"Silent Revolution" of Constitutional Democracy Has Taken Place
The Primacy of Economics and its Effect on Security Policy are Being Recognized
Sustained Political and Economic Progress Demands Government Reform
Peace is Prevailing Across the Hemisphere
The Role of the Military Remains Uncertain
The U.S. Agenda of Inter-American Security Relations is Shifting
A remarkable political transformation has taken place in the Western Hemisphere over the last fifteen years. Of the thirty-five American states, thirty-four now have representative governments. Only Cuba retains an authoritarian political system. In 1979, the region's democratic community included only Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth Caribbean, and the situation was deteriorating. Military or quasi-military regimes of both the left and right dominated the political landscape. Nicaragua's Sandinista revolution overthrew Anastasio Somoza and promptly abandoned promises to hold free elections; the communist New JEWEL Movement forcibly took power on the island of Grenada; and what would become a twelve-year civil war began in El Salvador. Prospects for free societies did not look encouraging.
Over the next ten years, however, dramatic ideological changes took place on both sides of the political spectrum; these were accelerated by the end of the Cold War. Modernizing Latin American and Caribbean societies began to repudiate both dictators and guerrillas, signalling their preference for the uncertainties of representative government over the violence and abuses of both leftist and rightist extremes. Democracy is now almost universally accepted throughout the hemisphere as the political ideal, although in practice it remains fragile in many countries.
U.S. assistance for this transition has ranged from voicing public support for newly-elected governments to dispatching qualified election observers when requested to providing technical and material assistance to sustain elected governments. The Organization of American States (OAS)--in its 1991 Resolution 1080, approved by the twenty-first General Assembly in Santiago, Chile--declared that the interruption of legitimately elected government in the region was grounds for collective action. Significantly, the OAS member states, overcoming their fixation on questions of national sovereignty, have acted on this commitment on three occasions. Their prompt condemnation and follow-up actions helped to bring an end to attempted coups in Peru (April 1992) and Guatemala (May 1993); only in Haiti (September 1991), where OAS mediation and sanctions proved unsuccessful, was it necessary to seek U.N. involvement.
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Latin American and Caribbean elected political leaders have realized that the region's economic recovery depends on turning from a discredited import substitution model to free markets and export-oriented growth. Many countries have endured--or are enduring--several years of painful reform and adjustment in order to effect this change of direction. But the emphasis in most of the hemisphere's countries has now clearly shifted to achieving macroeconomic stability, dismantling institutions of protectionism and statism, stimulating private initiative, attracting foreign investment, and accepting closer collaboration with the United States, which many neighbors had resisted for years.
Structural economic reforms are showing varying degrees of success. Bolivia has reduced inflation from 25,000 percent in 1985 to about 9 percent in eight years. Argentina's recent sale of state-owned companies has brought the Menem Government almost $8 billion in cash and debt reduction. The region as a whole has been able to raise an average of $12 billion in bond and stock offerings in the international markets during 1991 and 1992, compared with an annual average of less than $1 billion throughout most of the 1980s.
Free market adjustments have caused nations to scrap or modify protectionist laws, unilaterally lower tariffs, and lift nontariff barriers. For instance, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, and Bolivia now have an average external tariff of 9 to 12 percent. A few years ago, tariffs averaged 100 percent. These and many other examples of the region's new economic promise and investment potential have encouraged a parallel move toward a more integrated hemispheric economy.
Many Latin American leaders have long argued that trade, not foreign aid, is the key to building mutually advantageous relationships and making tangible progress toward a secure American neighborhood. Their view is becoming reality. Not only are restructured economies in Latin America and the Caribbean more compatible with one another; they are also more compatible with the United States and Canada. In this environment, intra-regional integration has begun to proceed in tandem with inter-American integration into the global economy. The Southern Cone, Central American, and Caribbean Common Markets--MERCOSUR, CACM, and CARICOM, respectively--are moving to dismantle internal trade barriers and stimulate greater integration. Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela have announced their intention to establish a free trade pact. Chile already has signed such an accord bilaterally with Mexico, as have several Central American countries. NAFTA is the most recent and most ambitious effort to encourage further integrative efforts in the hemisphere. The business of the continent today is business.
While notable economic progress has been made in several countries despite the disastrous recession of the 1980s, the region's economies are not yet out of the woods. The relative success of Chile and Mexico is not necessarily indicative of how the whole region will evolve. Many Latin American and Caribbean states still face the pressures of relatively high inflation, fiscal deficits, overvalued currencies, large debt burdens, inadequate internal investment, and weak government leadership.
