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Latin America’s Discontent

What are the views of Latin Americans on the ongoing economic crisis in the region?

October 31, 2001

What are the views of Latin Americans on the ongoing economic crisis in the region?

The countries of Latin America have a long history of dealing with economic crises. Home to roughly 500 million people, the region also has about 90 million people who live in extreme poverty. Still, over the centuries many analysts have ascribed huge economic potential to the region. But Latin America never quite seems to be able to turn the corner. In recent months, it has been especially Argentina that has given cause for particular concern. Our new Read My Lips feature examines how people in Latin America view their current situation.

What is to blame for the current crisis?

“Everything is going wrong — and everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else.”

(Brazilian street vendor, July 2001)

Did Latin America’s governments not do their job?

“I look at all the politician advertisements on television and all I hear is lies, lies and more lies. I wish all of these politicians would just disappear.”

(Buenos Aires resident, on Argentinian politics, October 2001)

Is democracy in danger?

“This is not a rejection of democracy, this is a sign of displeasure with the politicians who have emerged thus far.”

(Martia Carballo, President of Gallup Argentina, on the high amount of protest votes in the recent elections, October 2001)

What has changed?

“I think we have moved from the point where countries are too big to fail to the point where they’re too big to save.”

(Senior currency strategist at Bankers Trust in London, on the 1997/98 financial crisis, in September 1998)

What is the United States’ special responsibility for Latin America?

“The American political process took a long time asking ‘Who lost China?’ Let us not have to debate, ‘Who lost Latin America?'”

(Then-U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, Larry Summers, speaking on the ratification of NAFTA, October 1993)

Why is there a special U.S. interest?

“To prosper, the United States needs 450 million guys down there with credit cards.”

(Bolivia’s then-President Sanchez de Lozada, commenting on the economic aspirations of the United States in Latin America, December 1994)

What is Latin America’s predicament vis-à-vis the United States?

“I am in favor of free trade — but I am not in favor of getting ripped off.”

(Luis Haffers, President of the Brazilian Rural Society, on fears that free trade among the Americas would hurt the country, April 2001)

What symbolizes the extent of Brazil’s economic crisis?

“You don’t take away soccer from the Brazilians unless things are bad — really bad.”

(Rio-based Flamengo football club president Walter Oaquim, on the energy crisis compelling major teams to avoid night games, May 2001)

What is the outlook for Brazil?

“This country is a rich country that can have a great future.”

(Brazilian street vendor, July 2001)

What is an integral part of any solution for Latin America’s people?

“If we want to ensure developing countries benefit from the results of globalization, we must ensure that their products at farm level remain competitive.”

(Marcus Vinicius Pratini de Moraes, Brazil’s Agriculture Minister, January 2001)

But what about the role of international financial institutions?

“If you want to help poor people, don’t say you’re going to do it through an IMF bailout — when the principal beneficiaries are foreign investors.”

(Adam Lerrick, Carnegie Mellon University economist, on Argentina’s economic crisis, August 2001)

Can Latin America expect help from the United States?

“If we slide back to troubled times in Brazil, even the central bankers know about the Monroe Doctrine.”

(Ken Courtis, Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asia, on what the United States will do if Latin America faces another economic crisis, February 2001)

What is the real crux about Latin America?

“Latin America always looks good when money is coming in. Each time foreign investors are persuaded everything will be different.”

(MIT economist Rudi Dornbusch, on Latin America’s history of economic problems, July 2001)

So, what went wrong?

“The future that never arrives is the greatest mystery in Brazil.”

(Brazilian novelist Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro, July 2001)