Don't Let Latin America Slip Away

The Clinton Administration has managed to set the stage in Haiti for the return of duly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But the bright lights of a news conference should not blind the President to the fact that his foreign policy team remains inadequate and his approach to Latin America confusing.

Messrs. Carter, Powell, and Nunn pulled President Clinton's chestnuts out of the fire just before his waffling was about to force him to enact an international farce--the sending of a U.S. armada to defeat three small-time thugs.

There has to be a better way. For starters, it's clear that the weight and respect of Clinton's three emissaries were key to the compromise agreement reached in Haiti. The President must get these kinds of individuals--if not the three men themselves--inside his Administration.

The White House must also move away from its ad hoc approach to making foreign policy for Latin America. The President won big on NAFTA, and Washington should focus on expanding the pact south. Yet while Chile once hoped for quick inclusion, the Clinton Administration has made its entry more difficult by giving up fast-track trade legislation in exchange for easier passage of the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade. It's a long time from May to September, and while Clinton may have had to dump fast track for GATT today, it is only because he failed to build a political consensus for it in the spring.

Latin American countries are already hedging their bets. Chile belongs to the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation group and trades more with Japan than with the U.S. Argentina is moving toward Brazil in a new economic union, Mercosur, which is cutting deals with Europe. Indeed, Washington appears almost unaware of the October Brazilian election, where centrist Fernando H. Cardoso may win the presidency and set the $500 billion economy on a new course of rapid growth.

A Western Hemispheric summit is scheduled for December. Washington has until then to learn two lessons: Respected diplomats and clear, consistent strategies are critical to executing foreign policy.

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