A White House Focus on Social Justice in Latin America?

Peter Hakim
July 09, 2007

A recent White House conference on "Advancing Social Justice in the Americas" may signal a shift of U.S. policy priorities in Latin America. Washington's limited attention to the region has typically focused on free trade, anti-narcotics trafficking, and security. Does President Bush now want to help Latin America tackle its long-neglected social agendas--the pervasive poverty, inequality, and race discrimination that deprives so many Latin Americans of economic opportunity and basic rights? In this CGD Note CGD president Nancy Birdsall and Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, explore ways that the Bush administration can help to advance development goals in Latin America. Among their recommendations:

  • The U.S. should take a closer look at U.S.-promoted free trade agreements, which tightly restrict imports from labor intensive industries, like textiles and food products (which are crucial to poverty alleviation). The United States should worry about who gains from the trade agreements it negotiates--and develop complementary policies to extend benefits to low-wage laborers, subsistence farmers, and other excluded groups.
  • The U.S should also consider changes in anti-narcotics programs, which consume the lion's share of U.S. foreign assistance in Latin America, and have largely failed to diminish U.S. cocaine or marijuana supplies. The emphasis should be shifted toward development and job creation in drug-producing areas, including comprehensive programs of land distribution and technical help to indigenous and other landless peoples.

More broadly, the U.S. should add a robust social dimension to all its programs and policies in the region, including programs to improve education, fight crime and increase the poor's access to financial services.

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