NEARLY HALF A CENTURY AGO, President Kennedy launched one of this country's more
ambitious foreign-aid experiments, a program to develop Latin America called the
Alliance for Progress. Like most aid efforts during the Cold War, it was less an
attack on poverty than on communism, though the one was seen as a precursor to
the other. Although the United States spent more than $20 billion, the effort
fizzled out with few accomplishments.
The program is seldom mentioned anymore in this
country, but its name was invoked Tuesday by Peruvian President Alan Garcia
during a news conference at the White House with President Bush.
What could have been done almost 50 years ago with
the Alliance for Progress is something that we can do now," Garcia said. His
point was that the things the aid program failed to do in the 1960s, free
trade could do today.
Garcia is anxious over a free-trade pact that both the U.S. and Peru have
signed but that has yet to be ratified by Congress. An existing trade
agreement between the U.S. and four Andean nations expires at the end of the
year, and if the new pact isn't in place by then, thousands of Peruvian
products will lose duty-free access to the U.S. market, which accounts for
about 30% of Peru's exports.
Ratifying the agreement shouldn't be a tough decision by Congress, yet leaders
have held up a vote until after the Nov. 7 election. Democrats fret that its
labor provisions are too weak, ignoring the fact that an end to Peru's
preferential trade status would render a large number of impoverished
Peruvians jobless. Meanwhile, Republicans from textile states fear that it
will hurt the domestic industry — a quaint notion in an era of globalized
A failure to seal the trade deal would be a disaster on many fronts. The
original Andean agreement was intended to help build diversified economies in
the region so that the four countries — Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia —
could lessen their reliance on coca, the raw material for cocaine. Letting it
expire with nothing else in place would deal a heavy blow to the U.S. war on
drugs. If Congress turns its back on these Andean countries, it will be
playing into the hands of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and others trying
to encourage the spread of anti-Americanism in the region.
The Alliance for Progress was a bust for a lot of reasons; U.S. planners
underestimated the amount of money it would take to develop an entire
continent, and Latin American governments didn't impose necessary reforms.
Today, Peru's economy is growing 5% annually, but half its people still live
on $2 or less a day. Engagement with the global economy, as neighboring Chile
has shown, is the best path to prosperity, and American consumers also benefit
from a lowering of barriers. Election-year politics should not be allowed to
hijack this important trade deal.