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Miami Herald: Arias' brilliant response to anti-American leaders

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http://www.miamiherald.com/news/columnists...ry/1029921.html

 

 

Arias' brilliant response to anti-American leaders

BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER

aoppenheimer@MiamiHerald.com

 

Now that we are getting some details of what was said in the closed-door sessions at the recent 34-country Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, it's becoming clear that Costa Rican President and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias gave the most impressive speech at the meeting.

 

Granted, you didn't hear much from him during the April 17-18 summit. Unlike the presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, he didn't give news conferences, nor did he send media functionaries to summon journalists every time he came or left the conference building.

 

But Arias' response to Ecuador's populist President Rafael Correa at the summit's closed-door sessions -- which circulated online and was confirmed to me by Arias in a telephone interview -- should be a must-read for anybody interested in Latin America's future.

 

It happened during the April 18 session of the summit, which marked the first joint meeting of Latin American and Caribbean leaders with President Barack Obama. The Ecuadorean president had just spoken, and -- like the presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Argentina before him -- had blamed the United States for Latin America's problems of the past two centuries.

 

In his speech, whose written version is entitled ''We must have done something wrong,'' Arias started out saying, ``I have the impression that each time Caribbean and Latin American countries meet with the president of the United States, it's to . . . blame the United States for our past, present and future problems. I don't think this is entirely fair.''

 

He continued: ``We cannot forget that Latin America had universities before the United States created Harvard, and William & Mary, which were the first universities in that country. We cannot forget that in this hemisphere, like elsewhere in the world, until 1750, all of us in the Americas were more or less the same: We were all poor.

 

``When the Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain, other countries joined that train, including Germany, France, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But the industrial revolution passed over Latin America like a comet, and we didn't even notice. We certainly lost an opportunity.

 

``Fifty years ago, Mexico was richer than Portugal. In 1950, a country like Brazil had a per capita income that was higher than that of South Korea. Sixty years ago, Honduras had a bigger per capita income than Singapore. . . . We in Latin America must have done something wrong .

 

''What did we do wrong?'' Arias asked. Among other things, he listed the fact that Latin America have an average schooling of only seven years, that the region has one of the world's lowest tax collection rates, and that it spends an absurd $50 billion a year on weapons and other military expenditures. ''That's nobody else's fault but our own,'' he said.

 

''So I ask myself: who is our enemy?'' Arias went on. ``Our enemy, President Correa, is that inequality that you rightly refer to. It's the lack of education. It's illiteracy. It's the fact that we don't spend on our people's health.''

 

Noting that the 21st century is likely to be the Asian -- rather than Latin American -- century, and that China has lifted 500 million people out of poverty since it opened its economy three decades ago, Arias concluded: ''While we continue debating about ideologies, and about which ``isms'' are the best, whether capitalism, socialism, communism, liberalism, neo-liberalism, etc., Asians have found an ''ism'' that is much more realistic for the XXI Century: pragmatism.''

 

My Opinion: Arias was right on. The United States has done a lot of things -- good and bad -- in Latin America over the past two centuries. But blaming Latin America's shortcomings on the United States -- like the presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Argentina did, with various degrees of virulence -- is intellectually childish and politically dangerous.

 

Latin America's populist leaders are using anti-American rhetoric and ideological banners to justify their goal of staying in power indefinitely. It is no coincidence that they are all following the same script: blaming Washington, calling for the ''re-foundation'' of their countries, and then rewriting their Constitutions to accumulate absolute powers and stay in power indefinitely. It's time to call their bluff -- and Arias did it with superb eloquence.

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Well, count on me to be Mr. Negative, but I do not agree with Oscar, and am rather surprised that it was posted. His interpretation of economic history amounts to "oops, we missed it." Anything is possible, but this doesn't make sense on the face. So mysteriously ALL of Latin America had its head in the sand during the industrial revolution while only Northern/Western Europe and the US had the foresight to jump on the bandwagon? Now, why was this? Since there is a pattern to who made it and who didn't, Oscar's "oops, we missed it" theory of history doesn't hold water. What needs to be explained is why one set made it while a whole bunch of others didn't. Gee, could it have anything to do with the victorious set having had a fleet of military ships?

