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Commentary: US policy in Latin America: 'It's inequality - stupid!'
Published on May 22, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Rebecca Theodore

If Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech at the Council of the America’s Washington Conference shows the US’ pivotal move towards the Americas in terms of education, trade, energy, and governance; then it also evokes the puzzling question of what can the United States do to tackle the key political and economic challenges that are presently facing Latin American nations.

Rebecca Theodore is an op-ed columnist based in Washington, DC. She writes on national security and political issues. Follow her on twitter @rebethd or email at
According to Kerry, “The world’s new energy map is no longer centered on the Middle East, but on the western hemisphere.” Elaborating further, Kerry asserts that “Latin America will account for two-thirds of the growth in the world’s oil supply over the next two decades and that if we work together and play our cards right, the western hemisphere can literally become the most stable and prosperous region in the world.”

But if we are to accept this exaltation on the western hemisphere as truth, then we are driven to see that that the post cold war thinking that led to the support of democratic, anticommunist administrations in Latin America has failed. Latin America is now partitioned between authoritarian populism and liberal democracy. Latin America is now the smoke screen of a new kind of socialism and a quasi concept of a free-market type capitalism.

Conversely, it is now time to place special emphasis on assessing the sources and enormity of the inequality problem in Latin America before any concrete US policy measures can be reinforced.

While critics charge that a “politics of power is at serious play between the US, Russia and the EU that will eventually result in a new colonization of Latin America;” attention must also be drawn to the factors that suppress opportunities for investment and innovation in Latin America as well.

Despite the fact that Latin America is crippled by accrued debts, cataclysms of democratic regimes and the intrusion of human rights, it must be seen that poverty is still the most pervasive occurrence that is ingrained in every sector of the Latin American way of life.

It is in this context that gender violence and freedom of the press are mirrored as a relentless threat and an impediment to human development, thus proving that democracy is not only unable to restore respect for human rights in Latin America; but also continues to extend into additional economic declines and into widespread levels of illiteracy and poverty.

Hence, the purging of poverty should now become a matter of extreme US urgency in Latin America.

UN Development Programme (UNDP) reports that “poverty is the challenge that obstructs social and economic development in every country in Latin America and is the major contributing factor to both environmental degradation and depletion and to drug trafficking.”

Within this light, it must also be seen that although liberal democracy continues to manipulate the economic process in Latin America, tangible evidence still confirm that it is unable to draw on the cultural and social institutions that are needed for development and progress.

International monetary fund statistics further illustrate that “in the last five decades there has been no increase in per capita income in Latin America.” To understand why, we are again led to the inequality dilemma in which economic and political wealth and advantage are dominated by the ruling elites who control most of the economic and political power.

Indeed, any social and economic changes that is to be imposed by the US must also result in the weakening of the powers and positions of the landowning elites, as they now form the ‘new entrepreneurial class’ in Latin America.

It must also be noted, that Kerry’s new proposed package for economic growth and economic reform are not compatible with efforts to alleviate poverty and to foster social development in Latin America. The drama must not only be complete in politics and serene calls to draw attention to climate change. The drama must also be wired into the sparkling realization that eradication of poverty must be top priority on US policy goals if we are to continue to “work together and play our cards right.”

Moreover, the grand promises made to Latin America by the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are still in a disgruntled stage. Evidence shows that the US and NAFTA have done nothing but advance the havoc of climate change and environmental damage and crippled Mexico’s farming prospects.

In this regards, the market by itself cannot ensure equity and unravel the problem of inequality that the western hemisphere is presently facing –

How can economic reforms be maintained without social equity?

It is time that that the US understands that its “iron fist” policies towards Latin America do not work. If a new US model of development in Latin America must be devised, then attention must also be drawn to class interest, political and power struggles, inequality and poverty as they are the factors that are continuing to obstruct and block changes in Latin America.

Thus, factors for equality must also be redefined.
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