Hi, Garrett.

QUESTIONER:  How are you?

SWEIG:  Fine, thanks.

QUESTIONER:  I want to ask you a question that -- I've been sort of sitting and listening to this conversation.  I looked very recently at a poll -- Latinobarometro poll?

SWEIG:   Yeah.

QUESTIONER:  -- where they interview a thousand people in each of 18 countries and -- looking at political ideology.  And here's what struck me, and what generates the question, is that when peoples of 18 separate countries were asked where they would rate themselves on a political spectrum, Left or Right, it turns out that most think of themselves as Right, the most extreme example being the Dominican Republic and the most leftist country -- this is self-rating -- being Panama.  Then they go on to ask about the image of leaders in the region -- and the most popular is Lula, followed by Bachelet and Uribe, and the least -- the last three were Bush, Garcia and Castro.

So I have two questions.  One is, to what extent do you think that poll represents reality?  In other words, I was somewhat surprised by some of those results, not all.  I'm just interested as to whether that tracks with your thinking and your knowledge of the region, the way the people rate themselves.

And the second question is kind of a wild-card question, I guess.  And that is, we talk a lot about -- when we do -- about Latin America as kind of a monolith; you know, what do the Latin Americans think?  What's the Latin American perspective?  Do they think of themselves that way?

      SWEIG:  That's a great question.

Look, the Latinobarometro polls and all polls -- and there are -- we all know there's polls coming out all the time.  They're a bit of a Rorschach, and you can take from them whatever you bring to them.  So I don't think I can give you a good answer about whether the most recent polls, in terms of how Latin Americans see themselves, reflect reality.  I mean, whose reality, what reality?  I know that sounds really 1960s, but I think you can cut it at a lot of different angles.

I'm not surprised at all that Lula and Bachelet and Uribe would get those kind of high marks.  Nor am I surprised not to see Chavez up there and to see who you mentioned -- what, Bush and Peru -- sorry, Garcia -- and Castro down toward the bottom.

And also, you know, Latin Americans by and large -- and this gets me to the second question, which I'll go to in a minute -- you know, I think you sort of have traditionally a kind of 30-30-30-ish split:  30 percent center-leftish, 30 percent centrist, and 30 percent center-right-right.  And part of that is -- that will change over time.  Right now you're seeing a real rainbow of Left governments and social movements backing them coming into power.  But the Dominicans think of themselves as Right.  I guess that doesn't surprise me.

I know this very unsatisfactory, but you know, you could look at other polls that Latinobarometro have done, or other polls, and see other ways that people describe themselves.  Pew is going to do a lot of Latin American polling, and -- for the global survey this year -- and I think it'll be quite interesting to see what that generates.

On your second question -- your second question was --

SWEIG:   Oh, right, do Latin Americans see themselves as Latin American?

It depends on the issue.  I mean, you would deduce from the weakness of the Organization of American States and other regional and subregional organizations that Latin Americans are not like Europeans; they don't see themselves as part of some sort of core community of nations moving forward and crafting policies together because they don't do that.  I mean, they do it somewhat effectively, and some -- on some issues the Central Americans are very good at coming together, and -- negotiating their free-trade agreement with the United States, for example.  But no, I think Latin Americans see themselves as identified with their own national identity much more so than as a collective body, absolutely.

QUESTIONER:  Right.  Thank you.

MCMAHON:   Thank you for those questions, Garrett.  Another question, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.

We have another question from Mr. Sam Enriques (sp).

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, hi.  I just wondered, getting back to Mexico, whether Mexico is viewed as a special case by the White House?  I have a friend here in Mexico City who talks about how the 10 million Mexicans in the U.S. are sort of a ideological vaccine.  They send money home, they buy new trucks, they start small businesses, their kids get free schooling through the 12th grade, and they say to people back home, "Hey, this capitalism isn't so bad.  It works here."  And if so, I mean, how does that figure into the immigration debate, or has it figured in at all?

SWEIG:  That's a really great issue to raise, and it allows me to say something which goes to why I think this issue of neglect is yesterday's story.  And then I'll get into what I think tomorrow's story is because, Sam, you put your finger on it.

You know, although officially the integration model of the Free Trade Area of the Americas that was launched in the 1990s has pretty much collapsed -- and yes, we're developing bilateral trade agreements with individual countries, but this notion that governments in the post-Cold War era were going to together negotiate and created these new regimes that would bind the whole hemisphere, that's not happening.

But unofficially we are more and more integrated every day.  We have Mexicans living here, 10 million of them.  But we have 50 million citizens of -- citizens and residents of Latino descent, 10 million of whom are Mexicans, 10 million of whom are here without official papers.  They're sending back 45 (billion dollars), $50 billion a year in remittances.  They are communicating with their family members.  They're helping support their family members.  They're, by the way, getting their own countries off the hook by providing such a huge insertion of GDP revenue into their own countries -- getting them off the hook from having to make the kind of domestic investments I was talking about earlier.