 

I puzzle about Oscar, and think he is a good guy, but he was educated in England and has a conflicted faith in markets. He seems to want them, supporting CAFTA and all, yet has shifted to China and done other things like limiting casino hours which show that he is not keen on being beholden to the US and sees problems with that. His Nobel Peace Prize was political, as they all are. The committee wanted the peace to work so they bestowed the prize on a relevant third party in the hopes that it would help. It did, but Arias's agreement was not appreciably different from others that had been negotiated before. It was actually Ortega who made the agreement work, surprising everyone by signing and then surprising them more by following through, and insofar as Arias is to be credited it is for strong-arming the process and squaring off against Reagan. He had negotiating skills, and took a huge risk. Oliver North told him that he would never get another dime out of the US. So he rose to the challenge.

 

But this doesn't make his economic history worth a flip. In fact, his economic views are obviously uncertain. He supported CAFTA, spent all his political capital on it, yet turns around and welcomed China as an an alternative. He's also the guy behind the immigration proposals designed to drastically limit gringos.

 

He's either wiser than the rest of us put together or a guy swimming around trying to make sense of it all. I say the latter. His "oops, we missed it" theory of economic history doesn't cut it in my book.

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Kenn, it seems to me that the “missed it” theory makes sense if we consider the incredible political instability and military upheavals of the Central American countries throughout the past 200 years. Nicaragua with its early Mexican ties, its Mosquito Coast as a British protectorate which became part of Honduras, the invasion of William Walker, its numerous civil wars, occupation by the US, its guerrilla wars, and its dictatorships. Belize with its history of piracy and continuous infighting between the Spanish and the British as to who would control the country’s resources, slavery, refugees from neighboring countries, the Maya battles against British rule, devastating hurricanes, and limited resources. Guatemala with its history with the Mexican Empire, civil war of the United Provinces, the “coffee” battles against El Salvador, the 1944 revolution, the United Fruit Company’s virtual monopoly on land, ongoing ethnic conflicts, the US “liberation army” of the early 1950’s, the CIA support and arming of the rebels against the threat of communism, and then the roughly 36-year civil war between right wing and left wing forces. El Salvador with its early battles with Guatemala, suppression and revolts of its indigenous people, battles with Honduras, and then the more recent 12-year civil war between the right-wing and left-wing forces. And then there is Honduras, like its neighboring countries, became independent of Spain, was annexed to the Mexican Empire, joined the United Provinces of Central American, fought with Guatemala, became a “banana republic” with much of the country’s land controlled by US fruit companies, insertion of US troops to protect the fruit company’s holdings, bloody coups, invasion by El Salvador, and of course, Hurricane Mitch that devastated the country in 1998. That, of course, brings us to our wonderful little country, Costa Rica, whose history most readers of this forum know. Maybe, just maybe, much of Central American history and political upheaval resulted in them “missing it.”

 

Best, Richard.

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Well, count on me to be Mr. Negative, but I do not agree with Oscar, and am rather surprised that it was posted. His interpretation of economic history amounts to "oops, we missed it." Anything is possible, but this doesn't make sense on the face. So mysteriously ALL of Latin America had its head in the sand during the industrial revolution while only Northern/Western Europe and the US had the foresight to jump on the bandwagon? Now, why was this?

 

Why? Because Latin America has been traditionally been made up of societies of Have's" and "Have-Not's". The "Have's" have traditionally not cared about improving the lives of Have-Nots. Rich land owners saw no need to invest in the industrial revolution because they already had everything. Economic progress stifled by the moneyed elite that so no need for a competing class of upwardly mobile entrepreneurs . Then you through in a good measure of corruption and over-spending on military, there you have it. Experiments in Socialism failed miserably and succeeded only in running economies that were already fragile into the ground.

 

Seriously, if all of Latin America's problems are the result of US policies designed to dominate its neighbors, then how do you explain the fact that a Frozen over country with unreasonably high labor costs (Canada) have a more robust economy that Mexico which has been around for 400 years longer? Or better yet compare Canada to Brazil?

 

The problem in Latin America is and has always been, that leaders typically make decisions that are in their personal interest rather than the public interest. This has resulted in deal with the US that do not favor the public at large. While the US has been a party to many of these deals, you must place the blame the blame where it primarily belongs, on the leadership of the respective Latin American countries. Canada doe not have these probelms because Canada does not have anywhere near the level of corruption as Latin American.

 

And do not forget to whom Aris was speaking. He was speaking directly to the Latin American leadership class which essentially has been dominated by not more than 2000 families through out ALL of Latin America for the last 400 years. The people that Aris was speaking certainly do bear the brunt of the responsibility as it was their families that catered to and participated in the corruption that still exists to this day!

