The Uneasy Americas

Peter Hakim. Foreign Affairs. Volume 80, Issue 2. March/April 2001.

Keeping It Together

This April, President George W. Bush will travel to Quebec City for a summit meeting of the western hemisphere’s heads of state. Thirty-three other leaders will attend the conference, the third such gathering since 1994, and each will come eager to hear the new U.S. president’s plans for dealing with the region. The summit will be an ideal place for Bush to try out his ideas before an attentive foreign audience. But if he really wants to improve hemispheric ties, Bush must come prepared to do some serious listening, to get to know his Latin American colleagues, and to hear firsthand their priorities and concerns.

Should he make such an effort, Bush will learn that the United States’ relations with Latin America are fundamentally sound. Most American governments are happy to cooperate with Washington, and they expect it to take the initiative on many crucial matters.

Probing a bit more deeply, however, Bush and his advisers will discover a number of serious problems under the deceptively smooth surface. Hemispheric affairs are far more troubled today than they were only a few years ago. Many of Latin America’s leaders face serious political and economic troubles at home, and many are disappointed with current U.S. policies-particularly with Washington’s expanding intervention in Colombia and its lagging efforts to pursue economic cooperation and hemispheric free trade.

Bush should heed the warnings. If Latin America loses confidence in Washington-which has seemed indifferent at some points and headstrong and inflexible at others-the opportunities for American leadership in the hemisphere will diminish, along with hopes for an effective U.S.-Latin American partnership.

Cooperation and Convergence

For the last 12 years-roughly since the start of the first Bush administration and the end of the Cold War-relations between the United States and Latin America have been more cordial and cooperative than at any other time in memory. With almost every Latin American nation scrambling for U.S. investment and trade preferences, the once familiar cry of “Yankee go home” is no longer heard anywhere in the hemisphere, and “gringo” has ceased to be a term of opprobrium. Even Brazil, which has frequently clashed with the United States over specific issues and initiatives, now boasts that its relationship with Washington has never been better.

Many factors contributed to this improvement in the texture and tone of U.S.-Latin American links. The dramatic turn toward democratic politics and market economics in Central and South America was a powerful element; in 12 years, nearly every nation in the region came to share the same basic political and economic ideals. Another factor was the passing of the Cold War. With it, U.S. policy toward Latin America became more relaxed, and security concerns no longer trumped everything else.

A number of constructive U.S. policy initiatives also contributed to the growing goodwill. Within weeks of taking office in 1989, the first President Bush put forth the kind of debt relief plan that Latin America had long sought to resolve its decade-long economic crisis. The Bush administration also contributed to the peaceful settlements of Central America’s festering civil wars, negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada, and announced a plan to forge free trade ties with every other country in the Americas.

When its turn came, the Clinton administration carried these initiatives forward without missing a beat. Within a year of taking office, Bill Clinton got Congress to approve NAFTA. Shortly thereafter, in 1994, he convened in Miami the first hemispheric summit meeting since 1967. And at that conference, the assembled leaders agreed to complete an all-Americas free trade pact by 2005. Under Clinton’s leadership, Washington also orchestrated generous financial rescue packages for Mexico and Brazil, which stemmed the deepening economic crises in those countries.

The Honeymoon Ends

Despite these many accomplishments, however, relations are starting to sour once more, and in the near future, U.S.-Latin American ties are likely to become far more contentious. Indeed, there are already clear signs that the goodwill and cooperation that characterized most of the past decade are evaporating.

To begin with, most Latin American countries are worse off today than they were just a few years ago. The early 199os were years of heady optimism throughout the region. Democracy took hold in country after country, promising greater justice and enhanced security. The magic of economic reform produced an upswing in growth and a sharp drop in inflation. These developments were expected, in turn, to translate into higher wages, lower unemployment, declining poverty, and improved public services. The United States, the region’s most important trading partner and its largest source of capital, promised more secure access to U.S. markets and investment capital for Latin American producers. These promises were widely seen as a sure-fire means to anchor and accelerate the region’s economic and political growth.

Things did not work out that way, however. Two debilitating financial crises, in 1995 and 1998, interrupted Latin America’s economic progress and revealed its continuing vulnerability. As economic growth rates dropped by 40 percent between the first and second halves of the decade, unemployment soared and the region’s halting social advances came to a standstill. These reversals sapped Latin America’s confidence in its ability to compete successfully in the globalized economy. Although no American country has yet retreated from market economic policies as a result, doubts have multiplied about the benefits of free trade and about the pace and breadth of the economic reforms long advocated by Washington.

