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LATIN AMERICA

American crisis, global pain

'We are seeing how the First World collapses'

September 30, 2008|Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writer

QUITO, ECUADOR — After being lectured for 20 years about the superiority of the free market, officials in Latin America see no small irony in efforts to bail out the U.S. banking system.

Latin America has several reasons to worry about the U.S. economic meltdown. Ecuador, for instance, fears the possible loss of duty-free export markets for its coffee, fish and flowers.

People here are also worried the crisis will cut into the $2 billion sent home annually by Ecuadoreans living in the U.S., and wonder whether their use of the dollar as the national currency, a move made in 2000 to cure inflation, still makes sense.

But there is an undercurrent of schadenfreude at America's pain. Commentator Boaventura de Sousa Santos scolded the United States for its "ironhanded evangelizing" about free markets, privatization and deregulation.

"Millions were thrown into unemployment, lost their land and labor rights and had to emigrate," the Portuguese-born Santos wrote.

The comments resonated in Ecuador, a country where 15% of the population has fled to the U.S. and Europe looking for better lives.

In an interview, Quito-based historian and publisher Abdon Ubidia said Americans now can appreciate why many South American countries have swung to the left -- they saw the future and weren't buying it.

Tighter credit and falling commodity prices are starting to hurt the region. But analysts in Chile and Brazil reminded readers that their nations have emerged stronger from past crises.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner derided the argument that the market would solve everything. "What it has produced is the largest state intervention in memory," she said last week. "We are seeing how the First World collapses."

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chris.kraul@latimes.com

Special correspondents Paul Rosero in Quito, Andres D'Alessandro in Buenos Aires and Marcelo Soares in Sao Paulo, Brazil, contributed to this report.

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