 

 

I applaud Aris on his leadership. I understand he has his critics and some rightfully so. But he is right on the money on this issue.

Edited by Kahuna

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I applaud Arias on his leadership. I understand he has his critics and some rightfully so. But he is right on the money on this issue.

 

No, he is not perfect but he is OK by me. I'll bet his successor will not be as fine a statesman.

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Why? Because Latin America has been traditionally been made up of societies of Have's" and "Have-Not's". The "Have's" have traditionally not cared about improving the lives of Have-Nots. Rich land owners saw no need to invest in the industrial revolution because they already had everything. Economic progress stifled by the moneyed elite that so no need for a competing class of upwardly mobile entrepreneurs . Then you through in a good measure of corruption and over-spending on military, there you have it. Experiments in Socialism failed miserably and succeeded only in running economies that were already fragile into the ground.

 

Seriously, if all of Latin America's problems are the result of US policies designed to dominate its neighbors, then how do you explain the fact that a Frozen over country with unreasonably high labor costs (Canada) have a more robust economy that Mexico which has been around for 400 years longer? Or better yet compare Canada to Brazil?

 

The problem in Latin America is and has always been, that leaders typically make decisions that are in their personal interest rather than the public interest. This has resulted in deal with the US that do not favor the public at large. While the US has been a party to many of these deals, you must place the blame the blame where it primarily belongs, on the leadership of the respective Latin American countries. Canada doe not have these probelms because Canada does not have anywhere near the level of corruption as Latin American.

 

And do not forget to whom Aris was speaking. He was speaking directly to the Latin American leadership class which essentially has been dominated by not more than 2000 families through out ALL of Latin America for the last 400 years. The people that Aris was speaking certainly do bear the brunt of the responsibility as it was their families that catered to and participated in the corruption that still exists to this day!

 

 

I applaud Aris on his leadership. I understand he has his critics and some rightfully so. But he is right on the money on this issue.

 

Kahuna: I think most of your response misses the big picture, which Arias was trying to get to. You provide details of this and that, but I don't think most of these are the same level of "why" as the basic arguments. To say that Latin America has traditionally been made up of the "haves" vs. the "have-nots" doesn't really say much. The question is why it was divided up this way and then why this division has persisted.

 

I do appreciate your point about context. Who Arias was speaking to, namely his fellow Latin American leaders with sometimes kneejerk attitudes the other way, excuses a fair amount. Context is a lot.

 

I also like your Canada illustration, and puzzle about this myself. I suspect that those of us from the US would have to go back to the War of 1812 (which we know next to nothing about as a culture) to try to understand this. Yet, off the top of my head, I doubt that we can discount the importance of ethnicity. Lots of Loyalists moved from the US to Canada during the US Revolution, and with obvious exceptions Canada was an English-speaking Anglo country. Latin America was and remains of Spanish ancestry. I don't think we can discount we can discount racism and ethnocentrism in the differences.

 

The question of CR's uniqueness is one that I will leave to another day. I think I understand its uniqueness over the last 30 years or so--it's the grab-your-ankles development model--but it was different from the rest of Central America before then too.

 

On the other hand, CR is not THAT different. It's a product of the United Fruit Company too, and its middle-income status isn't close to Canada.

 

In my opinion, a country could do a lot worse than Arias. Take for example many of the president-clowns of the US. Oscar shames them by his superiority. Even so, I often disagree with him--in this case for example.

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Kahuna: I think most of your response misses the big picture, which Arias was trying to get to. You provide details of this and that, but I don't think most of these are the same level of "why" as the basic arguments. To say that Latin America has traditionally been made up of the "haves" vs. the "have-nots" doesn't really say much. The question is why it was divided up this way and then why this division has persisted.

 

Perhaps, but if anyone has a legitimate voice on this subject it is Arias. Why? Because Costa Rica has done the Right Thing! Despite the so-called US Domination Policies, they have transformed themselves from one of the poorest countries in Latin America (with virtually no exploitable natural resources) into a country that enjoys perhaps the highest overall stand of living in all of Latin America. How? By abolishing their military and investing in education. By educating their people, they created a broad upwardly mobile middle class, which virtually every other country in Latin America lacks.

 

Then you compare Costa Rica to countries like Mexico and Venezuela that are swimming in oil money and the real problems (and solutions) become obvious. If Latin America's problems were really the result of domineering US foreign policies, Costa Rica would have been the last country to emerge from poverty. The fact is, the Costa Rica government did the right thing and in two generations they have transformed their country.