The setbacks to democracy throughout the region have been even more serious. They are not, as some U.S. officials have portrayed them, mere bumps in the road. To be sure, Latin American democracy has scored some recent triumphs-none more stunning than last year’s presidential race in Mexico, in which an opposition candidate, Vicente Fox, triumphed in the country’s first truly free elections. But in most other countries, the news has been more distressing, and nowhere more so than in South America’s Andean region. In Peru, the government of Alberto Fujimori grew increasingly autocratic and corrupt until it finally imploded last year. With Fujimori now in exile in Japan, Peru confronts the enormously difficult task of rebuilding its institutions. Meanwhile, Colombia’s elected government is losing control while democratic institutions are being battered by a relentless guerrilla war, horrendous human rights abuses, and pervasive criminal violence. Last year, Ecuador suffered South America’s first successful military coup in 24 years, and in Venezuela, political power is being concentrated in the hands of President Hugo Chavez, who scorns representative democracy. Such governance problems are not confined to the Andes, either. Democracy is also under assault to varying degrees in many other countries-Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Paraguay, to mention a few.

Meanwhile, although democracy still prevails in most of Latin America, political institutions-including parties, legislatures, and courts-perform dismally. Contrary to expectations, the demise of Latin America’s military rulers has not led to the steady consolidation of democracy and the rule of law, which remain weak and vulnerable in many countries. Even in the sturdiest regional democracies, citizens are deeply unhappy with their governments. In the past year, the approval ratings of more than half of South America’s leaders fell below 20 percent.

Most Latin Americans do not blame the United States for their problems. Even those countries suffering the worst political and economic turmoil have not cast Washington as the villain. Indeed, the United States is still often seen as critical to solving many national problems. When their economies teetered on the brink of disaster, both Mexico City and Brasilia turned to Washington for help. From the day it took office, Andres Pastrana’s government in Colombia has sought massive U.S. support for its struggle against guerrillas and drug criminals. In Peru, the opposition looked to Washington for assistance in the battle against Fujimori’s authoritarian ways. And two countries-Ecuador and El Salvador-have adopted the U.S. dollar as their national currencies to ward off economic crises.

Still, throughout Latin America, the United States is closely identified with the widely implemented reform programs (known as the “Washington consensus”) that have yielded such disappointing economic and social results in so many countries. The reforms, although essential for economic success, are popularly associated with austerity, insecurity, and high unemployment. For many Latin Americans, closer relations with the United States simply mean more of the same. Opposition to these reforms could therefore easily turn into opposition to U.S. leadership in general-and into antagonism toward the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both of which are seen as U.S.-dominated institutions.

The timing of events, moreover, has not helped perceptions. Even while most of Latin America has remained caught in economic doldrums, the United States has enjoyed its longest economic boom ever. In this light, it is hardly surprising that many in the region have come to think that the global economy is stacked in favor of the United States and other wealthy nations-and that new rules, different from those long advocated by Washington, are needed if Latin America and other developing areas are ever to compete successfully.

Free Trade Freeze

Trade and investment dominate the agendas of nearly every Latin American country in their relations with the United States. Nothing is considered more important to the region’s economic future than expanded access to U.S. markets and investment capital. And nothing has raised more doubts about Washington’s commitment to regional cooperation than its foot-dragging on hemispheric trade—particularly during a time of such prosperity in the United States.

It was only last December, in the eleventh hour, that the Clinton administration finally took steps to fulfill two pledges it made during the 1994 summit in Miami-to incorporate Chile into NAFTA and to provide Central America and the Caribbean with enhanced access to U.S. markets. For six years, the U.S. Congress, pressed hard by a handful of domestic textile manufacturers, had regularly rejected such preferences, which were finally approved in May 2000 as part of a larger trade package for Africa. Although this step was welcomed as the first expansion of NAFTA since 1994, Latin Americans hardly considered it a strong signal of U.S. commitment to regional trade.

