The United States is also trying counter the economic influence of the socialist government of Venezuela, especially now that the Venezuelan economy is being devastated by the plummeting price of oil and internal conflicts. The Venezuela initiatives opposed by the US include ALBA, Petrocaribe (where Venezuela has been providing much-need and appreciated low-cost oil to Caribbean nations), and the Bank of the South (envisioned as an alternative to the IMF /World Bank).
In Central America, the US administration is trying to win alliances by pledging $1 billion to boost security and economic development after thousands of undocumented minors caused a crisis at the US border.
US businesses are concerned about the economic downturn in Latin America, making it more imperative for them to capture a greater portion of the shrinking pie. The continent has vast agricultural, energy and mineral resources. But after an economic boom in much of the region (where the middle class doubled in size over the last 15 years), falling global demand for commodities has slowed growth. The economic commission for Latin America, CEPAL, predicts that Latin American growth, which had been projected at about 2.5%, will actually drop to 1% this year.
US businesses are also concerned about the growing economic influence of China. China's trade with Latin America has mushroomed from $10 billion in 2000 to $257 billion in 2013 and estimates for the end of the decade are $500 billion. China is now the top trading partners for Brazil, Chile and Peru. Chinese investment in the region is mainly in the extractive and agricultural sectors, but China is also a major source of financial loans. Venezuela has received upwards of $50 billion in Chinese lending since 2005.
Meanwhile, free-traders have become fed up with the leftist rhetoric and demonstrations at the Summits. After the 2005 Summit in Mar de Plata, Argentina, the right-wing Heritage Foundation complained that the summits had become "an attractive target for U.S. enemies in Latin America. Aided and abetted by President of Argentina Nestor Kirchner, an unholy alliance of anti-U.S., anti-free trade, and anti-globalization groups and leaders--including Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, hard-left NGOs, and other "21st century socialists"--staged very effective countersummits and violent demonstrations. They succeeded in distracting the media and blunted what remained of the pro-trade message of the 2005 summit." The Foundation recommended that the US "pull the plug on the Summit of the Americas" because it had lost its focus on the key goal of advancing free trade and private-sector solutions to development challenges.
But more useful for the hemisphere would be to pull the plug on the corporate-dominated Business Forum that will never promote the Summit's agenda of "prosperity with equity." A good replacement would be a gathering of socially responsible entrepreneurs, green businesses, organic farmers, worker cooperatives, creative public-private ventures and other innovative enterprises that could herald a new economic model. It's time for the business side of the summits to reflect the populist demands of the hemisphere that will never be represented by the likes of Walmart, Cargill or Coca-Cola.
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