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Time for America to Turn South

Whatever John Kerry does about Latin America if he is elected President of the United States in November, the election could initiate a sea-change in US-Latin American relations - even or perhaps mainly if George W. Bush is reelected. Kerry has never shown much interest in the region, while Bush has largely ignored it since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But the unlikely nature of a shift in relations does not make it any less necessary.

The need for change in America's policy toward the rest of the hemisphere is two-fold. First, never in recent times has anti-American sentiment run so strong and deep in Latin America. Poll after poll shows that Latins feel more negatively about the US than at any time since the 1960's. In contrast to that era, popular hostility is not really motivated by US actions in or toward Latin America; but today's anti-Americanism still complicates life greatly for democratic leaders in the hemisphere, and for America itself.

Second, and more importantly, the substantive issues of conflict on the US-Latin American agenda are heating up. They will not go away by themselves, and failure to address them will probably only make them worse.

The list of problems facing Latin America is long, but the salient themes are easily distinguishable. First and foremost is economic growth, which for the past few years - indeed, for the past two decades - has been dismal. In countries where trade and investment is concentrated in ties with the US, this is a central issue in the bilateral relationship.