Sunday, November 06, 2005

Nov 07/05 - On how Hugo painted himself into a corner: Chávez overeaching at the IV Summit of the Americas

Now painted into a corner

PMBComments: it is not worth writing about the IV Summit of the Americas in the heat of the moment. Passions run high and spin dominates the day. But in the next few days the dust will settle and the real anecdotes – and the lasting consequences - will emerge. My guess is that those who naively expected the Summit to succeed will consider it an absolute failure. Those of us who had cero expectation for a Kirchner hosted event have to conclude that it went surprisingly well – actually astonishingly well.

Hugo Chávez grabbed the media headlines in the same way the exploits of an 18-year old suicide bomber tend to trump the inspired speech of the most eloquent 18-year old class valedictorian. We must be thankful that the world continues its progressive path because of the intellect and initiative that the latter embodies, and in spite of the nihilistic fervor and criminal behavior that takes the place of reason in the case of the former. Chávez, the bombastic agent provocateur, sought and made Mar de Plata his stage and without any doubt also painted himself into a corner from which he was unable to reach the shovel with which he promised “to bury ALCA” (FTAA).

Those who have spoken too quickly of “a continent divided” must have forgotten how to use their abacus. Only 5 out of 34 countries expressed reservations about ALCA. The combined GDP of the doubters is 6 or 7 times smaller than the combined productivity of the free-marketers. 4 of the holdouts – Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay – explained their position as temporary, i.e. a reaffirmation of a long held position that the WHO should address agricultural subsidies in its upcoming Hong Kong meetings of the Doha Round before the Americas embark on a protracted regional trade negotiation. Only 1 country, actually 1 individual, opposed ALCA all together and proposed a Bolivarian alternative. 33 countries ignored it - ALBA - all together. Furthermore, the 34 reached consensus on every other issue contained in the somewhat longish Declaration. So it is lubricous to conclude that Chávez foiled Bush, when once more Hugo’s vaunted (bought) support in the Hemisphere proved as barren as in the election of the IDB President and as futile as in the blistering attempt to boycott the UN’s sixtieth anniversary Declaration.

Ten years ago Latin American countries represented a little bit more that 10% of global GDP, today that proportion has fallen to 4.5%, and as a result it can almost be said that the region itself is cornered with little place to go, and courting irrelevance. With Kirchner, Chávez and Evo Morales as sherpas, Latin America has one sure future, and it is against that awful vision of the future that we must all fight. Mar de Plata shall be remembered as the place and time in which the world woke up to the renewed danger of uncouth Latin populists. And it is because of this awakening that I consider this summit a real success. PMB

Note: I am attaching a very insightful article from The Times of London on the Summit, it is one of the best I have read.

The Times (UK)

November 07, 2005

Bush puts brave face on failure to secure trade deal

By David Charter and Fiona McCann

The Latin Americans have stalled plans for an economic zone to rival the EU, write our correspondents

PRESIDENT BUSH put a brave face yesterday on “frank” talks with his counterpart in Brazil as a bruising visit to South America did little to advance his plans for a giant free trade area to rival the European Union.

If the White House ever nursed a hope that the fourth Summit of the Americas would boost Mr Bush’s flagging image, that hope died as the talks in Argentina petered out late on Saturday without clear agreement on how or when they might resume.

Mr Bush’s follow-up bilateral with President Lula da Silva in Brasilia yesterday ended in warm words, but no sign of a meeting of minds on the stalled Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Standing alongside his host, Mr Bush said: “He has got to be convinced, just like the people of America must be convinced, that a trade arrangement in our hemisphere is good for jobs, it’s good for the quality of life.”

There were some small signs of progress on the free trade concept launched in 1994 by President Clinton with an eye to completion by January 2005. Mr Bush won support from President Fox of Mexico, who urged that, of the 34 states at the summit, the 29 that broadly favour the FTAA should continue to discuss it.

Brazil, one of five recalcitrant countries, co-chaired the talks with the US and there was a suggestion that Mexico and Chile might assume leadership to inject some momentum.

While Mr Bush left with little to boast about, the summit was not the public relations disaster many had predicted. President Chávez of Venezuela, the self-styled anti-capitalist, had been joined at the head of an anti-Bush rally by Diego Maradona, the Argentinian football star. Their rally was peaceful, but the anti-capitalist riots that followed did nothing to advance Señor Chávez’s brand of socialism or his proposals for a redistributive South American economic zone excluding the US.

His call for the FTAA concept to be “buried” was largely ignored. Even though he was joined by the four important nations of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay in shunning the US plan, they will continue their own free-trade talks without Venezuela.

“We do not want to bury the agreement and we do not want to resuscitate it either,” Celso Amorin, the Brazilian Foreign Minister, said.

President Kirchner of Argentina urged the creation of globalisation that works for everyone, not just a few. Brazil showed that it was the real muscle behind the scenes by leading opposition to Mr Bush’s desire to set a date for the resumption of full FTAA talks. Senhor Lula said that he preferred to wait until next month, for the next ministerial meeting in the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Round of trade talks, when world agricultural subsidies are on the agenda. He won the day against the US and 28 other countries supporting a firm date to relaunch the pan-American free trade zone.

Senhor Lula, facing elections next year in which cosying up to Mr Bush could cost him votes, said: “We agree that the reduction, with a view towards the elimination, of agricultural subsidies, will be a key to balance.”

Showing the restrained tone that he has used throughout his visit, Mr Bush suggested they should keep working on the FTAA, but not introduce it if Senhor Lula judged it was against his people’s interest.

Dan Restrepo, of the liberal Centre for American Progress, said that the summit showed how much Mr Bush had lost control of the free trade agenda in South America. He said that Señor Chávez was “a sideshow”, and had distracted many people from the important relationship, which was between President Bush and President Lula. He said that the US and Brazil had been at odds about the FTAA almost as soon as it was proposed in Miami in 1994.

“Chávez is a good showman but it is quite remarkable that Chávez can pose as an anticapitalist leader with a straight face because his whole socialist revolution is greased by the sale of oil to the capitalist world,” he said.

The South American press criticised not only Mr Bush, the most unpopular US President in the region since polling began, but also his host. Argentina’s leading broadsheet, La Nación, called the summit an “all-out failure”. It said that Señor Kirchner had been “navel-gazing” when, at its inauguration, he blamed US policies for Argentina’s economic crash in 2001. La Nación criticised Señor Kirchner for not concentrating on the “common conflicts” of Latin America, such as social inequality.

It also saved some venom for Señor Chávez, saying that, without his oil, he would be insignificant, and that no country in the region would follow him.