The Latin America Challenge

Retired Ambassador George Landau and Dr. Susan Kaufman Purcell spoke to UT students last Friday concerning growing problems with Latin America and how these changes are affecting the US at large. Professor Curt Rogers served as the moderator.

Ambassador Landau began the discussion by giving his thoughts on the Latin America challenge. His main points were that it’s extremely difficult to make these countries happy because they are upset with the US either for interfering with or for neglecting them and that the US foreign policy with Latin America is bipartisan – the same with both political parties.

He then discussed how Latin America is unfortunately becoming less relevant to the US as well as its bleak outlook. He noted that due to the lack of education, high levels of violence and the unpredictability of the region, Latin America is falling behind in spite of its annual growth of 4 percent. He concluded that unless Latin America steps up, it will become another Africa.

Throughout his analysis, Ambassador Landau injected humor. For example, with regard to Chile, he saw it as a “first world country that lives in a bad neighborhood.” And on the subject of Chavez, he mentioned that Chavez “spends money like a drunken sailor.”

Following Landau’s analysis, Dr. Purcell shared her thoughts. She talked about how in the 1990’s the Washington Consensus, an international initiative in cooperation with the World Bank and the IMF, strived to encourage the Latin America countries to welcome foreign investment, not foreign loans, and to lower their tariffs in order to grow their economies. The idea being that trade, not aid, would bring the necessary changes for Latin America’s success and “that a rising tide would lift all boats [i.e. social classes].” However, these reforms fell to corruption and the impoverished people never saw any improvements.

Dr. Purcell also noted other trends influencing Latin America’s current situation including: globalization (i.e. the growth of China and its poor unskilled labor force versus Latin America’s) the technology revolution which is making it easier for people marginal to the political process to become mobilized and the commodity boom in which certain individuals (Chavez) can influence the political landscape of Latin America with their great wealth gained from the sale of oil and gas.

She also discussed how the area’s natural political center of gravity leans to the left and our need to differentiate between the two kinds of leftists in Latin America – the social democratic leftists and the charismatic, authoritarian leftist leaders.

During the question and answer session, the two speakers addressed questions pertaining to various subjects including: the threat of Cuba and the current embargo, Venezuela being labeled a terrorist country by President Bush, dealing with Venezuela’s bipolar society, Venezuela and Iran’s relationship, dealing with corruption in the region, Colombia’s increasing economic power due to the narcotics trade and illegal immigration into the US.

Ambassador Landau served the United States during WWII as an Army Captain through ambassadorships to Paraguay, Chile and Venezuela. In addition, he has served as president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society.

Dr. Purcell has served as the VP of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society as well as written, co-authored or co-edited 11 books focused on Latin America. Currently, she is the director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami. Both speakers have state, business and academic background with regard to Latin America.

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