- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), was interviewed at his headquarters last week by Washington Times reporter Sharon Behn.

Question: The last two years have been marked by substantial political and economic events. How have these events affected current U.S.-Latin America relations?

Answer: The significant effort by President Bush to have closer relations with Latin America I think was stopped by several things. One was the 11th of September. That was a significant setback, because the U.S. moved its eyes to the fight against terrorism, and of course some of the will of the president was lost in the change of priorities of the U.S. administration, which is totally comprehensible.

The second very critical element was the crisis of volatility of capital in Argentina, and I would say the U.S. was not very constructive. Treasury Secretary [Paul] O’Neill made some strong remarks that were a blow to relations. [But] after a while the U.S. Treasury changed its policy, and helped Uruguay, helped Brazil.

And the third element is the Security Council issue and the war on Iraq. That is the most recent thing that has altered the relations with Latin America because of the differences with Chile, and Mexico and Brazil.

Q: Has the United States been able to start to repair these relations?

A: The financial issues are already behind us. Let’s start with the change of priorities. I think this a permanent feature of the foreign policy of the U.S., and any effort to improve the relations has to take into consideration that a very high priority for U.S. policy is the fight against terrorism. The U.S. will not change its priorities. You need to accommodate policy to that.

Q: You are referring to whom?

A: Both sides. If the government of the U.S. decides to try to improve relations with Latin America, Latin Americans should know that that cannot mean changing the priorities of U.S. policy. Latin Americans have to recognize that no matter what effort is being made, the priorities of the U.S. are there.

Q: How would you describe economic relations between the United States and Latin America?

A: There has been an important change in the U.S. policy in relation to these matters reflected in the significant help they provided to Uruguay and the change of emphasis in policy in relation to Brazil, the financial problems of Brazil. So I think that aspect of policy has improved.

But I would say what is needed is a more-deliberate decision to help in financial issues. And I think the critical case at this moment is Argentina. It’s very important for all Latin America that this issue of Argentina is solved in a satisfactory way.

Q: How long will that take?

A: I don’t know. The director of the [International Monetary Fund] was there. They are saying they are going to work an agreement out in the next two or three months. I think they have to sign it by August, a medium-term agreement, which will be a significant change in relations with Argentina and probably could help to get Argentina out of the crisis.

Q: What is the status of negotiations on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)?

A: I do really believe in the will of the administration of President Bush, in its support of the FTAA and its efforts to get that signed on time, by the end of next year.

Brazil has been a little reluctant to express full support to the initiative. They have always said that it depends on how the negotiation goes, and I think that is as true as ever. I think it was clear in the recent visit of President [Luiz Inacio] Lula [da Silva] that something that cannot be taken for granted is the decision of Brazil to be part of the FTAA in the schedule that was established some years ago.

Q: What is the sticking point for them?

A: They are just saying ‘it has to be good for us.’ It sounds very simple. They need full access to markets for the articles they export. That basically means a lot of agricultural products and light manufacture. And steel. And a solution to the remedy laws.

The United States wanted to take decisions on these matters within the context of the World Trade Organization, which had exactly the same negotiation deadline, December 31 next year. But because the negotiations are off schedule and nobody believes they will be completed on time, we will have no solution to agricultural policy within the WTO, and possibly no agreement on the antidumping rules.

What Brazil wants is access to the U.S. market. If that happens within the FTAA, I don’t think we’d have any problem.

Last week there was a meeting of ministers, talking about how to save FTAA — probably having an agreement that is not as ambitious. Trying to sign an agreement that moves trade. Less ambitious than FTAA, but more realistic as something that can be done next year.

Q: Last week the Colombian assembly moved to stop the drug overflights funded by the U.S.-backed Plan Colombia. President [Alvaro] Uribe seems not to have advanced very much in his struggle against the rebels. His finance minister just resigned. Is he losing some traction there?

A: No, no, no. I think he has been very successful in several things. One, Plan Colombia for the first time is getting some good results. The areas of [drug] cultivation in Colombia were reduced in a very significant way from last year, so that means a lot less financing for the drug cartels and the guerrilla groups that are receiving significant finance from these activities. And that is the main objective of Plan Colombia.

The second important thing is regional. Latin America, which was very reluctant before to accept the policy of Plan Colombia, is now providing significant support for President Uribe’s policies. The president also enjoys significant support in the polls. Nobody can say that he is weakened.

Q: But how is his struggle against the Marxist rebels and the right-wing paramilitary? Has he managed to accomplish very much?

