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A Growing Isolationist Trend?

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

There are two ways in which certain U.S. politicians, Democrat and Republican, most resemble the European ultra-right: their rejection of immigrants and their condemnation of free international trade.

Those causes are defended in France by Jean-Marie Le Pen, in Germany by Peter Malborn, in Italy by Roberto Fiore and in Austria by Jorg Haider, all of whom have been accused by the left of being fascists.

Those causes also bring along a rich electoral booty. They are usually very popular and enjoy the support of an odd combination of conservatives, labor unions and naive members of the middle-class who are frightened by the growing ethnic diversity.

In the United States, that tendency -- which may be decisive in the next elections -- includes an understandable psychological component: To some degree, it may be a reaction to the rampant anti-Americanism observed worldwide. The greater the general hatred toward Americans, the greater the rejection of foreigners inside the United States and the lesser the interest in international relations. That's the only way to explain the reticence on the part of many members of Congress to conclude free-trade treaties with Panama, Peru and Colombia and their resorting to clearly ridiculous excuses.

It is a curious paradox: Amid official U.S. praises of globalization, the United States is more involved than ever in the global economy -- commanding 29 percent of cumulative GDP of the world's nations, up from 20 percent 15 years ago. Yet a variant of the traditional American isolationism has reared its head and attracts more support from voters with every passing day.

Also a problem are the enemies of economic freedom in countries such as Costa Rica, where a large number of voters oppose the Central America Free Trade Agreement; or in Ecuador, where the government, for ideological reasons, has no intention of signing a free-trade deal, despite extensive data that demonstrates its positive impact on the country.

The world lived through a similar phenomenon from the last quarter of the 19th Century to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. During that period -- the glorious belle epoque -- international trade was liberalized and multiplied.

An extraordinary explosion of creativity occurred as millions of emigrants moved to nations growing at top speed -- the United States, Argentina, Australia, Canada, even little Cuba, which welcomed almost one million Europeans -- generating an impressive amount of wealth.

But free trade and the migratory stampede triggered a fear of foreigners, economic and political nationalism and a dangerous aggressive spirit. Those reactions eventually evolved into fascism, Nazism and communism -- all of them fruit of the leafy socialist tree.

Finally, in summer 1914, cannons began to speak and did not quiet until 1945 -- there is no doubt that World War II was merely a continuation of WWI.

Although the landscape is different today, one aspect is generalized: The enemies of freedom have regrouped after the debacle that ended communism and, with great efficiency, now attack the market and the institutions of liberal democracies from various angles.

That's why it is so important that the next U.S. elections carry to the White House a politician -- man or woman -- who understands the enormous danger of joining the isolationist trend that is gaining strength in the world.

The worst that could happen is for the process of international integration that seemed to exist some years ago to regress or become paralyzed.

We would have to postpone the dream of a prosperous and peaceful universe that was within our reach in the '90s. For everyone, that would be the worst possible news.

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 Carlos Alberto Montaner
Carlos Alberto Montaner
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