April 26, 2007
I never thought I'd see the day when Peru's President Alan Garcia would pay a visit to Washington in the role of a prestigious, responsible, pro-American statesman. From 1985 to 1990, he was the most outspokenly anti-American leader in all of Latin America, except for Fidel Castro, pursuing a statist-socialist economic agenda and forming ties with rogue regimes such as North Korea. Now he is pro-trade and anti-terror, obviously having grown wiser with age. To my surprise, the visit was not covered by the BBC or CNN Web sites, or the Washington Post. Garcia expressed condolences for those who were murdered at Virginia Tech, one of whom was a Peruvian student. For a full transcript, see whitehouse.gov.
Garcia's main objective was to promote the free trade agreement between the United States and Peru, which he said is of fundamental importance for the people in his country. He also congratulated Bush for the "very intelligent" action which he took to prevent North Korea from pursuing its nuclear weapons ambitions. But this quote best summarized Garcia's change in heart and mind over the past twenty years:
The United States, ever since its founding fathers, has had an ideal, a mission to the world. In the '40s, it sacrificed the lives of many young people to achieve the freedom of the world. Nowadays, we need to focus on democracy and free trade. And I am sure that both Republicans and Democrats would understand that this is key to the mission the United States has for the world.
This gesture of outreach by Garcia comes at a critical moment for the Bush administration, which has been losing friends and allies throughout the world over the past year or two.
While Garcia was out of the country, a federation of Peruvian miners announced they are preparing to stage an indefinite strike against the at Southern Copper Corporation, pressing their demands "that President Alan Garcia fulfill campaign pledges to eliminate outsourcing among mining companies and to improve pension benefits." Miners in other parts of the country have not decided whether they will join this strike. See Washington Post. The demands for a hike in benefits are not surprising, given the sharp increase in prices for copper and other metals over the past couple years. The same thing happened in Chile last year.
Also, the coca growers in Peru are organizing to defeat the government's anti-narcotics programs, which includes coca eradication. They set up roadblocks in the interior mountainous regions of Peru, refusing to bargain with the government. Many believe they are being manipulated by the Shining Path terrorist movement, which was largely dismantled in the early 1990s. The coca growers' slogan is "Coca or death." See BBC. Yikes.