- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

BUENOS AIRES — U.S. allies such as Chile and Colombia enjoy rising esteem among South American political and economic elites as the region searches for alternatives to economic reforms of the 1990s, a poll reveals.

The results will encourage Bush administration officials locked in tough negotiations with leftist governments over a joint declaration to emerge from a pan-American summit that President Bush will attend in Argentina next month.

The poll by Zogby International defies South America’s rise of populist leaders who vilify the United States and its free-trade, pro-globalization policies.

In the survey of politicians, businessmen and media leaders in six countries, Chile’s Ricardo Lagos emerged as the region’s most respected president, followed by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe. The least favored leaders were Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Peru’s Alejandro Toledo.

Chile was South America’s economic jewel before a recession hit in 1999. Since taking office in 2000, Mr. Lagos has built the economy into South America’s top performer through bilateral free-trade agreements and by cultivating Chile’s reputation as a regional business hub.

Jaime Abut, an Argentine economist, said Chile’s U.S.-friendly government will remain a regional exception as political pressures force other South American leaders to confront Washington.

Even while favoring market-oriented leaders, respondents in the Zogby poll overall expressed a negative opinion of Mr. Bush.

“In 2003, there was the specter that the far left would spread through South America,” said John Zogby, president of the polling firm. “Now there seems to be widespread agreement that a new pragmatism is spreading in the region.”

Mr. Zogby said winners of South American elections had found a successful mixture of socialist and market principles. “They are creating a market economy with a human face,” he said.

The poll comes amid difficult negotiations on a joint declaration to be released next month at the Summit of the Americas, a hemispheric conference where Mr. Bush will meet with 31 other heads of state.

An official quoted in El Clarin, a leading newspaper, said the negotiators are hard-pressed to find language that balances Washington’s globalist orientation and the leftist demands of populist leaders such as Mr. Chavez.

The official said the document will include “a historical vision” of what happened during the globalization-friendly, neo-liberal 1990s.

Argentina, whose economy crashed in 2001, reportedly is pushing a critical historic view of the so-called “Washington consensus,” a set of U.S.-backed free-market policies pitched as the formula for promoting economic growth in Latin America. The United States, the official said, wants to pin Argentina’s economic collapse on poor implementation and structural failures.

Analysts say negative attitudes toward Washington could hamper Mr. Bush’s agenda at the summit, which likely will focus on reviving the stalled Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, a proposed hemispheric trade pact similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Many nations have rejected the plan, and Mr. Abut said their opposition will continue, despite the poll’s findings.

“In the short term, South American countries, especially Brazil and Argentina, will reject FTAA because it is seen as too favorable to the United States,” Mr. Abut said.

“In the long term, they will likely submit to certain trade accords similar to NAFTA because they will want better integration.”

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