Myth: With the United States
preoccupied by the war on terror and Iraq, ties with Latin America have deteriorated
substantially in recent years
Fact: The US preserves strong relations with the majority of nations in the Hemisphere. It has negotiated free trade agreements with eleven of Latin America’s 34 nations and provides extensive free trade access to most others. Nine of the agreements have been ratified and implemented and the other two (with Colombia and Panama) are currently pending before the US Congress. Assistance and funding have substantially increased for a wide range of assistance programs. Strong support for Colombia, where the security situation has improved dramatically, has helped bring this nation back from the brink of failure. Despite differences on trade, relations with Brazil are on a solid footing.
Myth: The United States refuses to recognize that poverty and social injustice are the root causes of problems in Latin America
Fact: Policy makers in Washington recognize that sustainable development requires adoption of a democratic, market-oriented development strategy. This was underscored for the 14th year in a row by the results published in the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom, published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. “Over the past years, the Index has documented the link between economic opportunity and prosperity, researching and analyzing economic policies in countries around the world. The 2008 Index paints a portrait of economic freedom around the world and establishes a benchmark by which to gauge a country’s chances of economic success. Economic theory dating back to the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in 1776 emphasizes the lesson that basic institutions that protect the liberty of individuals to pursue their own economic interests result in greater prosperity for the larger society.”
There is a strong correlation between economic freedom and growth, between individual liberty and prosperity. Trade and private investment are the engines that create solid and sustainable jobs and economic growth, while nations that squash economic freedoms by and large are poor and have skewed income distribution. “Oil-cursed” nations such as Venezuela are, in a way, worse off since most of their citizens do not share in the benefits of the resource income but can see how it is squandered and stolen. Latin America has fallen behind in global competition, in developing human resources and in developing markets not because of poverty and social injustice, but because of the short-sightedness of its political leaders and their resistance to change.
Venezuelan President Hugo
Chávez’s rejection of neo-liberalism and the Washington consensus represents
the wave of the future
President Chávez has certainly directed some oil revenue to Venezuela’s poor in the form of non-productive hand-outs and wealth transfers, but the reality is that the Chávez regime has not reduced extreme poverty and income inequality. Meanwhile, billions of dollars of oil wealth that is the rightful property of the Venezuelan people has been siphoned off by their far left, neo-populist, and authoritarian President to enhance his own political power and spread his “21st Century Bolivarian Socialism” throughout the Andean region. Chavez’s expansionary, revolutionary foreign policy and an effort to exert “Bolivarian” influence globally is a growing threat to all freedom-loving peoples around the world. President Chávez has hailed the Russia of Medvedev and Putin as a “strategic partner” and makes common cause with Iran in efforts to drive up oil prices for US and European consumers. He supports Iran’s bid for nuclear weapons. Chávez provides assistance and sanctuary to the FARC and has potentially opened the door for Middle Eastern terrorism. Drug shipments from Venezuela to the US and Europe continue to rise following Chávez’s cessation of cooperation with the US. Chávez diverts international attention from the real leaders of sustainable change in Latin America such as Presidents Lula da Silva of Brazil, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, and Felipe Calderon of Mexico.
Myth: Democracy has failed to
meet the needs of the peoples of Latin America
Fact: Most polling data indicates that Latin Americans still believe firmly in the democratic process as the sole source of political legitimacy. The Hemispheric right to democratic governance is enshrined in the 2001 Democratic Charter of the Organization of American states, agreed to by all nations except Cuba which is not a member of the inter-American body. The key challenge in government is aligning democratic governance with policies for more equitable and sustainable economic growth. Transparency, rule of law, and accountability remain fundamental priorities for genuine democracies. The radical populist governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua promise to redistribute wealth at the expense of market economies, private property, and individual freedoms that remain at the core of modern political and economic development.
Myth: In moves such as
reestablishing the Navy’s Fourth Fleet, the US demonstrates its desire to exert
military and naval influence over Latin America
Fact: Despite the distortions of Cuban and Venezuelan propaganda, the US goal in the Western Hemisphere is to develop stronger ties with military, law enforcement and civilian authorities in order to respond to a broad range of threats and challenges. From natural disasters like hurricanes to transnational threats posed by narcotics trafficking, criminal gangs, terrorists and those who trafficking in persons, the security of the Hemisphere and the global order is under relentless siege. The challenge for the Western Hemisphere is to build a cooperative system with improved capacity to respond to the serious transnational challenges.
Myth: US interventionism remains
a major obstacle to democratic improvements in Latin America
Fact: The last US military intervention in Latin America took place in 1989 in Panama when the US dispatched military forces to curb Manuel Noriega’s reign of political terror. The US military has participated in efforts to bring democracy and stable governance to Haiti. The new interventionism of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, whether in supporting the FARC in Colombia or providing significant assistance to left causes in Argentina, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Peru is the new gold standard for political involvement and external manipulation in the Americas.
Myth: The US embargo has
crippled Cuba’s economy and harmed the Cuban people
Fact: Once among the most prosperous in Latin America, the Cuban people have suffered for fifty years in a state of political oppression, economic mismanagement, and frequent foreign misadventures of the Castro regime. For decades, Fidel Castro blamed the US embargo for Cuba’s woes but failed whenever an opportunity presented itself as in the late 1970s or the early 1990s to take the reciprocal steps needed to open a dialogue with the US. Once the loyal ally of the Soviet Union, Cuba today is heavily dependent on several billion petro-dollars annually from Venezuela and European sex tourists. Cubans continue to flee their country by the thousands and an entire generation of young Cubans feels crushed by the rigidity and inflexibility of the Cuban police state. Recent reforms under Raul Castro allow modest, market-like incentives and permit a few Cubans access to consumer goods. The regime, however, remains adamant that the Communist political system and command economy are open neither to debate nor public dialogue.
Myth: Because of the failure of
immigration reform, US-Mexico relations are at an all time low.
Fact: The US and Mexico enjoy strong diplomatic and economic relations. As noted recently by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, “From 1993 to 2007, trade among the NAFTA nations more than tripled, from $297 billion to $930 billion. Business investment in the United States has risen by 117 percent since 1993, compared to a 45 percent increase between 1979 and 1993.” The recent request by Mexico for US assistance in the fight against deadly Mexican drug cartels is a change in the security paradigm. It is recognition of a shared responsibility to tackle the drug challenge. The US has promised to commit more than $1 billion to a three year program of counter-narcotics assistance and training for Mexico. Fixing the immigration equation and establishing greater circularity in the legal labor movements between the two nations is a challenge for the next US administration and Congress.
 Kim R. Holmes, Edwin J. Feulner, and Mary Anastasia O’Grady, 2008 Index of Economic Freedom (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation and Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 2008), pp. 311–312, at http://www.heritage.org/research/features/index/countries.cfm
James M. Roberts, “If the Real Simón Bolívar Met Hugo Chávez, He’d See Red,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2062, August 20, 2007, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/LatinAmerica/bg2062.cfm
 'NAFTA - Myth vs. Facts', Office of the United States Trade Representative, 19 March 2008, at http://www.ustr.gov/assets/Trade_Agreements/Regional/NAFTA/Fact_Sheets/asset_upload_file202_14592.pdf