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Latin America's Visions of Kerry

The tin man vs. the straw man. The candidate with a brain but without a heart against the president with a heart but without a brain. That's how many Latin Americans are viewing the race between John Kerry and George W. Bush. Even from afar, people perceive the forthcoming US election as a contest between two contending world views, two opposite visions, two ways of viewing reality and dealing with it. Kerry represents reason and Bush faith. Kerry embodies rationality and Bush morality. Kerry understands the real world, while Bush lives in one of his own making.

South of the US border, many countries perceive that Kerry embraces multilateralism, while Bush rejects it. Kerry refers to terrorism as a problem that should be contained, while Bush views it as an epic war that must be won. Kerry speaks of friends and allies, while Bush alienates many of them. As a result, for Latin Americans the choice has never been as clear-cut. Across the hemisphere, citizens from Buenos Aires to Brasilia and from San Salvador to Santiago de Chile know that Bush means more of the same, while Kerry offers the possibility of a different course.

More of the same in US-Latin American relations would mean four more years of "the war on terror" at center stage, four more years of pressing issues - trade, poverty, the environment, immigration - placed on the back burner, and four more years of an American foreign policy that defines friendship in terms of the number of troops sent to Iraq. Latin Americans have been there and done that. The results have not been pretty. While bombs drop over Baghdad, instability grows in Bogotá. While "freedom is on the march" in Afghanistan, poverty marches on in the Andes. While the Middle East burns, Latin America simmers.

So Latin Americans believe that Bush must go. They view him as a man who trusts his instincts more than empirical evidence, who prays as a way of making policy, who doesn't recognize his mistakes in Iraq, and who listens to his inner voice instead of to what other countries have to say. Latin Americans recoil from Bush's faith-based presidency because it has meant thousands dead and wounded in Iraq, a more polarized world, and a hemisphere neglected. As a result, many Latin Americans view Bush with panic, fear, and growing antipathy. They view him as a menace, not a salvation.