Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 163 | Febrero 1995


Latin America

Summit of the Americas: Only the US Wins

“The problem is not one of commercial barriers between our countries, but of social clases within them.” So affirmed Robert Kennedy when the Alliance for Progress was going strong. Thirty years later, what is the Miami Summit proposing?

Envío team

The Summit of the Americas, held in Miami on December 9 11, 1994, enjoyed the presence of all but one of the 35 heads of state from the Americas and the Caribbean. Cuban President Fidel Castro was the missing dignitary and only because he was not invited by the event's host and promoter, the US government.

The summit was announced just months after the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed. That and the new climate created by the fall of socialism in Eastern Europe made this a propitious occasion for the prevailing international forces to consolidate their positions and get everyone in the region on the road to "development" in accord with these forces' own interests.

It is a particularly difficult time for "Real America," Latin America's vast grassroots majorities. They are suffering the consequences of the structural adjustment programs, neoliberal economic policies and predominance of the most conservative forces in the international panorama, and will receive no benefits from the new free trade agreements. They are going through a period of political discord, isolation and increasingly deteriorated living standards.

Looking Back at the Alliance for Progress

This was the first hemispheric summit since April 1967, when the region's leaders gathered at the Uruguayan beach resort of Punta del Este. The backdrop to that summit was President Kennedy's proposal to promote an Alliance for Progress in the region, unveiled in March 1961, and two documents approved by the finance and economy ministers of 20 countries five months later, also in Punta del Este.

The Alliance's failure is well known, but rereading its proposals and all the speculation about its results today is not just an academic exercise. If the Miami summit is the closing of a period opened by the Punta del Este meeting, it is useful to compare the two proposals.
The Alliance for Progress attempted to respond to the challenge thrown down by the two year old Cuban revolution and its project of profound social change. At the beginning, the Alliance sparked genuine enthusiasm among both governments and peoples of the continent, particularly in the United States, because it appeared to offer a solution to the region's political, social and economic problems.

Its objective was to "increase the proportion of the Latin American nations' economic development in order to raise the normal living standard of their peoples." To that end, it set an annual per capita development index of 2.5% as the minimum goal for all countries which ended up being impossible to meet.

More equitably distributing national income was the region's biggest challenge. To achieve this, the Alliance proposed implementing an agrarian reform, modernizing fiscal policy to increase tax collection, and consolidating democratic and progressive political parties.

The 1963 assassination of President Kennedy dealt a serious blow to this initiative; that of his brother Robert five years later finished the job. Robert Kennedy had become the project's main defender and advised his brother's successor, President Lyndon Johnson, on its implementation.

Although the Alliance was the motive for the 1967 Punta del Este summit, major changes had occurred in US and Latin American politics since Johnson assumed office. US foreign policy was riveted on the escalating Vietnam war, and the US supported military coup in Brazil in March 1964 and the US invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 had effectively ended any reformist leanings in Latin America. The consequences of the ensuing period of dictatorships and repression are reflected today in the profound disarticulation of grassroots civil society all over the continent, paving the way for the implementation of the neoliberal policies developed over the past decade.

Development, Not Help

It is interesting to compare the 12 objectives laid out by the Alliance with the 23 contemplated in the Miami summit's action plan. It should be noted first that the Alliance was not put forward as an aid program for Latin America, but as an effort to transform regional structures. Among its objectives was to promote sustained growth that could close the gap between the Latin American countries and the industrialized ones. There was explicit talk of more equitably distributing national income, diversifying economic structures, accelerating industrialization, ensuring fair prices for Latin American exports and, at the top of the list, an agrarian reform.

The Alliance stressed that economic development would not be possible without simultaneously improving social conditions, and insisted on the need to "provide a rapid and lasting solution to the serious problem that excessive variations in export prices represents for the Latin American countries." It also focused on the need to reduce dependence on mono production and to expand our nations' domestic markets.

