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C. Shapiro: ¡Viva la Evolución! (Long LIve Evolution!)

Extracts of speech to the Americas Summit, Washington, DC, May 1, 2008

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Today I want to propose a new slogan for Latin America: not ¡Viva la revolución! but ¡Viva la evolución!, because I think that’s what’s been taking place there and we in the developed world have not been paying attention to it. To the extent that the media in the United States focuses on Latin America, we tend to focus on Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez—colorful figures who make news. But while the people in the United States have not been paying sufficient attention to Latin America, there has been an important transformation going on.

Latin America and the Caribbean have been enjoying sustained economic growth, accompanied by the increased strengthening and solidification of their democratic institutions. Brazil is the largest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, with one of the world’s largest economies. Last year, Brazil’s economy grew over 5 percent and attracted almost $35 billion in new foreign investment. Mexico grew at 5 percent last year. Chile, while its economy is relatively small, also grew 5 percent, but it has reduced poverty most rapidly. When democracy was restored in Chile in 1990, 47 percent of Chilean citizens lived below the poverty line. In 2006, the poverty rate in Chile dropped to a bit over 13 percent. That is extraordinary. It’s rapid, and it is needed throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Brazil, Mexico, and Chile obviously are very different from one another. They have their own characteristics, and the reasons they have done so well is that they share sustained, consistent social and economic policy. Since 1990, Chile has had four different presidents. Since 1992, Brazil has had two different presidents with very different parties in charge. Since 1995, Mexico has had three different presidents and two very different parties running the government.

In trade terms, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile are on the brink of having over 50 percent of their population in the middle class. When I talk about them to U.S. audiences, I say to them that we need to compare them to Spain, Italy, and Greece in the late 1960s and early 1970s when they were on the brink of making enormous leaps both in their economies and in their democratic development.

I am convinced that Peru, Colombia, and Panama are going to be able to replicate what Brazil, Mexico, and Chile have done. Last year, Peru grew 7.8 percent, Colombia 7.2 percent, and Panama grew an extraordinary 9 percent.

Now clearly, the United States can’t take credit for what’s happened in these three countries, although we are part of it. And clearly, the United States can’t solve the problems of each country. Only the citizens of your country will solve the problems of your country. But we can help. The European Union can help. That’s what trade agreements are about.

Excerpts of address to the Americas Summit, Washington, DC, May 1, 2008. Charles Shapiro is Senior Coordinator for the Western Hemisphere Free Trade Agreement Task Force, U.S. State Department, and former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela.