Latin Americans Say Bush Failed Them


By: Tony Smith 

The Washington Post, March 24, 2002



Lima, Peru Doing a brisk business in cell phones in the heart of Lima's heaving "Las Malvinas" market, Oscar Yi Jump knows that increased trade with the United States means more prospects for Latin America.

"It would make us all richer, but as long as we're a poor country and a small market, it's going to be tough getting the U.S. government to open up its borders to our products," he said.

That's the dilemma faced by many Latin American nations and businesses, many of whom feel President Bush failed to maintain his election campaign promises of looking "south, not as an afterthought, but as a fundamental commitment."

Instead, they said, Latin America and key trade issues with the United States have been relegated to the policy back burner because of the war on terrorism. Other deals, including a key trade issued geared to wean Andean nations off of the drug trade, have been bogged down in Congress by business lobbies.

Bush supporters, however, argue the fundamental commitment is still there.

Bush is still adamant that a Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement a single market stretching from Alaska to Argentina be in place by 2005, and Chile, Uruguay, and other Central American nations are lining up to clinch bilateral trade deals with Washington.

But Peru is an example of why Latin Americans are doubtful, if not of Bush's commitment to free trade, then definitely if can overcome foot-dragging by Congress and U.S. interest groups.

Bush left here Sunday after a 17-hour stay that made him the first-ever U.S. president to visit this impoverished Andean nation.

But he left without making any firm promises on a renewal of the Andean Trade Preferences Act that expired last December.

Affecting about 4,000 products from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru nearly two-thirds their legal exports, the ATPA is designed to wean the Andean nations off drug production.

The renewed bill is stuck in the Senate, held up largely by objections by the U.S. textile lobby.

Peru has been pressing to include cotton on the ATPA list, something that could create as many as 100,000 jobs here in a four-year period.

But Peruvians, including Jump, are skeptical their country will get its way.

"How can we believe in free trade when they have even taken away from us some (trade) advantages we already had?" Jump asked. "I think Bush believes in free trade, but I don't think Congress does."

Peru's foreign minister Diego Garcia-Sayan said Bush wasn't "Santa Claus carrying millions of dollars in investments or donations for Peru."

But according to some, a few million well spent could be key in promoting legal crops at a time when Peru's drug trade is showing signs of a resurgence.

After years of stiff repression by former President Alberto Fujimori now disgraced and exiled the price of coca leaves fell in some areas to $2 for an arroba, a traditional measure weighing 25 pounds.

Now, according to Angel Irazola, general manager of Espino Palm Industries, an arroba of coca leaves fetches $52.

Irazola is campaigning to promote palm oil as an alternative crop. He said 30,000 hectares of palms could be planted in the Peruvian jungle home to the country's coca trade for a $200 million investment, creating 30,000 jobs and saving $60 million a year on palm oil imports.

With a harvest worth $2,000 a hectare, palm oil still is still just a fourth as profitable as coca, which is made into cocaine.

"The road is heading toward more free trade, and it has to be more free trade for everybody," said Ricardo Vega Llona, Peru's anti-drugs czar.

"It can't mean 'more free trade for me, but not for you'," he said. "So far Latin America has made great sacrifices but feels it has gotten little in return."

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