November 8, 2005
Anti-Americanism Has Become Ideology

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

President Bush learned two lessons at the failed Summit of Mar del Plata: the visceral hatred that the ideas inspired by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez have for the United States, and the profound division that afflicts Latin America.

The devastating protest was not surprising, however. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the Left everywhere stopped offering options for governance or serious theories about development and equity and sought refuge in protest.

The enemies of globalization explain their ideas by stoning McDonald's to smithereens. Anticapitalists hurl pies at the president of the International Monetary Fund.

Anti-Americanism has turned into ideology. The communists have exchanged Das Kapital for T-shirts with the image of Ché Guevara and choruses of brief (and badly rhymed) slogans. The Left today is nothing but circus and street violence.

But that strategy, along with the corruption and follies of many governments, has burrowed deeply, especially in Latin America, where a growing number of citizens despise democracy as a method to organize coexistence and reject the market economy as a way to create and assign wealth.

Throughout almost the entire region, populism has revitalized itself in either of its two variants: the for-now tranquil and vegetarian form favored by Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Uruguay's Tabaré Vázquez and Argentina's Néstor Kirchner; and the ferocious and authoritarian form defended by Venezuela's Chávez and Cuba's Castro, all of them sworn enemies of international free trade, as was seen in Mar del Plata.

Eleven years ago, when the first Summit of the Americas was held in Miami in 1994, the atmosphere was totally different. I remember having a long conversation at the time with Argentine President Carlos Menem and his foreign minister, Guido di Tella, from which it could be deduced that Latin America had come of age and was taking the same sensible road that the First World had taken.

No one doubted that the way to development and an end to poverty was through free trade, market economics and international cooperation, in the manner of Spain, Singapore and the other Asian Dragons, and other successful nations. Within that context, the Free Trade Area of the Americas announced by President Clinton opened the door to hope.

There was also a chart to reach safe port: the so-called Washington Consensus. Through the control of inflation and the monetary mass -- through fiscal balance, a reduction in public expenditure, an opening to international trade and the privatization of the entrepreneurial activities of the official sector -- sustained growth and reduced poverty could be achieved.

And that prescription was not only for the Third World, because Europe itself insisted on its application within the European Union, as reflected in the Maastricht accords that later gave life to the euro. Simply put, that was sensible governance on the eve of the 21st century.

In Latin America, however, things generally proceeded otherwise. The populist culture was so deeply entrenched that public expenditure could not be controlled, and in some countries it was impossible to privatize the ruinous public enterprises. In other countries, the privatization processes were scandalous forms of corruption and embezzlement, which often converted state monopolies into private monopolies without allowing the market to behave freely.

The result of the failed reforms? A return to statism, a distrust in international trade and a disbelief in democracy and the market. They all led to the victories at the polls of Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador, Chávez, Lula, Vázquez and Kirchner. It was a return to the past, a stubborn rejection of the fact that the entire 20th century was misspent trying out the diverse variants of collectivist populism.

Mar del Plata, then, was a confrontation between the cheery original vision of the first Summit of the Americas, more than a decade ago, and the darker vision held by half the continent after a period of frustrations and failures.

It's true that Chile remains as an example that political and economic freedom, when exercised together, achieve the miracle of development and greater equity -- in Chile, Latin America's leading nation, poverty has been reduced from 42 percent to 18 percent in 15 years. But a more reasonable forecast points to pessimism.

As Brazilians say sarcastically about their own country: Latin America is the continent of the future -- and always will be.

2005 Firmas Press

Carlos Alberto Montaner

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