Chile’s experience has also been disheartening. For the past decade, there has been broad support in the United States for a free trade arrangement with Chile, the region’s outstanding economic performer. But disputes within the White House kept negotiations on ice. Then, with only a month left in his presidency, Clinton announced that Chile talks would finally begin. Having suddenly initiated such negotiations with Singapore, it had become too embarrassing for the White House to put off Chile any longer. Now it is up to the Bush administration to conclude an agreement with Chile and gain congressional approval for it. Bush’s success or failure will be widely viewed as an indicator of his future stance on hemispheric trade policy.

Even more damaging to Washington’s credibility on Latin American trade was Clinton’s failure, over a six-year period, to get Congress to renew fast-track negotiating authority. Fast-track authority, which expired in 1993, basically waives Congress’ right to amend trade agreements by forcing it to vote either yes or no on a trade bill without making any changes. Because it was discussed so often and promised for so long, fast track became emblematic of the United States’ commitment (or lack thereof) to hemispheric free trade-and to broader economic and political cooperation with Latin America. With Congress’ ongoing refusal to renew fast track, Latin Americans became increasingly skeptical of U.S. support for the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and other U.S. pledges to the region. Should President Bush now fail to move quickly to recover fast-track power, he will send the message that hemispheric trade relations are not a high priority for his administration.

Fortunately, Bush’s campaign rhetoric suggests that he understands just how important the free trade agenda is to Latin America and its relations with the United States. In a speech in Miami last August, Bush stated that he intended to achieve “free trade agreements with all the nations” of the region and later insisted that “fast-track trade authority is on the way.”

But no matter how sincere were these pledges, the new administration’s good intentions will hardly guarantee the passage of fast track. Even with a full-court press by the White House, the outcome remains in doubt. To succeed, President Bush may have to compromise with Democratic lawmakers on the sensitive issues of workers’ rights and environmental protection, backing away from the standard Republican position that these issues have no place in trade negotiations. It was just such a compromise that allowed for NAFTA’s approval in 1993, when labor and environmental standards were incorporated into special side clauses. But many congressional Democrats, union officials, and environmental activists are convinced that the 1993 measures have proven toothless, so achieving a compromise agreement today will be much harder. Still, such an agreement is probably the only way the White House will obtain fast track any time soon.

Such a compromise may create another problem, however. The inclusion of labor or environmental standards in the FTAA is vehemently opposed by the great majority of Latin American governments. These governments fear that such standards will raise new and unfair barriers to their exports and end up as just another U.S. restriction on foreign trade. Latin Americans are especially hostile to the idea of using trade sanctions to enforce labor and environmental standards– an approach that President Clinton seemed to endorse at last year’s World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. Given the importance of U.S. markets to their economic prospects, Latin American countries may end up swallowing such demands. But this will not resolve their underlying opposition or quell their resentment; it will only postpone conflict until the implementation stage.

Assuming that the Bush administration does manage to secure fast track relatively soon, there is still no guarantee that FTAA negotiations will proceed smoothly, even aside from labor and environment conditions. The final round of FTAA talks, which begins in 2003, is scheduled to be chaired jointly by the United States and Brazil and may prove particularly difficult. The two countries publicly disagree on a number of core issues that will not be easy to resolve. And President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government has already made it clear that it is in no hurry to negotiate on the FTAA, which it views as a second-order priority, or to conclude matters by the agreed-upon 2005 deadline. This position reflects the strong opposition that exists to the FTAA, not only in Brazil’s labor movement, but also among many in its powerful business community who doubt that Brazil can compete with U.S. suppliers.

Complicating matters further is Brazil’s growing assertiveness and influence in regional and global affairs. The country seems bent on establishing a second pole of power in the western hemisphere. This was most evident in August of last year, when Cardoso convened in Brasilia the very first summit meeting of South American heads of state. And it is not only on trade matters that Brazil’s independent policy has put it at odds with the United States. This past year, the Brazilian government opposed U.S. efforts to challenge Fujimori’s rigging of the Peruvian elections. And having made plain its aversion to U.S. policy in Colombia, Brazil succeeded in excluding any mention of the U.S.-supported Plan Colombia from the final communique of the South American summit. As it negotiates toward hemispheric free trade, then, Washington cannot avoid taking account of its broader relationship with Brazil, a nation that can affect the success or failure of U.S. policy on a broad array of issues.

A Quagmire in the Andes?

