Thursday, June 24, 2004

Why the U.S. should pay attention to Latin America

From today's New York Times, this story by Juan Forero, which provides a good overview of the challenges facing Latin America.

My favorite quote: "I believe in an authoritarian government, if it works. They do this in other countries and it works. Look at Cuba, that works. Look at Pinochet in Chile, that worked." -- Daniel Vargas, 24, a university student from Ilave, Peru, whose father was accused with six others of having orchestrated the lynching of the mayor, Fernando Cirilo Robles.

Here are a few salient points:

In the last few years, six elected heads of state have been ousted in the face of violent unrest, something nearly unheard of in the previous decade. A widely noted United Nations survey of 19,000 Latin Americans in 18 countries in April produced a startling result: a majority would choose a dictator over an elected leader if that provided economic benefits.

Analysts say that the main source of the discontent is corruption and the widespread feeling that elected governments have done little or nothing to help the 220 million people in the region who still live in poverty, about 43 percent of the population....

Among the weakest states is Guatemala, which struggles with paramilitary groups, youth gangs and judicial impunity and has become a crossroads for the smuggling of people and drugs to the United States.

Several other governments are fragile at best and susceptible to popular unrest that could further weaken and topple them. These include the interim administration of Prime Minister Gérard Latortue in Haiti, which took power after a popular revolt this year, and President Carlos Mesa in Bolivia, who took power after such a revolt last year.

The most unpredictable and volatile region is the Andes....

Their struggles vividly demonstrate an issue that animates strife in nearly all Latin America — the gap between the haves and have-nots of money and power that makes the region the world's most inequitable, and increasingly the most politically polarized.

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