Although Robert Kennedy recognized that reducing tariff barriers and promoting integration could accomplish this market expansion, he warned that the problem was not barriers between countries, but "the question of classes within countries." This warning is notable since it would of course be taken today as illusory and outdated.

No Profound Change

The Alliance's reformist proposal is not strange for a period of major pressures for transformation prompted by the triumph of the Cuban revolution. It contrasts profoundly with the proposal from the Miami summit, held at a time in which any socialist project is seen as dead in the water and the downfall of the Cuban regime only a matter of time.

With all resistance eliminated and all reformist attempts smashed, the Miami document, under a proposal to "consolidate democracy," seeks to implant political mechanisms to impede any profound change in the region. In the economic sphere, it replaces any mention of reform with "free trade" as the motor force of the region's development.

In the 1960s, Robert Kennedy acknowledged that a revolution was underway on the continent, and liked to say that "we can affect its character, but cannot alter its inevitability." This incipient revolution had awakened a fear in US leaders that it could be a communist one. The Alliance's mission was to channel it and "lift the whole continent into the modern age."
More important still was the idea that the Alliance was not just a US aid program for the countries of the continent, but a proposal for profound social reforms seen as indispensable to promoting economic development and a certain social equilibrium. Without these reforms, not even the character of the revolution could be affected.

In a number of conferences in Brazil between 1961 and 1962, US Ambassador Lincoln Gordon underscored an idea that merits serious reflection today: "The Alliance for Progress does not mean trusting development to the automatic forces of the market. On the contrary, it recognizes the need to imprint planned speed on development, giving primacy to the most urgent social and economic tasks."

What Lessons Remain?

Many write off this approach today as outdated. It is certainly outdated by the profound changes that have occurred in international politics. The forces of capitalism think they can now act on the world stage with no counterweight, leaving national governments not even the space to draw up their own economic policy. But it would be simple minded, even for the most conservative sectors, to think that the problems recognized by the Alliance have now disappeared or that the reforms it proposed can now be ignored.

Economic development's natural tendency toward globalization is no substitute for what Robert Kennedy warned of 30 years ago; domestic markets cannot be expanded only by lifting duty and other barriers, ignoring "the question of class barriers within the countries." Continuing to ignore it will not solve the region's problems; it will only deepen the crisis. We should have a clear conception, one that does not confuse the need for economic globalization with the way it has been taking shape in the past.

The Alliance for Progress also left us other lessons. Its perception of the region's problems was noticeably acute compared to what is manifested in the Miami summit, but it has become evident that the allies and mechanisms the Kennedy brothers envisioned were not the right ones for carrying through the Alliance's proposal. It is not unreasonable to wonder if the Kennedys' attempt to promote a renovating policy so radically different from what was imposed in succeeding years may have been what cost them their lives.

Robert Kennedy suggested a foreign investment code in Latin America and proposed discarding the use of aid programs to get special treatment for US companies. His proposal was not acceptable: US investors only went into countries that assured their company the conditions that now predominate in the market, thus aggravating the very situation Senator Kennedy denounced.

If we want to carry out reforms such as those proposed in the Alliance today, we need a different process and different allies. In this effort, however, we should even seek the US forces that conceived of the Alliance and others who may share their viewpoint, to analyze the results of the Alliance and the need to get back on that road. But most importantly, the social forces that compelled important US policy circles to see the need for reform policies such as those the Alliance proposed must be rebuilt.

The Free Trade Myth

The Miami summit was not a decision making event, but it did map out a road that faithfully reflects the hemisphere's predominant political conditions. Compared to the Alliance, the enormous step backward that this represents for Real America is evident.

Like its 1967 predecessor, the Miami summit also produced two documents: a Declaration of Principles and a 23 point Action Plan. The basis of the Plan is a proposal to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas, negotiations for which should be concluded by 2005 at the latest. The document suggests a calendar of actions that should lead to the creation of this free trade area.

The summit defined certain perspectives, such as its proposal for economic integration. In addition, it put forward its criteria for continental democracy but, far from promoting participation, these criteria close the door to any real political change.