Nothing, however, is more likely to produce an open clash between the United States and Latin America than Washington’s growing military assistance to Colombia. That assistance is part of Plan Colombia, Bogota’s multibillion-dollar, multiyear strategy to retake control of the country from left-wing guerrillas, right-wing vigilantes, and drug criminals. Every Latin American government recognizes the depth of Colombia’s problems and its need for outside support. Yet U.S. aid, which will reach $1.6 billion over the next two years, has provoked wide opposition in the region.

The first concern is that U.S. funds, most of which are meant for the purchase of military hardware to battle drug traffickers, will escalate Colombia’s wars and end hopes for a negotiated settlement with the country’s guerrillas. This would be an unwelcome outcome, for negotiation remains the solution favored by every Latin American government, despite the continuing failure of peace talks. Colombia’s neighbors also fear that a widening war will spill over the country’s borders, spreading the violence and criminality that have plagued Colombia for so long.

Latin American countries also recall earlier U.S. interventions in the region, particularly in Central America in the 198os, and worry about the impact of a U.S. military presence in South America– where the United States has never sent its soldiers. These countries lack confidence that Washington will be able to keep its intervention limited and avoid becoming more deeply engaged and reliant on military force, leading to a Vietnam-style quagmire.

Opposition to the U.S. role in Colombia also goes beyond Latin America. Many in the U. S. Congress, as well as a large number of American nongovernmental organizations (NGOS), have criticized U.S. military assistance to Bogota-and the Bush administration is likely to face growing objections as U.S. involvement increases in the coming months. European governments have already made clear their distaste for the U.S. approach, and their financial contributions to Plan Colombia have fallen far short of what was anticipated-leaving Washington as the only major stakeholder (apart from Bogota itself) in a substantially underfunded effort.

The critics of the plan make a number of compelling arguments that reflect more than mere knee-jerk anti-Americanism. Even a joint task force of the Inter-American Dialogue and the Council on Foreign Relations, chaired by two supporters of U.S. aid to Colombia-former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.)-recently criticized Washington’s Colombia policy as too narrowly focused on counter narcotics programs. It called for broader efforts to bolster government authority in Colombia and to underpin peace negotiations. The task force also argued that only with the firm backing of Latin American and European nations could U. S. policy hope to succeed.

Although President Bush has strongly endorsed U.S. assistance to Colombia in general, he has not said much about how he plans to confront the key policy questions, including whether to sustain (or even increase) the level of resources devoted to the program, whether to remain focused on antidrug efforts or move more toward a counterinsurgency strategy, and whether to continue emphasizing military assistance or initiate a more comprehensive aid program.

Whatever choices Bush makes, his most difficult challenges will be, first, to maintain the support of Congress and the American people for a large-scale, multiyear commitment (making Colombia the third largest recipient of U.S. security aid after Israel and Egypt) and, second, to secure the needed political and financial cooperation from Latin America and Europe. The United States cannot count on the support of other countries unless it starts consulting them far more systematically than it has done to date.

Hurricane Hugo

Venezuela’s firebrand president, Hugo Chavez, has further complicated the Colombia situation. The most vociferous opponent of Washington’s assistance to Bogota, Chavez has warned that U.S. actions could “generate a medium-intensity conflict in the whole of northern South America.” Chavez has frequently and loudly disparaged the Colombian government as well and maintains regular communication with the guerrilla armies, which have been invited to speak before the Venezuelan Congress. So far, no evidence has emerged to implicate Chavez in providing material support to these guerrillas, but there have been credible allegations that he has aided opposition groups in Ecuador and Bolivia.

Ever since Chavez took office two years ago, U.S.-Venezuela relations have become increasingly strained. Chavez has already defied the United States on an array of issues and is fast becoming a leader of anti-American sentiment in the hemisphere. Venezuela has refused U.S. planes permission to fly over its territory for counter narcotics activities. Among OPEC members, it has most strongly resisted U.S. appeals to increase oil production to ease pressure on prices. In August, Chavez became the first head of state since the Persian Gulf War to disregard U.N. sanctions by visiting Saddam Hussein. And Chavez has consistently flaunted his friendship with Fidel Castro, recently agreeing to subsidize petroleum exports to Cuba. A direct clash with the United States may be brewing, particularly if the Venezuelan leader suffers political reversals at home and starts looking for scapegoats. Washington is already apprehensive about the lack of institutional checks on Chavez’s power and the risks it poses for the future of democracy in the region.

Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and a few other countries are also likely to present challenges to the new Bush administration-as they have to most previous U.S. governments. Several of these problems may be costly and difficult to resolve. Haiti, for example, could at any moment produce another massive flood of boat people headed to the United States. Bitter partisan squabbles in Washington, however, continue to impede the framing of a sustained and coherent policy toward the impoverished country.

Fortunately, developments in Haiti or in others of these small, troubled nations are unlikely to have much impact on the broader sweep of U.S.-Latin American relations, since the problems are relatively self-contained. Cuba, however, could be the exception, because its leadership is so unpredictable, because the United States often overreacts to Cuba’s actions, and because Cuba has such a high international profile. Nearly every Latin American government has strong misgivings about U. S. policy toward Cuba, which they consider exaggerated, anachronistic, and at times reckless. Aside from Venezuela, however, Cuba has virtually no allies or supporters in the region. But while one can imagine scenarios in which the United States forcibly intervenes in Cuba and provokes an uproar in the rest of Latin America, none of these seems very likely today. Washington is clearly softening its policy toward Havana. Notwithstanding Bush’s tough campaign rhetoric and the debt he owes Cuban Americans for their overwhelming electoral support, that trend is likely to continue. Past votes make it clear that a majority in Congress is now ready to lift most U. S. restrictions on Cuba.

Things Go Better with Fox

Critical as all these issues are, the United States’ most important relationship in Latin America is with Mexico. No other country in the world affects the lives of Americans as much, and no country is more intensely affected by U.S. policies. Against the backdrop of an often bitter history, U.S.-Mexican relations have taken a constructive turn in recent years. Economic ties have flourished, and Mexico is now the United States’ second largest trading partner after Canada-outdistancing Japan, the United Kingdom, and Germany. In the past ten years, U.S. exports to Mexico have tripled to some $100 billion a year. Approximately 350,000 Mexicans head north each year, reshaping U.S. society in multiple ways. The Mexican economy, in turn, is highly dependent on U.S. markets. Mexico sends more than 8o percent of its exports northward, while capital flows from the United States, as well as remittances from Mexican workers, have fueled Mexico’s stunning economic performance in the past several years. Tensions over trade and other economic issues have by no means been eliminated, but NAFTA now provides the institutional mechanisms for addressing trade disputes. Other institutional arrangements are also in place to manage troublesome issues such as migration, drug trafficking, environmental contamination, and water rights.

There is every reason, therefore, to expect that U.S.-Mexican relations will get even better in the coming years. Mexico has become Latin America’s star performer. Hitched to the flourishing U.S. economy, for two years now Mexico has enjoyed its highest rates of growth in two decades and has kept inflation well in check. Even more impressive has been Mexico’s decisive break from its authoritarian past-marked by the election of an opposition leader as president for the first time in the nation’s history. These two developments augur stronger and more productive U.S.-Mexico ties. Mexico’s giant step toward democracy should make cooperation easier across the board and far more appealing to a U.S. public and a Congress that were leery in the past of their undemocratic neighbor. President Fox—a business leader and former governor from northern Mexico who ran the national Coca-Cola company and speaks fluent English-should be a compatible partner for Bush. Fox has already expressed a commitment to enhancing U.S.-Mexican ties in many areas and has offered a series of far-reaching proposals on trade, immigration, and drugs. For his part, Bush takes pride in his connections to Mexico. He and many of his advisers have made it clear that Mexico will be a foreign policy priority. During his campaign, Bush declared, “I have a vision for our two countries. The United States is destined to have a special relationship with Mexico, as clear and strong as we have had with Canada and Great Britain.”

Of course, expectations may have been driven too high-and if progress stalls, bitterness and frustration could quickly replace the optimism on both sides of the border. Another concern is that impatient U.S. policymakers may find it difficult to deal with the resulting diffusion of power and increased uncertainty that democracy will bring to Mexico. Decision-making there will probably grow slower and less tidy. Fox will also have to face unaccustomed scrutiny from a divided Mexican Congress and an increasingly assertive press.