Edited by Kahuna

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Perhaps, but if anyone has a legitimate voice on this subject it is Arias. Why? Because Costa Rica has done the Right Thing! Despite the so-called US Domination Policies, they have transformed themselves from one of the poorest countries in Latin America (with virtually no exploitable natural resources) into a country that enjoys perhaps the highest overall stand of living in all of Latin America. How? By abolishing their military and investing in education. By educating their people, they created a broad upwardly mobile middle class, which virtually every other country in Latin America lacks.

 

Then you compare Costa Rica to countries like Mexico and Venezuela that are swimming in oil money and the real problems (and solutions) become obvious. If Latin America's problems were really the result of domineering US foreign policies, Costa Rica would have been the last country to emerge from poverty. The fact is, the Costa Rica government did the right thing and in two generations they have transformed their country.

 

Ah, Kahuna, NOW you really are annoying me. For starters, with what possible rationale can you credit Oscar Arias with CR's development? He was prez once back in the 1980s and is prez again now. Simply by occupying that office (presumably back then) he gets credit for doing the capitalized Right Thing? How about mentioning like an Arias policy that was the Right Thing? Or showing that before his term CR was a backwater while after it the country soared? I'm not trying to run down Arias here, only pointing out that you provide not one--not ONE!--piece of evidence that he has in any way been responsible for CR's so-called development. And while Arias may or may not be a serious pacifist (I suspect that he is), he had absolutely nothing to to do with abolishing the military.

 

Second, we also have a MAJOR disagreement over CR's development strategy. I keep telling you that the essence of that strategy has been for Ticos to grab their ankles and smile when the US (yes, the dominating superpower from the north) invades. It is an extremely unique strategy. It amounts to giving the US almost everything it wants in order to placate it, and this strategy works. Why the devil do you think so many gringos live in and visit CR? With the exception of Panama, which is complicated enormously by the US military presence there, gringos are way more prevalent in CR than anywhere else in Central America--and probably all of Latin America. CR has smiled and said "welcome, " that's all. They tolerate gringo vacationers and retirees and guys on the lam because they know the alternative is gringos in uniform.

 

It is also the case that CR has been historically unique in all this middle class stuff.

 

Not least, let's remember Arias's point: That Latin America goofed by missing the industrial revolution. Now, you're going to tell us that CR is the exception to this too and it has an industrial base? Baloney. It missed the industrial revolution too, and the industries now here are mostly from the superpower from the north, which likes smiling ankle-grabbing Ticos in industry as well as everwhere else.

 

What you are refusing to see is that CR has succeeded (relatively) because it has figured out how to give the gringos what we want without forcing us to take it from them. That's why we are here rather than Mexico or Venezuela. It's gringo-friendly, and THIS is its development strategy.

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I didn't really give Arias credit for it. I simply said that Arias has a legitimate voice on the subject because "Costa Rica did the right thing". As President of Costa Rica, does not Arias speak for the country on the world stage?

 

But now that you mention it:

 

I remember very clearly watching Arias on 60 Minutes in the 80's out line the principles for a new kind of Environmentally Friendly tourism that NO ONE had ever heard of before. Without a doubt, Arias can take credit for the leadership role he played in developing Costa Rica as the first and perhaps the premiere Eco Tourism destination, which everyone knows has been the driving force behind this economy for nearly 30 years.

 

I believe that the success of Costa Rica is built on four pillars. 1) Abolishment of Military 2) Commitment to Education 3) Development of Eco Tourism and 4) a "Perceived" commitment to environment and peace (the perception is important, even if it doesn't match reality). You will generally find these elements lacking in other Latin American countries.

 

The time has past for embracing the "Industrial Revolution", now is the time for embracing the Information Revolution and the coming Energy Revolution. Costa Rica is doing that too ......

Edited by Kahuna

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I almost deleted my post because I felt it might have been too impolite, but frankly didn't get around to it. This said, I appreciate the courtesy of your post. I'm pretty sure we disagree, though am pleased that you didn't make it ugly despite my taunting.

 

On Eco Tourism, I have a gringo buddy in Nicaragua who says this was brilliant. In his opinion, CR had nothing and decided to market nothing. That is, instead of offering tourists fancy hotels with AC and all the rest that CR couldn't afford to do, it marketed Eco Tourism. Very, very smart.