It also reiterated the failed policy to isolate Cuba and urged renewed efforts to liquidate its revolutionary process. Though Cuba was not in attendance, it was bound to figure on the agenda of this new framework. By leaving Cuba without the decisive backing it counted on in previous decades, the end of socialism in Eastern Europe has stimulated attacks by those who think the time has come to put an end to the revolutionary process on the island. But the end of European socialism has also opened new doors for Cuba to deepen its economic and political relations with Latin America.

Any time a development proposal emerges in Latin America that differs from the predominant one, efforts are undertaken to smother it. In the past 20 years we have seen examples of this in Chile, Grenada and Nicaragua, to cite just the most obvious examples. Only in Cuba have they been unable to smash the effort to seek an alternative road to development.
In the end, those who clamor the loudest for pluralism are the ones least able to countenance any hint of a proposal that differs from their own.

What's Ahead for the US...

We want to put forward only two criteria regarding the summit proposals. The first is related to what is contemplated in Chapter II of the Action Plan, titled "Promotion of Ownership through Economic Integration and Free Trade."
The history of the most recent decades teaches us that such a proposal does not even have a toe hold in the continent's reality. But it makes sense from the US perspective, as the following data illustrate:
** US exports to Latin America went from US$30 billion in 1985 to $79 billion in 1993.

** This expansion of inter American trade allowed the creation of 900,000 new jobs in the United States.

** With greater trade liberalization, the US government predicts that its exports to the continent will more than triple, reaching US$290 billion. This would permit 4 6 million jobs to be created in the United States by 2003.

** The hemisphere is the most important US market $12 billion of the $20 billion growth in US exports between 1993 and 1994 was in sales to the region.

** US sales to the hemisphere represented 38% of its total sales abroad.

** Latin America is the only region with which the United States has a significant trade surplus.

** The hemispheric Free Trade Area would allow the US to consolidate its position as the region's main trade partner. To give an idea of what this means, the United States now provides 44% of regional imports.

** The majority of US imports to the region are high tech products. In US government opinion, expanding the free trade area would allow a consolidation of US comparative advantages with respect to products from outside the region.

** Direct US investments in the region steadily rose 400% between 1983 and 1993, from $24 billion to $102 billion.

These advantages for the United States have no counterpart for Latin America. On the contrary, the Miami summit's free trade proposal will only worsen the region's already critical social imbalances.

Democracy in Crisis

The other most important point in the Action Plan is contained in Chapter I, "The Preservation and Strengthening of the Community of Democracies of the Americas." In reality, the more the existence of democracy in the region is proclaimed, the more excluded the majorities become from any political decision making. This is reflected in the crisis of parties, discrediting of governments, loss of prestige by politicians and parliaments, electoral abstention and problems of governability.

Such a "community of democracies" does not exist. This concept does not reflect the dramatic reality prevailing in Real America, which is excluded from any political participation. It is even more excluded than during periods of open dictatorships, during which there were at least significant struggles to open the way to a genuine democracy. For various reasons, the results of those struggles have been snatched away from the people.

The Miami document also proposes "strengthening society and community participation." The weakening of the state as a result of the neoliberal programs has deprived it of its functions in diverse areas. This means filling the vacuum with other institutions of so called civil society. This should not be overlooked; an ongoing effort must be made to incorporate Real America grassroots civil society into this debate and help it occupy new spaces.

At the time of the Alliance some people, convinced that revolutionary change was just around the corner, made the Alliance their main enemy and boycotted any debate about it. Repeating such a reaction today seems to us inopportune. It would be a major error for Real America to be absent from the debate around the Miami summit, despite all its contradictions and holes.

The issue right now is to kick off a debate about the themes on our agenda, which are far more important than the summit itself. We must begin to draw up a regional agenda that reflects the anxieties of the American peoples, and initiate this debate with a determined and serious Central American effort. Real America should seriously study the Miami proposal and struggle for its own plan.

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