WASHINGTON -- To prove his skill at foreign policy, Al Gore must look somewhere other than Latin America. The administration's vaunted democratization project there has all but collapsed and, despite its brimming optimism, the region appears more stressed today than when the Clinton administration took office.
The White House obsessively touts free trade and drugs as if these important initiatives exhaust the list of pressing hemispheric concerns, which range from too little social justice and too much courtroom venality to corrupt legislatures and bureaucracies. These issues are drowning in inattention.
Other maladies likely to plague the hemisphere include more popular uprisings in Bolivia and Paraguay and repercussions from the recent resignation of Argentina's vice president to protest his government's failure to crack down on corruption. The corruption is further corroding deeply troubled Argentina.
Latin America's unrest is generating high-risk politics and economics, abetted by President Clinton's weak regional diplomatic team. Further, U.S. initiatives are filled with inconsistencies which ignore or downgrade human rights violations, like Peru's, while blasting less-favored countries whose sins may be of a lesser order. For instance, Guatemala and Colombia's record for corruption, violence and societal alienation is far greater than Cuba's, but this is hardly reflected in U.S. policy.
Antiquated Cold War zealotry, now redirected at drugs and free trade, weakens the region's ability to produce authentic democracies and leaders committed to defending bona fide national interests. As those leaders conform their agendas to Washington's, even at the cost of not serving their own people well, Mr. Clinton single-mindedly overly promotes a private sector-friendly thrust throughout the Americas, leading to an unprecedented concentration of wealth.
The United States gave $1.3 billion to Colombia even though its notorious armed forces and right-wing "death squads" have been responsible for scores of massacres and human rights violations. Embarrassingly, Mr. Clinton had to waive existing U.S. human rights sanctions so the weapons could be sent. The U.S. action is particularly risky because the burgeoning crisis in Colombia now spills over into neighboring Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador.
Washington's regional policy flaws are perhaps best exemplified by its actions concerning Peru's appalling strongman, Alberto Fujimori. While the United States had no difficulty excoriating ex-President Slobodan Milosevic for attempting to steal Yugoslavia's election, its exemplary behavior was caricatured in Peru for the entire Fujimori presidency. Washington protested only for a day after Mr. Fujimori blatantly hijacked the election in May, and then it succumbed.
If a nationally televised video hadn't revealed his equally culpable alter ego, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing a legislator to switch over to his ruling party, Mr. Fujimori still would be serving his illegally obtained term.
The Clinton administration's equally solicitous treatment of Mr. Montesinos is another example of its double standards and its capacity for selective indignation. Rather than insisting that Mr. Montesinos be held accountable for his crimes, the White House did not serve justice in its ultimately unsuccessful campaign to arrange a Panamanian exile for him, ignoring the pleas of Peruvian patriots that he stand trial. This lamentable behavior was in keeping with the administration's earlier backing of the amnesty granted to Argentine and Chilean "dirty war" torturers.
As the Western Hemisphere's dominant power, the United States belongs at the forefront in insisting that human rights not be violated with impunity.
Instead, when efforts to bring Gen. Augusto Pinochet to justice were initiated, it was a Spanish judge, not Washington, who took the lead in allowing the Chilean dictator to be indicted.
Meanwhile, Washington talks of little else than trade and "the new economy."
Meghan Finn and Carlee Klingeman are research associates with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington.