Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bush's Plans for Latin America More of the Same

A view of the slum in front of the Hilton hotel where U.S. President George W. Bush will stay on Thursday and Friday nights, as police began an operation to remove squatters from the area in Sao Paulo

On Monday, President Bush gave his pre-travel speech on Latin America. In a sign of how his handlers are viewing this trip, Bush had the nerve to compare the speech to JFK's famous 1961 Latin American address (that announced the feel good Alliance for Progress). That no one even heard or cared about what little of importance Bush said says enough about the absurdity of that comment (the press conference was "sparesely attended"), but let's look deeper.

But, after laughing a bit and then giving it some thought, I realized the speeches were indeed quite similar. In 1961 leftist governments were on the ascent in Latin America and Kennedy realized the importance of "soft" diplomacy in order to beat back a competetive power (Castro). JFK was virulently anti-Communist and showed no qualm with overthrowing democracies and arming terrorists, but it was to be shrouded in gestures of US AID and cultural exchange. The result was a study that showed 90 percent of all US AID purchases went to US corporations (wiki).

The bottom line of what new programs Bush announced on Monday is much the same as Kennedy's - winning back lost hearts and minds. But the result will sadly be more of the same - pittances of "aid" going mostly to US corporations and Colombian military units (half of the official 1.6 billion we "aid" Latin America with goes to Colombia).

Millions more will be used to help underwrite Latin home mortgages through a for-profit bank, knocking a 1/2 a point or something off a 15% interest loan in Peru. Not all the US AID programs are bad, but their political orientation is shameless (watch Bush pose with many of the resulting photo ops this week).

What interesting plan or two Bush did mention ironicly seemed lifted from the Castro-Chavez playbook. A Navy medical ship will be stopping in selected ports of calls, providing "up to 1500 surguries." Too bad the C-C connection have provided millions of surguries for free, including 300,000 eye surgeries to give sight in the last few years. Bush also plans to build a medical school in Panama, to train Latin doctors and nurses (what a concept).

The crown jewel of the trip is said to be the relationship with Brazil and the ethanol/biofuel agreement. I would be more excited if the plan would not also negatively impact the world's food suppply and not make Brazilian ethanol any more available to US consumers.

But what is more interesting is the distance Lula is putting between himself and Bush. Check this out:

Brazil will also use the presidential summit to pressure the US into reducing its $0.54-a-gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol, a toll that Brazilian producers said contradicts America's claims that it wants clean fuel and free trade.

"The high tariff that the United States imposes on ethanol makes no sense," Lula said in his weekly radio address Monday. "We are asking the United States to remove the subsidies.... They talk a lot about free trade but they like to protect their own products."

US officials have said Bush will not even discuss changing the tariff. That annoys Brazilians, but they stress that they want to use their influential role not just to make hay while the sun shines. Officials repeatedly said Brazil wants to export its expertise to help other – especially poorer nations – develop their own agriculture and ethanol industries.



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