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May 8, 2009 1:19pm
Instead of reading all about Obama sitting through the Ortega Diatribe, I would like to know that he heard this speech:

Posted on Tue, May. 05, 2009
Andres Oppenheimer: U.S. not to blame for Latin American failures
Miami Herald

Now that we are getting some details of what was said in the closed-door sessions at the recent 34-country Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, it's becoming clear that Costa Rican President and Nobel laureate Oscar Arias gave the most impressive speech at the meeting.

Granted, you didn't hear much from him during the April 17-18 summit. Unlike the presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, he didn't give news conferences, nor did he send media functionaries to summon journalists every time he came or left the conference building.

But Arias' response to Ecuador's populist President Rafael Correa at the summit's closed-door sessions -- which circulated online and was confirmed to me by Arias in a telephone interview -- should be a must-read for anybody interested in Latin America's future.

It happened during the April 18 session of the summit, which marked the first joint meeting of Latin American and Caribbean leaders with President Obama. The Ecuadorean president had just spoken, and -- like the presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Argentina before him -- had blamed the United States for Latin America's problems of the past two centuries.

In his speech, whose written version is titled "We Must Have Done Something Wrong," Arias started out saying, "I have the impression that each time Caribbean and Latin American countries meet with the president of the United States, it's to... blame the United States for our past, present and future problems. I don't think this is entirely fair."

He continued: "We cannot forget that Latin America had universities before the United States created Harvard, and William & Mary, which were the first universities in that country. We cannot forget that in this hemisphere, like elsewhere in the world, until 1750, all of us in the Americas were more or less the same: We were all poor.

"When the Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain, other countries joined that train, including Germany, France, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But the industrial revolution passed over Latin America like a comet, and we didn't even notice. We certainly lost an opportunity.

"Fifty years ago, Mexico was richer than Portugal. In 1950, a country like Brazil had a per capita income that was higher than that of South Korea. Sixty years ago, Honduras had a bigger per capita income than Singapore... . We in Latin America must have done something wrong.

"What did we do wrong?" Arias asked.

Among other things, he listed the fact that Latin Americans have an average schooling of only seven years, that the region has one of the world's lowest tax-collection rates, and that it spends an absurd $50 billion a year on weapons and other military expenditures. "That's nobody else's fault but our own," he said.

"So I ask myself: Who is our enemy?" Arias went on. "Our enemy, President Correa, is that inequality that you rightly refer to. It's the lack of education. It's illiteracy. It's the fact that we don't spend on our people's health."

Noting that the 21st century is likely to be the Asian -- rather than Latin American -- century, and that China has lifted 500 million people out of poverty since it opened its economy three decades ago, Arias concluded: "While we continue debating about ideologies, and about which 'isms' are the best, whether capitalism, socialism, communism, liberalism, neo-liberalism, etc., Asians have found an 'ism' that is much more realistic for the 21st century: pragmatism."

My opinion: Arias was right on. The United States has done a lot of things -- good and bad -- in Latin America over the past two centuries. But blaming Latin America's shortcomings on the United States -- like the presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Argentina did, with various degrees of virulence -- is intellectually childish and politically dangerous.

Latin America's populist leaders are using anti-American rhetoric and ideological banners to justify their goal of staying in power indefinitely. It is no coincidence that they are all following the same script: blaming Washington, calling for the "re-foundation" of their countries, and then rewriting their Constitutions to accumulate absolute powers and stay in power indefinitely. It's time to call their bluff -- and Arias did it with superb eloquence.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald.

© 2007 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
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