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Political and economic liberalization, which have yielded democratic elections and free market economies, also nurture anxiety within impatient electorates. The perceived or actual inability of governments in the region to reduce poverty and correct long-standing social inequalities has led to urban and rural violence in a number of nations. According to U.N. estimates, about 45 percent of Latin America's people live in poverty, up 3 percent from ten years ago. After a decade of recession, austerity programs, and structural adjustments, per capita income for the region in 1992 was still 7 percent below the figure for 1981, and the disparity between wealth and poverty is greater than in any other area of the world. The gulf in wages, decline in living standards, and loss of hope for the future have become more apparent--and politically volatile--as a result of rapid urbanization, chronic narco-corruption, and increased general access to means of mass communication. Frustration is building in groups, sectors, and even regions (such as Chiapas in Mexico or the Santiago de Estero area in Argentina) that are not prospering in the new economic environment. As a result, some turn to petty crime or emigrate to find a better life in a seemingly more prosperous neighboring country--even from countries like Brazil, where this has not previously occurred. Both evangelical religious sects and insurgent movements are gaining appeal as citizens lose faith in the established institutions.
One way to reduce political instability would be improvement in the state's competence, honesty, responsiveness, and capacity to provide crucial public services. Trends in this area offer some grounds for hope. In three countries--Brazil, Venezuela and Guatemala--presidents have been forced from office for malfeasance and replaced through constitutional means. Elected leaders in a number of nations are moving to improve civil justice systems, eliminate the de facto special legal status traditionally enjoyed by elites, and provide for public order, health, and education to the extent that the resources at their disposal allow. The Inter-American Development Bank has adopted "modernization of the state" as one of its guiding principles. "Making Democracy Work: Reinventing Government" is one of the three themes on the agenda at the December Summit of the Americas in Miami.
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Traditional Threats of Regional Conflict Subside. Defense of sovereignty and the national honor are strong traditions throughout the Americas. The region's history, as recently as the 1980s, provides example after example of tension and conflict between neighboring states over disputed territorial boundaries, the possession of islands, or the use of common waterways. (See regional map.) Neither the hemisphere's collective-security treaty, the Rio Pact, nor the pressures of Cold War security concerns had much of an effect on these historic national rivalries. In fact, when the Rio Pact was invoked by Argentina in its 1982 war with Britain over the Falklands-Malvinas Islands, it proved ineffective in rallying diplomatic and military support. In Peru during the height of its recent internal struggle with the Maoist Shining Path insurgents, the government continued to garrison a large percentage of its military units along its contested border with Ecuador.
Tensions over boundaries have eased somewhat in the 1990s as domestic political and economic transformations have taken hold in the region. Although old enmities retain their symbolic importance and timeworn suspicions persist, most are gradually becoming rhetorical. However, Latin American claims to a 200-nautical mile national territorial sea and airspace, which Washington does not recognize, remain a source of friction.
A favorable hemispheric security environment has been developing for several years. Guatemala, for example, has shown an uncharacteristic willingness to consider recognizing Belize. El Salvador and Honduras are implementing the World Court's decision on their boundary dispute. A Central American Security Commission, established in 1990, provides a forum for negotiations on arms control and verification. Chile and Argentina have made unprecedented progress in eliminating frictions over their borders. Security- and confidence-building sessions between old adversaries Argentina and Brazil, initiated in 1987, have expanded to include Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile. Perhaps the most important developments have been the following:
There are several explanations for the hemisphere's movement to reduce inter-state tensions. One view stresses the necessity to adapt to emerging global political and economic pressures by exploiting the power of regional groupings. A second interpretation emphasizes domestic pressure on national leaders to focus on social and economic problems at home rather than security issues. The result has been a significant reduction in the average Latin American nation's military spending, from around 3.3 percent of GNP in 1987 to around 1.6 percent. This trend suggests a third explanation for the easing of regional security tensions: the armed forces of most Latin American countries lack the military capability--particularly in terms of training and readiness--to engage in sustained offensive cross-border operations.
None of this, however, means that the possibility of interstate conflict has been eliminated in the hemisphere. Population growth, increased migration to neighboring states, and internal instability could lead to heightened border tensions. A government under extreme duress at home might try to ease pressure by diverting popular attention to historic threats to national sovereignty.
The Potential for Internal Conflict Remains. What most elected leaders in the Americas fear most is social conflict within their borders. The most serious threats to national stability, even in the U.S. and Canada, are generated by domestic violence and common crime, which are increasingly intertwined with international drug trafficking, ethnic divisions, poverty, and unresponsive political systems. Persistent insurgencies exist in Guatemala, Colombia, and Peru. A nascent rebellion in southern Mexico waged by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) could expand beyond its base of support among the indigenous population of the state of Chiapas. Greater internal violence could lead to the temptation to resort to authoritarian solutions in a number of Latin American nations where the democratic process remains fragile.
