de la Isla: Illicit trade is what U.S., Latin America should focus on
The only mention given Latin America in the third and concluding presidential debate Oct. 22 was from Mitt Romney and it came from his stump speech.
In the debate, he said there are "opportunities for us in Latin America we have just not taken advantage of fully." He recognized "its economy is almost as big as that of China.
"We're all focused on China," he added. "Latin America is a huge opportunity for us (with similarities, like): time zone, language opportunities." Romney had mentioned increasing trade with Latin America as part of his five-part plan during the second debate. The plan includes U.S. energy independence in five years; a "crackdown" on China when that country cheats; balancing the national budget; fixing worker training programs and schools, and championing small business.
Romney adviser Otto Reich, former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela under President George W. Bush, told Voxxi reporter Griselda Nevarez in the spin room after the second debate, the "(Obama) administration has been ignoring Latin America, neglected Latin America and forgotten Latin America." Eight of the 25 words uttered were "Latin America," so at least the repetition -- like a "Sesame Street" lesson -- gets to the learner.
How to make improvements is another matter.
Reich complained about Venezuela President Hugo Chavez's election, the opening up of travel abroad by Cubans, and how more cooperation with Mexico was needed to curb drug cartels by working with incoming president Enrique Pena Nieto.
He claimed the gunrunning that occurred under the disastrous "Fast and Furious" smuggling sting operation during the Obama administration would never happen under Mitt Romney, whose decisiveness he equated with Ronald Reagan's and George W. Bush's, because Romney would supervise federal employees better. (Honestly, that's how he explains U.S. complicity in 70,000 deaths in six years, 10,000 disappearances, and 130,000 displaced persons in Mexico over arms and drugs.) Legal trade is a lesser problem. Mexico is moving toward becoming again the United States' second-largest trade partner, ahead of China. Brazil (8th) and Venezuela (14th) are large and growing trade partners. The trend doesn't require a presidential candidate's pronouncement to make it come about.
Mexico and Brazil receive important European and U.S. investments for the expanding North American and world trade. Meanwhile, Mexico is gaining on Brazil's status as the fastest-growing economy in Latin America.
In this vein, an important alternative idea to ponder is whether the United States and Latin American might be better off reducing some trade, not increasing it.
Slowing down some U.S. trade, like in the demand for pot, cocaine and non-pharmaceutical drugs, could probably contribute more toward real improvements.
One way is by making drug use a health issue, taking measures to reverse the trend that makes the United States the world's largest consumer of illicit drugs. Reforms like that also help reduce our own criminality, such as human trafficking, gunrunning, money-laundering and other related trades.
In August, Romney said if elected he would launch in his first hundred days the "Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America." He identified "the authoritarian socialist model offered by Cuba and Venezuela" as the menace, the enemy to overcome, not drugs. Free enterprise, he claimed, would take them head-on.
His plan would expand initiatives for the United States and would encourage Latin American companies to invest and create jobs in the U.S. marketplace.
That, in fact, is the problem.
There is already too much free enterprise and too many "companies" (also known as cartels) in the illicit drug business. If the U.S. doesn't do serious drug-user reform through treatment, rehab, maintenance and applying regulations and a medical model, free enterprise will continue to respond to demand and create more and more high-paying lucrative jobs in the criminal arts.
It's hard to believe a presidential candidate like Romney doesn't understand the Law of Unintended Consequences. It means doing one thing and getting the opposite result.
Or maybe he does know. It's also called contradicting one's self.
Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service.