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Searching for an American Plan : Why Bush's Latin American trip is being taken seriously in Latin America

December 02, 1990

In a tour of South America that begins today, President Bush will visit five distinctly different nations in five days. It would be unrealistic to expect anything really substantial to emerge from such a quick trip. Yet, knowing this, the leaders of every nation where Bush will stop consider it significant. And it could be the start of a more productive U.S.-South American relationship.

Fellow Marketeers: At the very least it will give Bush an opportunity to spread his Administration's gospel of free-market economies and free trade beyond Mexico--which has exceeded even Bush's expectations under the leadership of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari--to the region's five other big economies. Bush calls his plan of open markets for Latin American development the "Enterprise for the Americas" initiative. And while short on specifics, the initiative has stirred considerable interest throughout the Western Hemisphere. Such is the influence of the United States in the region, no matter its standing elsewhere in the world.

In each country, Bush will meet with a counterpart who shares his views that the best way for Latin America to emerge from economic recession is to work and trade its way out of the doldrums. In his first two stops Bush will greet presidents who were elected espousing free-market views similar to his own, Fernando Collor de Mello of Brazil and Luis Alberto Lacalle of Uruguay. In two other stops, he'll talk with the leaders of Argentina and Venezuela, Carlos Saul Menem and Carlos Andres Perez, who came around to the free-market philosophy despite emerging from political movements that had long favored the state-run, protectionist development models that were the rule in Latin America until just recently. But although all these presidents are friendly to the United States, each is likely to remind Bush of the seeming hypocrisy of calling for free trade while the United States limits their ability to export South American products like cement, steel, and agricultural commodities. Those will be lectures worth listening to.

Chile's Comeback: The fourth stop on Bush's visit is a special case. Chile has been a leader in accepting free-market economics, and is even considered a model for the rest of the region. Its problems have been more political than financial. President Patricio Aylwin is the first civilian president there since 1973 when Gen. Augusto Pinochet led a bloody coup and imposed a brutal authoritarian regime whose aftereffects still linger. To their credit, both the Reagan and Bush administrations consistently pushed Pinochet to step aside for a civilian government. So when Aylwin greets Bush, it will be a powerful moment--a handshake that says, in effect, welcome back to the family of democratic governments.

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