- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2003

President George W. Bush righteously confronted France’s Jacques Chirac and Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder on Iraq earlier this year. But is the president equally firm in his defense of free trade? Is this administration willing to support the struggle for survival by hundreds of millions of poor, agricultural workers around the world now unable to export their products to the rich countries of Europe and North America? We’ll soon find out. The World Trade Organization ministerial conference began Wednesday in Cancun, Mexico.

As Julian Simon proved with his magnificent lifelong work, the world is a better place today than ever before because of hardworking people, producing more food, living longer lives, trading more goods, boosting energy reserves, and increasing productivity. The real enemy is not global warming, shrinking wetlands, dying owls or urban sprawl, but the increasingly high cost of senseless legislation, regulations, subsidies and protectionism that puts a mighty roadblock in the way of this progress. Rich countries may be able to afford such silliness for a while. But for the rest of the world, those are laws of mass destruction and mean hunger, illness and misery.

Washington has a long history of making enemies in Latin America. Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy often meant support for cruel and corrupt military dictators. Jack Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress meant no aid to countries that would not raise taxes. And this generation has endured the dual curse of IMF meddling, which debases the currency and the tax base, and the War on Drugs, which empowers murderous Marxist guerrillas who rake in the drug cash while it remains easier for American schoolchildren to buy drugs than to buy cigarettes. The popularity of the United States south of the border seems to have now reached its lowest historical level.

If this is not understood to be the conspicuous failure of the State Department and its career leftists, there is little hope for a change. American consulates throughout Latin America make it increasingly difficult for people to travel to the U.S. to study, to do business, to shop or simply on holidays, as if Latinos had blown up the Twin Towers. The U.S. ambassador in Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, who formerly ran the Cuban Desk, seems now to receive his instructions directly from Havana and recently pulled the U.S. visa from Gen. Enrique Medina Gomez, President Hugo Chavez’s best known opponent in the armed forces. It may be a blessing in disguise, since nothing is now more unpopular in Latin America — from Mexico to Argentina — than to be regarded as a friend of the United States.

As it is also the case of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the best the U.S. can do for Latin America today is to close its embassies and repatriate all those bureaucrats who do not believe in capitalism, free trade, limited governments, and private property.

Two decades ago, when I was editor of a Caracas daily newspaper, we knew the enemy: It was Fidel Castro, the Sandinistas, the Soviet financial support of murderous guerrillas in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, etc. The Soviet Union is gone, but Fidel Castro recently got a standing ovation in Buenos Aires, during President Nestor Kirchner’s inauguration. Is it because Fidel looks better now, or because Washington looks worse?

The social-democrat American foreign policy in Latin America has been a total disaster. Few can trust the good intentions of the U.S. toward the hemisphere under a State Department totally immersed in hypocrisy: proclaiming free trade, while imposing labor and environmental standards that extinguish the competitive advantages of small nations. Unions and Big Business in such industries as textiles and steel seem to be running foreign policy south of the border. And the Republican call for “trade rather than aid” sounds hollow when trade does not include agriculture in a backward, agricultural hemisphere. Sugar and Florida votes are considered more important than hunger in the Dominican Republic and Central America.

And when Washington should be expected to show determination and an iron fist to confront the OPEC gangsters — Mr. Chavez, Moammar Gadhafi, the Iranian mullahs, and the Saudi rulers — the cartel is treated with kid gloves, as if selling Middle Eastern oil that costs $2 to produce at $30 (1,400 percent mark-up) is no crime comparable to the alleged monopoly tendencies of Microsoft.

Old Europe has demonstrated it is willing to pay only lip service to the hunger and misery of the developing world. In Cancun, the United States has a chance to defend the principles upon which our nation was founded — to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” — and steer the 21st century toward the successful path of capitalism and individual freedom … or to play hooky once again.

Carlos A. Ball is editor of AIPE, a Spanish-language news organization based in Florida,columnist for TechCentralStation.com, and adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute.

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