ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Latin America Looks towards European Union

With many of the Latin American countries electing left wing governments in the past decade, the United States is losing its influence in what has hitherto been its "backyard". These countries are now looking towards the European Union as a model for trade and internal integration.

LETTER FROM AMERICAAugust 9, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly12Latin America Looks towards European UnionSujatha FernandesSujatha Fernandes (sujathaf@yahoo.com) is with the Sociology Department at Queens College, City University of New York, USA.With many of the Latin American countries electing left wing governments in the past decade, the United States is losing its influence in what has hitherto been its “backyard”. These countries are now looking towards the European Union as a model for trade and internal integration.Latin America, once thought of as America’s “backyard”, has been moving further out of the orbit of the US in the last 10 years or so. As the testing ground for Washington-imposed neoliberal policies, it has now become the locus for a series of left wing leaders who are contesting these policies, and while doing so, have been turning towards allies in Europe, China and west Asia as a counter to US hegemony. Europe, in particular, has begun sketching out alternative policies that make theUS seem increasingly isolated in its approach to Latin America.Between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s, structural adjustment measures of privatisation, deregulation, and market-based growth were formulated into a coherent and extensive set of neoliberal principles known as the Washington Consensus, and reforms were urged on Latin American countries. The decade of the 1990s was marked by the relative hegemony of the neoliberal model and its application throughout the region. The neoliberal model was widely pro-claimed by Washington to be a panacea that could resolve the foreign debt crisis and spark economic growth through reviving the private sector. A key com-ponent of free trade policies was the proposed trade agreements known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would reduce barriers to trade between the US and countries in the Americas. The first agreement was signed between Mexico, Canada and the US, known as the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA required the imposition of structural ad-justment policies in Mexico, and was met with a dramatic uprising by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) on January 1, 1994, the day it came into effect.In the last decade, there have been nationwide mobilisations across central and south America against privatisation and free trade agreements. Several lead-ers challenging the neoliberal orthodoxy to greater and lesser degrees came to power: Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998, Lula Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil in 2003, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina in 2003, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay in 2004, Evo Morales in Bolivia in 2005, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in 2006, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador in 2006. The national mobili-sations, the ousting of neoliberal politi-cians, and the election of left wing leaders, marked a deeper rejection of the neoliberal model than the earlier cycle of protests.This unique position of Latin America may be due to its status as what Greg Grandin has called “empire’s workshop”, the place where the US acquired its con-ception of itself as an empire, a school where they learned how to execute violence through proxies, and a staging ground for experiments with free-market nation building. Among the first to be hit by the effects of structural adjustment policies, Latin American countries were also the first protest, and there is now a visibly growing gap between the left and centre-left governments of the region, and the neocons in Washington. Several leftist leaders are rejecting George Bush’s war on terror, the FTAA, and dictates from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).With the exception of the coup attempt against Chávez in 2002, the growth of leftist tendencies has so far not yet led to the US-funded armed contras or coups that faced the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile during the 1970s, and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua during the 1980s. Part of the reason has beenUS involvement in Iraq. But recent incidents in Colombia are indicative of the back-door tactics that theUS State Department may be using to intervene into Latin American affairs. Following a raid on a camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in March, the

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