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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.

  • Do the benefits of free trade outweigh the drawbacks?
  • Should a free-trade pact include formal mechanisms for dealing with countries that violate human rights or environmental standards?
  • Can the interests of trade giants such as the United States and Brazil be balanced with the needs of tiny nations like St. Kitts and Nevis?
  • Will an influx of U.S. military hardware into the Colombian civil war help Bogota regain control of the country or drive refugees, guerrilla fighters and cocoa growers into surrounding countries?
  • Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien: As the host of the summit, Chretien will have the chance to showcase the beauty and charm of the European-style Quebec City. But that could backfire if the protests turn violent. Chretien will need diplomatic finesse to prevent bitter trade disputes between Canada and Brazil to cloud the summit. The feud came to a head recently when Canada imposed a temporary ban on Brazilian beef over fears of mad cow disease. Chretien enjoyed a good relationship with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, but has yet to establish a close rapport with Bush.
  • U.S. President George W. Bush: The summit marks the first major international gathering for the newly elected president. While Bush is often criticized for lacking international experience, the former Texas governor speaks Spanish and has called Latin America "a fundamental commitment of my presidency." He traveled to Mexico on his first trip abroad as president, where he was well received by its newly elected president, Vicente Fox.
  • Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso: As the leader of Latin America's largest economy, Cardoso may be the key to the success or failure of summit negotiations. His government does not regard the FTAA as its top priority and has made clear its disapproval of U.S. policy toward Colombia. Brazil has become increasingly assertive in regional and world affairs under Cardoso's leadership.
  • Mexican President Vicente Fox: The first Mexican president in 71 years who is not of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Fox's victory last year signaled a break with Mexico's authoritarian past. He proposes opening the border with the United States for the free movement of citizens within 20 to 30 years.
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: The only Latin American leader to boast of friendly relations with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Chavez is cool to the United States. He is a vocal opponent of U.S. policy in Colombia and has also denounced the Colombian government.
  • Cuban leader Fidel Castro: Latin America's only communist head of state is the only leader in the Western Hemisphere excluded from the summit. Despite U.S. sanctions on Cuba, Castro has survived nine U.S. presidents and has a high international profile that he uses effectively as leverage.
  • The Summit of the Americas is tackling vital issues in the debate over globalization.

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    April 18, 2001
    Bush envisions Western Hemisphere free trade zone
    April 17, 2001

    Summit of the Americas
    Summit of the Americas - Security
    Stop the FTAA

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    4:30pm ET, 4/16

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