Beyond Rhetoric

For the president’s talk of social justice in the Americas to be more than empty rhetoric, he must take action upon returning home.

President Bush’s trip through the Americas is winding to a close with stops today and tomorrow in Mexico and Guatemala, leaving him with an ultimatum to make good on the promises he has made in the past week and early in his presidency.

Before leaving on his five-country tour, the president said that one of his central messages would be social justice. Both Guatemala and Mexico highlight the need for greater social justice in U.S. relations with the Americas and provide perfect opportunities to put deeds behind those words.

One of the president’s first moves upon returning to the United States will have to be to correct his decision to slash the most basic form of aid to Guatemala—development assistance—by nearly 30 percent in his most recent budget proposal.

The president will also have to address perhaps the most basic social justice issue between the United States and the Americas—immigration. The president has shown a rhetorical commitment to comprehensive immigration reform for most of his presidency and will almost certainly put it on display during his stops in Guatemala and Mexico. Yet to have any chance at reordering U.S. relations with the Americas as he has long claimed to desire, the president must do everything he can to bring comprehensive immigration reform to fruition this year.

The president can no longer afford to leave our relations with Mexico and Guatemala at mere rhetoric. One in eight Mexicans and one in 10 Guatemalans live in the United States. One quarter of all U.S. citizens living abroad live in Mexico. And more than $25 billion were remitted from the United States to Mexico and Guatemala combined in 2005. Remittances from the United States constitute 10 percent of Guatemala’s annual gross domestic product. And Mexico is the United States’ third largest trading partner as well as the second largest source of oil in the world.

Between 70 and 90 percent of all cocaine that enters the United States does so via Mexico. The Central American gang problem that began in U.S. cities and has spread to our exurbs is now a major destabilizing factor in Guatemala and the region. Broad swaths of both countries’ populations live under crushing poverty.

Clearly, Mexico and Guatemala’s well-being has a direct impact on ours. Real economic development in Guatemala and Mexico, particularly southern Mexico, for example, is key to making comprehensive immigration reform a lasting success. That economic development would also address some of the social dynamic feeding the transnational crime problems that plague our three countries.

The president was right to identify social justice as a guiding principal for the United States’ relations with the Americas. On the final stops of his trip he should keep that notion in the forefront and lay the groundwork for returning home and turning his rhetoric into reality.

If not, his trip will be remembered as nothing more than a protest-ridden attempt at crafting a positive legacy in the Americas out of nothing more than rhetoric.

For more information on the president’s trip to Latin America, please see:

For more on the need for comprehensive immigration reform, please see:

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Dan Restrepo

Senior Fellow