Big Picture: Hemisphere of influence
TOPLINE: The 2001 Summit of the Americas, April 20-22, brings 34 heads of state from the Western Hemisphere to Quebec City, Canada, for some tough negotiations. Thousands of anti-globalization activists are expected to converge on the provincial capital of Canada's Quebec province. Heading the agenda: The debate over a plan to unite countries from the Arctic to Argentina into the world's largest trading bloc. Regional security is another concern -- especially in regard to Colombia's relentless civil war.
IN CONTEXT: The third Summit of the Americas comes as Latin American countries are scrambling for North American investment and trade preferences in the wake of plunging economic growth rates. Leaders at the first summit, held in Miami in 1994, agreed to establish a free-trade pact by 2005.
U.S. President George W. Bush strongly supports the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would link 800 million consumers in nations with a combined gross domestic product exceeding $10 trillion. But it is unclear whether he can sell the idea to the U.S. Congress. Many Latin American leaders also face strong internal opposition to the FTAA.
Proponents of the pact say it would lower prices for consumers and provide new markets for the strongest industries in each of the member countries. They point to the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and say that despite fears about removing U.S.-Mexico trade barriers, that pact ultimately delivered more opportunities than drawbacks.
Opponents of FTAA include some organized labor interests, human-rights organizations and environmental groups. They argue that globalization shifts jobs to areas where workers are more easily exploited and environmental standards are lax. Free-trade agreements benefit big business more than the poor, according to this camp.
Brazil also faces opposition to the FTAA from powerful business interests that do not want to compete with the United States. They are pushing for a trade bloc with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Further complicating hemispheric relations is a wave of instability in the Andes. Peru is struggling to regain its footing after President Alberto Fujimori's government collapsed under the weight of corruption last year, while Ecuador is still reeling following a successful military coup.
Colombia is in even worst straits after decades of a guerrilla war. The U.S. Congress last year approved $1.6 billion for Bogota's plan to regain control of the country from left-wing guerrillas, right-wing vigilantes and drug criminals. Much of the U.S. aid is going to military hardware, and many within the region argue that the buildup will only escalate the fighting.
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