- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

DON’T BE FOOLED

When it comes to the economy throughout Latin America, pay no attention to the ranting of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who calls capitalism “the road to hell.”

That advice comes from Jaime Daremblum, a former Costa Rican ambassador to the United States and now a Latin American specialist at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.

“Don’t let Hugo Chavez fool you,” Mr. Daremblum wrote Wednesday on the weeklystandard.com Web site. “The past few years have actually been a golden era for economic management in Latin America.”

Mr. Daremblum said the economies in Central America, South America and the Caribbean are “well-positioned to weather the current U.S. slump,” although U.N. experts predict economic growth this year will suffer a 1 percent downturn to 4.7 percent.

“Though a small cluster of countries, led by Chavez’s Venezuela, have, to varying degrees, embraced destructive populism and done real harm to their business climate, the broader trend has been toward responsible fiscal policies, trade expansion and market-friendly reforms,” he wrote.

“Partly for those reasons and partly because they have benefited from soaring commodity prices, Latin American economies are relatively well-positioned to weather the current U.S. slump.”

Although the region is expected to suffer this year from soaring energy and food prices, Latin America has in previous years enjoyed the best economic growth in four decades.

However, Venezuela, flush with more than $30 billion in exports from its state-owned oil company, is dragging under the weight of a 30 percent inflation rate, the highest in Latin America.

Mr. Daremblum also said Latin America still suffers from “stubbornly inadequate education systems” and urged U.S. universities to open branch campuses throughout the region.

“As it stands now, many bright Latin American students cannot afford to attend college in the United States, nor do they have access to quality higher education in their home countries,” he said.

Mr. Daremblum, ambassador in Washington from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Latin American Studies.

THREAT IN KUWAIT

Kuwait is normally seen as a strong U.S. ally, still thankful for the U.S.-led coalition that liberated the Persian Gulf nation from Saddam Hussein in 1991. However, some Kuwaitis are funding terrorists in Iraq who target American soldiers, and the U.S. ambassador is calling on the government to crack down on the militant paymasters.

Ambassador Deborah K. Jones, in a somewhat circumspect statement, shared her concerns with reporters in Kuwait City earlier this week.

“I am not saying there isn’t a problem with facilitation of funding for foreign fighters that we need to address,” she said.

Mrs. Jones declined to give more details about the extent of terrorist financing in Kuwait but added that Kuwaitis make up only about 1 percent of the foreign militants in Iraq. In April, a Kuwaiti released from the U.S. terrorist detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, blew himself up in a suicide bombing in the Iraqi city of Mosul, killing seven other people.

The ambassador said she has had “a lot of discussions” with Kuwaiti officials about how to keep better track of the seven other Kuwaitis released from Guantanamo.

On other issues in her roundtable discussion with journalists at the U.S. Embassy, Mrs. Jones empathized with the “extraordinarily important role of the press.”

“There is a huge range of issues that reflect the size and importance of our relationship with Kuwait,” she added, citing the strong U.S. support for “Kuwait’s vibrant democracy.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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