Conflicts in U.S.-Mexican relations are likely to arise over the traditionally contentious issues of illegal immigration, narcotics trafficking, and economic relations. Many of the economic conflicts swirl around NAFTA. Each side complains that the other is not faithfully implementing the treaty. But although it would surely be better for both countries if these differences could be resolved, they are not likely to cause any wider conflicts-or to put the trade relationship at risk. NAFTA has produced too many valuable benefits for either side to jeopardize it. Even an economic downturn in the United States, which would quickly translate into a Mexican slump, would not cause bitterness in Mexico. Mexicans of all economic strata support close economic ties with the United States.

On drugs and immigration, however, the two countries deeply distrust one another. From the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency to local police, U.S. law enforcement authorities have little faith in Mexico’s ability or willingness to reduce the flow of cocaine and other drugs into the United States. Along with many influential members of Congress, they believe Mexico is too corrupt and indifferent to be a trustworthy partner in the drug war-and this message is regularly (if not always intentionally) communicated to understandably resentful Mexican officials.

For their part, Mexicans believe that U.S. demand has created their drug problem, that the United States is lackadaisical in fighting drugs on its side of the border, and that U.S. politicians and government agencies are intent on shifting the blame and political costs to Mexico. The U.S. certification process, through which Washington passes judgment each year on the antidrug efforts of other countries, is especially humiliating to Mexicans. Fox has made it clear that the United States and Mexico will never enjoy productive cooperation on drugs until the unilateral certification process is replaced by a more equitable and multilateral formula. Bush has not publicly commented on certification yet, but he will have to do so soon, before the White House offers its judgments.

Immigration poses an even more difficult problem. On drugs, the United States and Mexico can at least claim compatible objectives. Both governments ostensibly want to reduce the drug flow and the crime associated with it. But on immigration issues, Mexico and the United States have very different perspectives. Mexico wants the relatively free movement of people across the border, parallel to the free movement of capital and goods enshrined in NAFTA. The United States seeks to selectively restrict entry by maintaining a closed and monitored border. The discord has been somewhat muted over the past several years because a prospering U.S. economy has created an enormous demand for low-wage labor, and Americans– with an all-time low unemployment rate-have been less troubled than usual by the influx of Mexican workers. A prolonged dip in the U.S. economy and rising joblessness, however, will revive political pressure to slow migration. Tensions with Mexico will again emerge.

Still, so far the signs are encouraging. Soon after his election last July, President Fox proposed that Washington join him in exploring the eventual establishment of an open border between the two countries. Although it gained enormous media coverage, the suggestion fell on deaf ears among U.S. officials and has not been resuscitated. Unfortunately, it may have also overshadowed Fox’s most important statement-his offer to work with the United States to monitor and regularize the flow of migrants. This is an offer that no other president of Mexico has ever made. And it provides, for the first time ever, a strong basis on which to build cooperative migration policies that are acceptable to both countries.

First Things First

By the time he travels to Quebec in April, President Bush will have discovered that, with the prominent exception of Mexico, U.S. ties to Latin America have become increasingly tense. His administration confronts some very difficult policy choices at a time when many Latin Americans are losing confidence in U.S. leadership and questioning the reliability of Washington as a partner.

With many countries facing hard economic times and with democracy eroding in some places, Latin Americans are also losing faith in their own leaders and institutions. Of course, these are problems that Latin American nations have to resolve themselves. If they cannot, they will never make very attractive partners for their powerful neighbor to the north.

Indeed, there is not much that the Bush administration can do to prevent the souring of Latin America’s economic and political climate. The White House can, however, show that it stands ready to establish enduring partnerships with Latin American nations that are ready to do the same. President Bush must promptly move ahead on hemispheric trade matters, therefore, by taking quick steps-ideally before the summit in Quebec-to gain Congress’ approval of fast-track negotiating authority. Early and significant attention to Colombia would also be helpful. Latin American governments would welcome a signal from the Bush administration that it plans to thoroughly review the current U.S. aid package and, in the process, consult extensively with other countries in the region and beyond. The Bush administration, in addition, has a historic opportunity to break new ground in U.S.-Mexican relations by seriously engaging the issues that President Fox has already put forth. Washington may have misgivings about Fox’s specific proposals, but the Mexican president has clearly identified the right subjects for debate and discussion. By seizing these opportunities, President Bush can make up for the lost momentum in U.S.-Latin American relations, begin to alleviate some of Latin America’s concerns, and blunt the region’s growing criticism of the United States.