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While the Obama administration prepares a strategic pivot to Asia to help jumpstart the U.S. economy in its second term, there are equally promising economic opportunities in our own hemisphere. Moreover, our national security establishment also must confront threats to regional harmony. Practical initiatives by Washington may help the United States and its neighbors to find common ground for our collective prosperity and security.
The stakes are high: This is home to three of the top four foreign sources of energy to the United States, as well as the fastest-growing destinations for U.S. exports and investment. However, the U.S. fiscal crisis and preoccupation with two distant wars have distracted policymakers in Washington and undermined U.S. leadership in the region.
Although access to the U.S. market, investment, technology, and other economic benefits are highly valued by most countries in the Western Hemisphere, the United States today is no longer the only major partner to choose from. Asia (principally China) and Europe are making important inroads. So, as U.S. policymakers retool their strategy for the Americas, they must shelve the paternalism of the past and be much more energetic in forming meaningful partnerships with willing neighbors.
To make the most of their united destiny, the United States and its partners in the Americas should:
• Promote and defend democracy, the rule of law, human rights and private property as the building blocks of just societies, accountable governments, and prosperous economies.
• Advocate and support the empowerment of individuals through the development of strong free-market economies, healthy private sectors, and free trade among nations.
• Assist neighbors in addressing their essential security needs so they can grow in peace and be more effective allies to prevent or confront common narcotrafficking, terrorism, or other threats.
Our renewed economic engagement comes as many countries in the region have made progress in establishing economic stability and growth in recent years as the roots of democracy and the rule of law continue to take hold. Countries such as Mexico, Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Colombia have been at the forefront in modernizing their economies and opening them to investment, liberalizing trade, and becoming more competitive overall.
In particular, the United States must reinvigorate ties to the emerging global power of Brazil — a country that is trying to sustain robust economic growth and help pull millions out of poverty. It is a powerhouse of the developing world and a natural interlocutor for Washington.
To accelerate the reduction of poverty and growth of the regional middle class — and thereby spur demand for U.S. goods and services — the United States should emphasize vibrant private sectors. For example, we could enlist U.S. and regional expertise to encourage the growth of regional capital markets that will increase the availability of private capital for business expansion, budding entrepreneurs, and innovators.
We also must maximize mutual global competitiveness in the energy sector. We could create a “Big 4” regional energy consultative group engaging the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil — including representatives of the private sector — to promote cooperation and share best practices on energy production and distribution.
Shared land and maritime borders make security in Western Hemisphere countries a permanent priority for the U.S. government. It is time for the United States to treat Mexico as a “war-time ally,” as it confronts the murderous cartels that service the insatiable U.S. demand for illegal drugs.
In Central America, unless the United States and other neighbors move quickly to organize an international response to narco-corruption and violence, several of these countries may soon become ungovernable territories, producing economic failure, civil strife, and refugee crises.
By far the greatest threat to security and stability in the Americas is the reckless regime of Hugo Chávez, which is managed by Cuba’s security apparatus, funded by China, armed by Russia, and partnered with Iran, Hezbollah, and Colombian and Mexican narco-traffickers. U.S. law enforcement and federal prosecutors must move against the Chávez regime’s scandalous collusion with narcotics trafficking and terrorist groups. Every serious government in the Americas has a stake in addressing these issues before they become unmanageable.
Clearly, geography and shared values predetermine a united destiny for the United States and its neighbors in the Americas. How positive and fruitful that destiny will depend on whether U.S. policymakers, private businesses, and civil society seize promising opportunities and meet critical challenges.
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