martes, noviembre 11, 2008

Latin America May Have to Wait

Latin America May Have to Wait
Hope exists for the region, but it is not Obama's priority
Alfredo Ascanio (askain)
Published 2008-11-11 13:18 (KST)
Edited by Carlos Arturo Serrano

A journalist said yesterday: "I can not believe what is happening in the world: in Bolivia we have an Indian as president, in Brazil we have a mechanical turner, in Paraguay a retired priest, and now in the US an African-American."

"Obama has a democratic left discourse that causes stir in Latin America because it helps to legitimize a leftist approach to the detriment of the conservative one," said Mexican historian Lorenzo Meyer.

"Obama will be received as the Pope when he traveled to Latin America," said Mexican Jorge Castaneda, former foreign minister, "and the new President should influence the Congress of his country to achieve a radical reform of the problem of immigration."

On Nov. 4 the Institute Latino barometer conducted a research in 18 Latin American countries to inquire about their reactions to Obama's victory and the result was that enthusiasm was mixed with some skepticism. Even leaders in Latin America expressed low expectations. "Our hope is for the President-elect to abandon the unilateralism that characterized the Bush administration, and help give a new impulse to multilateralism," said Marco Aurelio Garcia, advisor of President Lula of Brazil.

Brazil bets on a better relationship between the US, Cuba and Venezuela and hopes to end the embargo against Cuba. Social Democrat Manuel Cuesta Morua, from the Cuban opposition, noted that this action by the new government of the US would "collapse the pretexts that have been used in Cuba for the past fifty years to limit the restrictions on freedom."

Pressing issues at home

But the priority for Obama will be the 10.1 million unemployed in his own country, a situation the labor market had not experienced in 14 years. During his first press conference in Chicago on Friday, Nov. 7, the president-elect had to react to the news of the day: there were 240,000 jobs lost in October.

In one year, the United States has destroyed over 1.2 million jobs, including 520,000 during the months of September and October. The unemployed figure was the highest in the last 25 years. With an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent -- for 18 months the rate was 4.1 percent-- analysts are trying to find out whether this trend will reach 8 or 9 percent.

President Obama has devised a program in two stages. First, address the emergency situation, and present a strategy to overcome "the greatest economic challenge of our time." He promised prompt action, even though "some options will be difficult."

The immediate priorities are three: the adoption of measures to overcome unemployment, a new rescue plan for the middle classes, and to protect savings in order to avoid a banking collapse. The plan should focus on "the taxpayers and not just financial companies." If that plan is not approved before his inauguration, Obama said, "This will be the first thing I will do as president."

He is also intent on protecting the auto industry, which is the backbone of the US economy with 4.5 million jobs, 2.9 percent of the country's total.

Alfredo Ascanio is a professor of economics at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela.

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