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That White House Con(ference)

19 July 2007

I mentioned the White House Conference on the Americas once before. Me and… oh, maybe a few lefties like Daniel Denvir (who I”ve never heard of before) from the “Portland Central America Solidarity Committee” (which I never heard of, either). Not that I’m THE go-to guy on all things Latin American, but Denvir makes a good point.

What’s going on in Mexico — in Oaxaca, with AMLO, the now-discredited story about the ERP blowing up gas lines (the press is full of stories instead about Chinese-born Mexican gangster Zhenli Ye Gon (who somehow some think is connected to the explosions. Just the drug money story is weird and “got a little weirder today” as Dudley Althaus writes in the Houston Chronicle. ) has its own Mexican flavor, but it fairly pan-Latin: Mexico’s rightist administration is the odd man out in Latin America.

While the South Americans move left, even the Catholic Bishops are moving are less and less willing to follow the leadership of outsiders. Calderón and Company are resisting the changes in the relationship.

The one thing I thought the Fox Administration did right was to open Mexican markets to the rest of the world. The Calderón Administration too making at least some financial decisions that aren’t going to benefit the U.S. So far, Mexico remains closer to the U.S. than to the rest of Latin America than other countries, but there’s no reason that can’t change. Or won’t.

No, the best bullshit detectives on the Pacific Coast sometimes see acceptance of the fact that Mexico is a leftist country run by rightist (and opportunists) as support for any given faction. In a lot of instances it is — not all though. And, of course, there are those authoritarian types who think acceptance of trends opposed by the White House is anti-American or “anarchist” but they’re idiots, so screw em.

In the long run, Mexico is going to still going to be next door to the U.S. and is going to be a weird place, but Mexico’s existing relationship is going to move — I’m betting towards the “left” — and the present one just isn’t workable.

In the short run … if the underwhelming response to the White House Conference is any indication… it’s not working either:

Bush opened the White House Conference on the Americas on July 9th with a declaration that the United States is “an active neighbor of Latin America.” In the past, coup-plotters in Guatemala and Chile, dictators in Argentina and El Salvador, and the Contras in Nicaragua might have agreed.

In his opening address at the recent meeting, Bush quickly got down to his priorities: pushing free trade and pushing back against Hugo Chavez and the tide of left-leaning governments emerging down South. “I think our citizens will be pleased to know, for example, that we’re working very hard to get trade agreements through our Congress, because the best way to help defeat poverty is to encourage commerce and trade.” This is interesting given that, according to a 2007 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 28% of people in the U.S. think that trade has benefited their country. It’s hard to say whether Bush’s claims about “free” trade will be greeted with more cynicism in the U.S. or in Latin America.

As the July 10th’s Guardian reports, the whole affair had an air of desperation about it, as the Bush Administration struggles to not fail at something in its final 18-months. … The Administration is desperately trying to let these “partners” know that they have not been abandoned to the fearsome Chavista masses.

The Conference’s message was that social exclusion and poverty are best combated through free trade and private charity. Any hypothesis as to what causes exclusion and poverty went unmentioned, as did any efforts that lay beyond the safe confines of neoliberalism….


The White House’s little piece of hemispheric performance art, however, didn’t even merit a mention in the New York Times. Despite all-star appearances by key members of the Bush Administration, the only mentions in the U.S. press that I found were a Miami Herald article and an angry Washington Times editorial by Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. He claims that lefty members of congress are misguided for calling the U.S. relationship with Latin America “broken” and that “the president is addressing root problems through substantive discussions on investing in education, meeting health care needs, expanding economic opportunity and building public-private partnerships.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 20 July 2007 9:27 am

    “…Mexico is a leftist country run by rightist (and opportunists)…”

    Yeah… maybe. Or, maybe “left” and “right” are just completely outdated concepts. For example, with Radio Caracas, is Chavez guilty of Soviet-style repression, or totalitarianism? Bush performs surveillance on his own people that would have made Brezhnev blush: but he’s “fighting terror”? By allowing the US to dump transgenic corn on Mexico — a country with nothing BUT corn — is Calderón being a laissez-faire, rightist capitalist, or just an idiot?

    I guess I’m asking: Do the labels matter?

  2. 20 July 2007 2:32 pm

    Good point. “Right” and “left” are just the shorthand names for the two broad factions in Mexico. By continuing to back the faction that isn’t going to maintain leadership over the long run, we’re setting outselves up for a rude awakening if Mexico starts paying off debts early, trading more with Australia and Japan, doing deals with the Europeans, etc.

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