Riot of the Americas
Not surprisingly, the protests at the Fourth Summit of the Americas in Argentina turned violent today: Molotov cocktails, looting, and burning the American flag. At least 64 people were arrested. Among those leading the protests was ex-soccer star Diego Maradona, whose reputation has been sullied since his retirement by scandals over drug use, mafia connections, and divorce. The leftist candidate for president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, was also there. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took time out from his diplomatic duties to join the protesters and inflame anti-American passions. Some protesters carried signs calling President Bush a "fascist" and a "terrorist." Cuba was excluded on the grounds that its president is not democratically elected, but state-sponsored Cuban activists joined a leftist "People's Summit" nearby in Mar Del Plata. See CNN.com
In his speech to the summit, which was characterized by the Buenos Aires Clarin (Spanish) as "unusually tough," Argentine President Kirchner took a high-profile stance against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA): "No integration serves us, other than that which recognizes diversity." He also repeated his past denunciations of the IMF for refusing to refinance Argentina's debt on terms demanded by the Argentine government. More generally, he rejected the open-market policies known as the "Washington Consensus," which became widely accepted in Latin American during the 1990s. As host of the summit, Kirchner decided upon the theme, which is creating jobs for the sake of democracy. To reinforce the gesture of defiance against international capitalism and U.S. interests in particular, Kirchner signed an agreement on selling agricultural equipment with Hugo Chavez, who promised to "bury" FTAA. His message resonates with many unemployed, uneducated people, who have become convinced, quite perversely, that free trade keeps them oppressed: "'We're a people united against free trade, because free trade is a policy of death for our countries,' said Carlos H. Reyes, 54, of Honduras." (from Washington Post) How can you argue with that kind of illogic?
The summit negotiations and speeches were nearly overshadowed by the turbulence in the streets, however. One wonders who will be blamed for this by the 33 heads of state who traveled to Argentina for the event. Indeed, it's beginning to look a lot like the 1960s again in Latin America, which for some people evokes sweet nostalgia and for others bodes ill for democratic rule. The big difference is that there is no connection between the revolutionary forces and the global adversaries of the United States such as there was during the Cold War. At least, there is no apparent connection to the Islamo-fascists. What should be the U.S. policy response if the radicals continue to gain power in that region, especially if they flirt with international terrorist movements? Actually, there's not much that can be done to influence the course of events, in large part because any use of leverage in the current situation would be construed as an attempt at coercion. Nevertheless, the option to give preference on immigration quotas to friendly countries should not be discarded entirely. Doing so would require new legislation.
Peru presidential race
Lourdes Flores Nano, of the conservative Popular Christian Party, is leading the polls with 33.9 percent in the Lima-Callao capital region. Alan Garcia of APRA has 13 percent, and Valentin Paniagua has 11.4%. See La Republica (in Spanish) That seems to be a surprising development, given that discontent elsewhere in Latin America has boosted the political fortunes of leftist-populist parties and leaders. Is Peru out of step with its neighbors, or have the Peruvian people wised up to the old Aprista tricks?
Meanwhile, tensions between Chile and Peru are rising again. Chile's President Lagos insists that Chile will continue to exercise sovereign control over its territorial waters, in spite of Peru's efforts to modify the border. He said he has no plans to meet with President Toledo of Peru at the summit in Mar del Plata.