Nationalist and Secessionist Movements Appear. A small number of nationalist movements dot the American region, but only recently have they been able to mobilize sufficient support to become potentially destabilizing forces. Some are comprised of indigenous minorities seeking economic and social justice through political actions and sometimes armed violence. Examples of such minorities include Mayans in Guatemala and southern Mexico, Quechua-speaking Indians in the Andean region, the Inuits of Canada--none of which openly advocates secession at the moment. In other places, there exist populations united by geography and relative prosperity who no longer wish to "subsidize" disadvantaged compatriots in poorer regions. Such a secessionist movement exists in the southern panhandle of Brazil.
The long-standing separatist movement in Quebec presents the most serious challenge to the stability of a country of major importance to the United States. The desire of French-speaking Quebec to preserve its identity became a burning question in Canadian politics in the mid-1980s, and the possibility of Quebec seceding from Canada is more realistic now than ever before. The separatist Parti Quebecois has assumed power in Quebec City; its leader, Prime Minister Jacques Parizeau, is committed to provincial referendum on sovereignty before August 1995. However, a growing awareness of the likely economic costs of secession and a desire to remain Canadian among most of the English-speaking population of Quebec (about 20 percent of the total) and perhaps half of the French-speaking population suggest that a majority in favor of independence does not exist at this time. Popular support for independence is widely believed to hover around 40 percent.
However, nationalism in Quebec will not simply disappear, even if the present referendum is defeated. Should Quebec ever sever its ties with Ottawa, most observers believe that the parting will be relatively amicable, and that both Quebec and Canada will remain partners and allies of the United States. However, the cohesion of the remaining federation of Canadian states may prove problematic, and Washington might have to press hard to ensure that major accords--such as the St. Lawerence Seaway, NAFTA, the North Atlantic Air Defense System (NORAD) and many others--remain in effect.
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The political transformation over the last fifteen years is usually remembered only as a transition from military regimes and dictatorships to freely elected governments. Often forgotten is the fact that most, if not all, of this century's military entanglements in government have been encouraged, even driven, by domestic instability or by politicians who courted security forces in the interest of removing unaccountable, failing administrations.
Most Latin American constitutions written this century have assigned to the armed forces the corporatist mission of presiding in a nonpartisan manner over the destiny of the nation by deciding when politicians have violated the constitution. It is no surprise that these military establishments have long regarded themselves as autonomous institutions. Today, military institutions are trying to reconcile traditional corporatist thought and the relatively new liberal thinking. The process is proceeding, but slowly. The future paradigm in each democracy undoubtedly will be a unique blend of both traditions, tailored to each country's circumstances.
The principle of democratic rule appears to have almost universal military acceptance. Most officers recognize that their past forays into politics, even if successful, have diluted their professionalism and undermined their standing in society. The majority appear to agree that, with an absence of credible external threats and serious budget constraints, each military department must reorganize into a streamlined, more modern, professional force. Two important issues over which officers are deeply divided, however, are the roles and missions that will guide the restructuring of the armed forces and the acceptance of subordination to civilian leadership that they have long distrusted.
While the military accepts democratic rule in principle, there is a widespread lack of confidence in civilian leaders to govern effectively. Disrespect for legislatures, political parties, current constitutions, and legal institutions are common in many Latin American countries. The attitude of the armed forces seems to reflect the view of a majority of the civilian public. Opinion polls in Ecuador, for example, show strong domestic support for the military stepping in again in times of crisis, and for military pressure to correct the failings of elected government. Popular sympathy in Peru for President Fujimori's military-supported "self-coup" against the legislative and judicial branches of government in April 1992, and Venezuelan society's supportive reaction to two failed coup attempts led by junior officers in February and November 1992 suggest a significant lack of confidence in civilian leadership. In contrast to the perceived disarray with in state institutions, military establishments in most countries have modern internal managerial capabilities and, frequently by default, support remote, often ignored sectors of civil society by participating in nation-building activities and providing government services.
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The U.S. has traditionally seen its security tied to stability in the region. More specifically, since the end of Second World War, the United States has consistently defined six strategic interests in Latin America and the Caribbean:
However, Washington has never committed any significant amount of national treasure to achieve these interests. Moreover, their strategic significance has steadily declined over the last fifteen years as it has become increasingly apparent that there are no credible military threats to U.S. domestic security within the inter-American region. The hemisphere today is important for a different set of reasons: