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Engagement with Latin America

Nostalgia for the Washington consensus has no place in the democracy of the 21st century in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Yesterday’s Washington Post editorial, “A Choice for Latin America,” ended with a provocative ultimatum for several Latin American governments: Choose the democracy of the 21st century over Hugo Chavez’s “half-baked” socialism, or else lose all material and economic support from the United States. Interestingly enough, however, the editorial did not give a single detail of what The Washington Post’s vision of democracy in the 21st century means for Latin America besides a nostalgic reference to the largely defunct and discredited “Washington consensus.”

To believe that what Latin America needs in the 21st century is to merely revitalize the Washington consensus is to completely miss the point. After several decades of deepening democratic processes and moderate economic growth, what Latin America needs is to build on the lessons learned from the Washington consensus of the 1990s and create economic and political systems that respond to the very serious and urgent needs of its citizens.

While the United States may not agree with Chavez’s “half-baked” socialism, as The Washington Post put it, he and the other leaders referenced by The Washington Post were elected by a majority of their country’s populations. These people felt that the policies and regimes that preceded Chavez, Correa, and Morales—those that adopted the Washington consensus—had neither benefited them nor served to protect their interests.

The United States’ response to these leaders therefore cannot be to deliver an ultimatum. To do so would only further aggravate hemispheric relations and alienate the regional allies the United States needs to effectively deal with Chavez, Correa, and Morales, and all those named by The Washington Post. Instead, the United States must very proactively engage with civil societies in all of these countries at the grassroots level.

The goal of engagement should be to understand what the United States can and should do to help consolidate a more democratic system of governance that actually delivers the benefits of trade and globalization to the majority of people in the hemisphere, thereby discrediting the economic policies of Chavez and company in the process. Nostalgia for the Washington consensus has no place in the democracy of the 21st century in Latin America and the Caribbean. A more cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and the countries of the hemisphere does.

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