A: Everybody knows those processes are very long and very elusive. He is just starting to see if that is possible and under which conditions. It’s too early to call if they were successful or not. …

Q: There was an agreement brokered with the help of the OAS in Venezuela to resolve the political deadlock between President Hugo Chavez and the political opposition, but that now seems to be threatened in parliament.

A: I think the agreement will hold. I think there is enough will on both sides to respect the agreement and the electoral solution we found through the agreement.

Q: Do you expect the referendum to take place in August?

A: I think that if the opposition gets all the signatures the constitution says it has to get, and the electoral council says that that is true, I think the referendum or referendums will take place.

Q: Even with this agreement that you have brokered, how volatile is the situation in Venezuela?

A: I think the situation in Venezuela is one with high risks, particularly high risks of confrontations. But I think that both sides are closer together than they were last year, and I think they respect each other more than they did last year, and I think they are ready to compromise on fundamentals and basic things. And that the agreement we made will be complied to by both sides.

Q: Do you think President Chavez, if the referendum says he should step down — do you think he will step down, and his supporters would also?

A: I think so. Well, to get the supporters of President Chavez to accept it, it has to be democratic. It has to be under the constitution. That is the importance of the recall referendum; that will take us to a totally peaceful solution. And I am sure President Chavez and the supporters of President Chavez will accept any decision taken by the people. And I also think that the opposition will accept any decision by the people of Venezuela. Nobody can have doubts about that.

Q: Have U.S.-Cuba relations deteriorated to a volatile point?

A: There is no doubt that the relations have deteriorated. It is difficult to find anyone that justifies what has happened, or that does not have concerns about human rights in relation to the people that are detained and condemned, to the ones that received the death penalty, based on a lack of due process.

As you know, here in the OAS we had an intense discussion with all member states. For the first time the U.S. government was ready to examine the matter of Cuba within the OAS, which they have in the past not recognized and thought it was un-useful. We are very far away from a common policy, but I think the discussion is very useful. There are different points of view. There are countries that wish to condemn Cuba for violations of human rights. There are some countries that think that falls to the OAS human-rights machinery, not to the council of the assembly. There are others that think because Cuba is not here, and has no right to defend itself, it would be unfair to condemn them without their presence.

Q: What do you think will happen when President Castro goes?

A: I don’t know. It’s difficult to know. I don’t belong to those that believe that if Fidel dies, everything will change. I definitely do not believe like that. They have a party with a lot of social control and significant support, and it’s is not going to be easy to find immediate political change in Cuba just because Castro dies.

Q: How are U.S.-Brazil relations, and how important is Brazil to Latin America in general in terms of economic and political stability?

A: I would say it is very, very important. Particularly in South America. There are some things that cannot be done without the cooperation of Brazil in democratic issues, in economic issues. And particularly for the creation of the FTAA, the voice of Brazil is of critical importance.

Nobody can doubt the critical importance of Brazil. It has been very important, for example, in Venezuela, and I think we should recognize them for their effectiveness in relation to the issue of democracy in Venezuela and the relative success our actions in Venezuela have had.

Q: How much of that is attributable to President Lula?

A: Well, a lot. Nobody can have doubts of the close relations President Lula and President Chavez [have], and the significant influence Brazil has in Venezuela.

Q: Could President Lula play a larger role in Cuba?

A: I don’t know. That’s something I cannot answer. Probably … probably yes.

Q: President Lula’s relations with President Bush seem to be pretty good. Is that a surprise, given their political differences?

A: I think the significant success President Lula has had in addressing an economic policy has brought a lot of confidence to markets, not only in Brazil but in all of Latin America, and at the same time raising the issues of poverty, and enslavement, and in the way he has voiced the concerns of all Latin America. There is a lot of sympathy for President Lula because of the success of his policies until this moment.

Q: Do you think President Lula represents a new political direction for Latin America?

A: Well it represents that the left has the capacity to do things very well — and that is a change; that is a significant change. Until very recently many, many people thought it was very difficult to imagine a government able to make a significant changes economically and at the same time represent the voice of the people.

Q: What do you think will be one of the main messages to come from the heads-of-state summit meeting scheduled to take place in Mexico at the end of the year?

A: It will work basically on issues of social policy [and] equity, and look for a new agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean that transcends the Washington consensus, which everybody thinks is no longer an agenda that belongs in these countries, no longer a policy that can be effective in addressing the social needs of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Q: How will that message be received here in Washington?

A: This is not a closed issue yet, but I understand [that] in principle, the U.S. government has accepted this. I think the idea is not to abandon good economic policies. The idea is that just having an economic agenda cannot be an effective program. Everybody recognizes today that social policies and social issues are very critical in Latin America.

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