 

I need to change my "grab the ankles" metaphor--too crass--but I do think that all of Latin America has had to deal with gringo power, and CR's strategy was to welcome gringos. Instead of fighting us, CR decided to appease us. As you and I know (since we're gringos), this strategy worked. Gringos don't want to be evil oppressors, and if we find a friendly culture in which we can do more or less as we please, we will at turns respect it. CR's grand compromise was to accept us as friends, and in that spirit to carve out some wiggle room for themselves. This is kind of a brilliant strategy too. They have to deal with us, but at least the dealings are mostly friendly.

 

Not to press this, but abolishing the military is often taken as a case in point. Everyone knows that CR does have a military--the US Marines--since push come to shove the US would probably step in to defend CR. It's a bit of a cost-shifting ploy on the part of CR.

 

I puzzle a little about Arias. He has stood up to the US and his recent overtures to China suggest that he is playing a balance-of-power game that will limit US influence. I don't think he likes being a colony of the US and he works very hard not to be. On the other hand, his staunch support for CAFTA was a giveaway to the US that almost cost him the election and probably did cost him anything else he wanted to do. He might think like a Tico in appeasing the US but trying not to sell the farm at the same time. He's an interesting bird in my mind.

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KENN/KAHUNA..........thank you both for your posts. Some of the lights in this old brain have started to flicker a little after

reading your commentarys over the past months.....Thanks again......john

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On Eco Tourism, I have a gringo buddy in Nicaragua who says this was brilliant. In his opinion, CR had nothing and decided to market nothing. That is, instead of offering tourists fancy hotels with AC and all the rest that CR couldn't afford to do, it marketed Eco Tourism. Very, very smart.

 

CR's strategy was to welcome gringos. Instead of fighting us, CR decided to appease us. This is kind of a brilliant strategy too. They have to deal with us, but at least the dealings are mostly friendly.

 

It's a bit of a cost-shifting ploy on the part of CR.

 

I puzzle a little about Arias. He has stood up to the US and his recent overtures to China suggest that he is playing a balance-of-power game that will limit US influence. I don't think he likes being a colony of the US and he works very hard not to be.

 

On the other hand, his staunch support for CAFTA was a giveaway to the US that almost cost him the election and probably did cost him anything else he wanted to do. He might think like a Tico in appeasing the US but trying not to sell the farm at the same time. He's an interesting bird in my mind.

 

Eco Tourism: Yes smart! I am quite sure that disagree with the characterization that Costa Rica had nothing. But we can agree that it was very smart business.

 

Regarding NOT Fighting the US: Again, Smart! I am not sure there is anything Smart or Noble "fighting" the richest most powerful country in the world. Take Cuba for example, look what it has gotten them. So we can agree that Costa Rica made the Smart Business move and their people have benefited from it.

 

Outsourcing the Military: Again, Smart! Look how the people have prospered because of it.

 

China Policy: Smart Again! Why wouldn't they want good relations with China? It just goes to show that they are not as much in the pocket of the US as you indicate.

 

CAFTA: Jury is OUT! It is way too soon to determine if CAFTA is going to be a good thing or a bad thing for Costa Rica. I agree that on the face of it, it appears to be a giveaway on some fronts. However, what is unknown is the level of US investment that will come from it. This is the part that the critics miss. If CAFTA leads to a wave a US investment, particularly in the Tech field, then Costa Rica will have been proven to be Smart again. But I will agree that it is a bit of a gamble.

 

US Colony: Sorry, but I don't think Tico's look at it that way. I think they are pretty happy with the decisions made by their government compared to those by the countries that Arias was criticizing. Tico's are proud of their country and their accomplishments as they should be. I don't see how those accomplishments are diminished because their government was Smart enough to have good relations with the US. I mean really what have they really given up by working cooperatively with the US? It seems to me that it has been almost entirely positive.

 

Conclusion: I go back to what I said at the beginning, Coat Rica has done the right thing for their people. They have made decisions that have benefited the population as a whole. While other countries have made decisions based on keeping the ruling class in power and protecting the wealth of tightly controlled group of families. The results speak for themselves regardless of the political spin you put on the decisions by Costa Rican leaders.

 

oh, and thanks John.

 

Kenn .... we have had many debates over the years. I have never lashed out at you (or anyone else for that matter). Not sure why you are continually surprised by that.

Edited by Kahuna

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KAHUNA.......thanks for the thanks.....actually the light did stop flickering and stayed on......on some of those posts.

again thanks for the information and encouragement given to us all by your passt and continuing commentary. john

Edited by builderlongtime

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