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New Latin American Poll Spells Trouble For U.S....Kick-Start Better Ties
New Latin American Poll Spells Trouble For U.S.
THE OPPENHEIMER REPORT
November 9, 2003
The most troubling news about a new Latin America-wide poll is that the near universal dislike of President Bush in the region is beginning to extend to the United States as a nation, including in key countries such as Mexico.
Until recently, U.S. officials shrugged off Bush's dismal image ratings in the region, saying that it was a natural side effect of the war with Iraq and other sometimes unpopular U.S. antiterrorism measures. But they were quick to add that Bush's low popularity ratings in Latin America did not affect the overall positive image of the United States in the region.
But the new poll by the Chilean-based firm Latinobarmetro -- released only days after a separate survey by Zogby International showed that 87 percent of Latin American opinion-makers rated Bush negatively -- indicates that Bush's dismal popularity ratings in the region are beginning to taint America and Americans as a whole.
The percentage of Latin Americans who have a negative image of the United States has more than doubled, from 14 percent in 2000 to 31 percent this year, according to the poll of 18,600 people in 17 Latin American countries conducted by Latinobarmetro. While 60 percent of Latin Americans still have a positive image of the United States, the figure has gone down from 71 percent in 2000, the poll shows.
And if you take a closer look at the figures, you find that in some key countries, such as Mexico, anti-American sentiment is growing even faster. In Mexico, the country President Bush described in September 2001 as ''the most important bilateral relationship'' of the United States in the world, a 58 percent majority has a negative image of the United States, up from 22 percent in 2000.
Only three years ago, a solid 68 percent of Mexicans had a positive view of the United States, the Latinobarmetro figures show.
Sixty-two percent of Argentines, 42 percent of Brazilians and 37 percent of Chileans have a negative view of the United States, up from 28 percent, 18 percent and 20 percent in 2000.
WHAT'S THE REASON?
What is going on? Why are growing numbers of Latin Americans moving away from their previous assertions that they were not anti-American, but only anti-Bush? It's clear that Bush's foreign policy -- such as his preemptive war doctrine and his opposition to the Kyoto global warming agreement -- is clearly making people anxious in the region.
On the more troubling issue of growing anti-Americanism, while it may diminish as Latin Americans hear more Democratic campaign speeches that are more in line with their views, there are several security-related issues that may hurt America's image abroad for years to come.
* First, the flow of foreign students coming to the United States, which has long helped Washington gain influence among the new generations of Latin American elites, has been slowing since Sept. 11, 2001. According to the Institute of International Education's 2003 Open Doors report, the number of Latin Americans in U.S. colleges remained flat at 68,000 this year, after decades of almost constant growth.
* Second, business travel and tourism to the United States are falling as Latin Americans and other foreigners have to undergo personal interviews at U.S. consulates and go through cumbersome post-Sept. 11 bureaucratic procedures to get U.S. entry visas. A total of 12.3 million Latin Americans visited the United States in 2002, down from 14.1 million in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.
* Third, the thorough security checks at U.S. airports are not always taken as a fact of life by Latin American visitors, many of whom resent the way they are treated upon entering the United States. There is a ''significant increase'' in Latin American traffic to Asia and Europe through Canada, says Tony Knill, Canada's consul in Miami.
The new Latinobarmetro poll reflects more than a generalized anti-Bush feeling in Latin America. The Bush administration and the U.S. Congress should look at the new figures and worry about them.
Kick-Start Better Ties With Latin America
John C. Bersia
February 2, 2004
Latin America and the Caribbean are not merely U.S. neighbors. As Latin and Caribbean populations swell across the United States, the region is increasingly a part of this nation. It deserves a higher priority.
I could not help wishing, when President Bush unveiled his sweeping, albeit controversial, plan for future space exploration, that he would set out a similarly inspiring and comprehensive vision for the hemisphere -- especially in light of some disturbing realities.
Michael Shifter, a senior official at the Inter-American Dialogue, a research center in Washington, D.C., sums up the problems in this month's issue of Current History:
"Relations between the United States and Latin America have acquired a rawness and a level of indecorum that recall previous eras of inter-American strain and discord. An unvarnished sense of [U.S.] superiority, displayed proudly on the regional and global stage, has revived the resentment and distrust of Latin Americans toward the United States that had recently shown signs of receding."
That is a sad commentary on a relationship that should rank among the world's strongest and most important.
In fairness, U.S. presidents have at times looked toward Latin America and the Caribbean with bold eyes, such as during the 1960s and at the end of the Cold War. Regarding the latter, the collapse of the Iron Curtain opened a door to exciting and creative ideas for bolstering democracy and boosting economic growth in the Americas.
Yet that opening has narrowed. The reasons include, but are not limited to: a global and, thus, regional economic downswing; slow progress on hemispheric economic integration; grass-roots frustration with various Latin and Caribbean political leaders; terrorist violence, notably the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; and other pressing issues.
But economic ups and downs are nothing new. Political fortunes come and go. Tragedies occur. And global challenges -- even those as massive as the war against terrorism -- crop up with surprising historical regularity. Those developments generally do not affect the long-term relationship between the United States and, say, Europe -- divisions over the intervention in Iraq notwithstanding.
Why should Latin America and the Caribbean rank as an exception?
The question is especially critical in the context of the war against terrorism. Monitoring, intercepting and erecting barriers against terrorists is just one part of homeland security. If the Americas fail to deal collectively with the political and economic turbulence of their member-nations, they will allow vulnerabilities to open or expand and create opportunities for extremists.
For starters, the United States should:
1. Tame the arrogance, a phenomenon that I call the foreign-policy strut, which is particularly and annoyingly evident after an international breakthrough that Washington engineers. That is not behavior befitting a superpower. This nation can best defend its interests, stake out key policies and play its appropriate role as a global leader by returning to the "humble" posture that Bush once advocated.
2. Listen more attentively to Latin America and the Caribbean. That means acknowledging, discussing and drawing from the views, concerns and priorities of regional nations, not acting unilaterally or dismissively. Further, it demands inclusive outreach, incorporating the indigenous peoples of the region better into the lives of the nations and the hemisphere.
3. Show Latin American and Caribbean leaders the same kind of respect and attention that many other U.S. allies receive. Bush should meet regularly with the region's leaders, not just with selected ones or on the occasion of summit gatherings.
4. Produce long-term plans to deal forcefully with the challenges facing Latin America and the Caribbean -- issues that sooner or later touch the United States. Those include good governance, job creation, poverty, health care, education and drug-trafficking. If people cannot derive satisfaction through their political systems, they will take to the streets, as has happened in Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti and Venezuela, and disruptions could spread to other nations.
5. Work urgently to achieve the potential of the Free Trade Area of the Americas that was laid out in 1994. Latin America and the Caribbean do not have another decade to waste in extending the benefits of free trade and open markets to all nations of the region.
Those steps would help stem the resurgence of anti-Americanism and rekindle momentum toward the constructive and necessary integration of the Americas.
Foreign-affairs columnist John C. Bersia, who works part-time for the Sentinel, is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives at the University of Central Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.