And yes, you know, "an ideological vaccine," I think that's a great phrase.  It is -- for the -- Mexico is a special case.  We have a huge border, we have Mexican citizens living here, and we have a number of security issues that we have to deal with together.  And if that relationship is -- I'm not sure that it -- I have the say that, though, thinking about this more, does the fact of that -- of those Mexicans living here sort of dampen Mexico's otherwise anti-American predilection?  Probably a little bit it does.  And the fact that Latin Americans, and Mexicans especially, want to keep coming here and moving here is, I think, though, less about the fact that we have the American dream and they want to participate in our society -- although that's a piece of it -- but because they have family members here, and that's a natural draw; we have jobs here; and their own societies are not delivering on the fundamental -- fundamentals that would otherwise keep them at home.

So this kind of sideways integration -- unofficial integration -- I really do think is the story of tomorrow because traditionally -- and this probably goes back to Bob's opening -- traditionally we've thought of -- we in the United States think, "Well, what is it that we can do to and for Latin America to change Latin America?"  And I think the answer to those questions is that, you know, there are some things that we can do, but the toolbox is getting emptier.

But the new question is, "Well, what is Latin America -- how is Latin America changing us?"  And the truth is that, as we're seeing with this enormous explosion in the Latino demographic here, and the cultural and social and political implications that has, Latin America is changing the United States.  And that means that whatever the ideology of our government or Latin American governments, we're kind of stuck with one another.  And that's a transformation that will continue to shape how we see one another.

MCMAHON:  Thanks for the question.

Do we have another question?

OPERATOR:  Yes, we do have another question, from Diane Hodges.

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike) --

SWEIG:  Hello?

QUESTIONER:  -- and I was just curious why the Bush administration is making this trip now, what is playing into the timing of it?  And also, how concerned are they about the growing influence of China in the region?

SWEIG:  Diane, I missed the very beginning of your question.  I heard you ask why they're making the trip now and what about China, but did you ask something else?

QUESTIONER:  Oh.  No, I was just saying that I'm with Al-Jazeera International, and that's -- you know, like I said, I just wanted to know about their timing and what's playing into that decision.

SWEIG:  Well, I suspect that they started planning this trip a year ago at least.  So the timing is that after the second term -- after he was reelected -- he brought in a new Latin American team that looked around Latin America and said, "Wow, there's going to be over a dozen elections coming up.  We've really blown things with Venezuela.  And how -- is there an opportunity for the United States to try to turn things around?"  And you saw the beginning of that when Condi Rice and Karen Hughes went to Michele Bachelet's inauguration at the end of 2004 and started using words like "social justice" and "we feel your pain" kind of expressions of empathy.

And frankly, you know, as I said earlier, Latin America, from their perspective, we have a number of interests there.  It's low-hanging fruit in the sense that there's enough -- although what you'll see with this trip is a lot of anger towards George Bush, what you will also see is that Latin American governments and people have a stake in keeping the door open with the United States.  And so I think they see this as an opportunity to show that we're not the just the big bad wolf that everybody thinks that we are.

On China, they don't seem to be too worried about China.  In fact, China -- Latin America is the third-highest recipient of Chinese overseas foreign investment.  China is helping to fuel the commodity export boom that the southern (cone ?) especially is experiencing.  And I think that probably from the American perspective, you know, the United -- Washington sees that as getting us off the hook a little bit because it has helped Latin America diversify its trade and export portfolio, and that's a good thing.

QUESTIONER:  So they're seeing China as more of an ally, the U.S. is, rather than a competitor?

SWEIG:  I think they see China, absolutely, as a global competitor.  But I think they understand that China understands -- they see that -- they believe China understands where American redlines are and that China has much bigger fish to fry with the United States than to, you know, mess with us in our traditional backyard.  And so, in China's global search for resources and markets, Latin America is but one part of that, and Washington understands that.

Where China started to get a little bit interesting from a strategic point of view was, for example, a couple of years ago, when the United States cut off almost all military assistance to the armed forces in Bolivia because the Bolivian government wouldn't sign on to an Article 98 agreement around the ICC.  And the very next day, the Chinese said, "How much money do you need?" and wrote a check, and financed the construction of Bolivia's foreign ministry.

So when the United States removes itself from the domestic political environment of a Latin American country, China has stepped in.  And SOUTHCOM started screaming about it, and in fact, what you see is the Bush administration on this Article 98 front has found a loophole to allow military assistance programs to go forward again.  So China's involvement in the hemisphere probably sparked a reform on that front, if you will.

MCMAHON:  Thank you for those questions, Diane.

Another question, please.

OPERATOR:  Okay, sir.  There are no further questions at this time.

MCMAHON:  Okay.  Well, thanks, everyone, for joining us.

Thank you, Julia.

SWEIG:  Thanks Bob.

Thanks everybody.







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