| March 12: Mr Bush heads south Edited by Richard Lapper, Latin America editor |
On the face of it, the new interest that President George W Bush has shown in themes like social welfare and energy co-operation ought to be welcomed. Mr Bush's recognition that significant numbers of Latin Americans have been excluded from the benefits of globalization represents an important first step in developing a policy that can counter the appeal of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's populism in poorer parts of the region.
His enthusiasm for a new energy alliance with Brazil is also a policy that has strong potential. Indeed, these are precisely the areas that the US needs to prioritize in order to develop a more "positive agenda" towards the region, one of the recommendations of a perceptive report on US policy towards Venezuela published recently by Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.
Unfortunately, however, the resources being dedicated to the new approach are too small to make a real difference. And in the case of the US offer on primary health care the gesture is so weak that it may do more harm than good. True, the efforts of Venezuela and Cuba may well be unsustainable but in the short term they compare favourably with what Mr Bush is offering: a US naval vessel delivering emergency style assistance in the ports of eleven poor countries.
And, as this column pointed out last week, the green fuel initiative is also too timid. Last week's meetings in São Paulo confirmed that the sizeable tariffs and subsidies protecting US ethanol producers remain off the agenda.