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  November 12, 2001

Speaker Examines Impact of September 11 on U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America

The terrorist attacks of September 11 were a turning point in American foreign policy, raising fears in Latin America that a decade of inter-American cooperation could be over, according to Thomas J. Dodd Jr., a professor of Latin American history and diplomacy at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and a former diplomat.

"In the long-term, terrorism may occupy the center stage of American foreign policy interests in Latin America," he says.

Speaking October 31 in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center named for his father, Dodd said the terrorist attacks "forced an immediate and radical shift in U.S. relations with the world." From that point, "a drifting search for foreign policy suddenly found new definition," he said.

Latin American countries are now apprehensive that, after a decade of cooperation in the Western hemisphere, the United States could revert to the philosophy of the Cold War, in which security was equated with stability, Dodd said. "Names like Noriega and Pinochet come to mind and send shudders down the spines of Latin Americans, should their like reappear."

He said although he understands these concerns, the accomplishments of the past decade, including strengthening of democratic institutions and expansion of trade, bode well.

Dodd, this year's speaker in the Louis Gerson Foreign Policy Lecture Series, described what he termed the "golden decade of the 1990s" in U.S.-Latin American relations. During that time, he served as U.S. Ambassador to two countries in the region, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

"The end of the Cold War marked a significant turning point in U.S. ties with Latin America," said Dodd. At that point, "extra-regional threats, real and imagined, came to an end," and external support for undemocratic governments crumbled.

"Many military regimes staggered to their demise," he said. "Many guerrillas of the 1970s and '80s became mayors of cities or members of legislatures."

Previously, U.S. relations with the region had been characterized either by active intervention, motivated by territorial expansion, or total neglect, said Dodd. In the 1990s, however, U.S. diplomacy shifted toward more cooperative engagement, peaceful resolution of disputes, and free market economies that were expected to raise the standard of living in the region.

"The 1990s was an era of promoting free trade, strengthening democracy, encouraging sustainable development, and ending poverty and injustice in this hemisphere," he said.

But despite the progress, the picture was not all rosy.

Dodd said insufficient attention was paid to social issues such as the impact of globalization, and social inequality; and the trend toward democracy was in many cases flawed. "Many have yet to adopt the basic principles that give it durability," he said, such as independence of the judiciary.

The income gap between rich and poor remains wide in Latin America, where half the people earn less than $90 per month and two-thirds live in poverty, he said. As a result, the decade of the 1990s saw an increasing disenchantment with democracy, opening the door to a new wave of authoritarianism. He cited a poll taken earlier this year that showed less than half the population in Latin America believes democracy is preferable to any other form of government, and that many believe more authoritarian types of government may be preferable to democratic rule in certain circumstances.

Since the events of September 11, the Organization of American States, an inter-governmental body in the Americas, has expressed deep concerns that the global war on terrorism will replace Washington's priority on cooperation with Latin America.

Yet the threat of terrorism, which has military, social and economic implications, will require cooperative multilateral responses, he said.

From the presidency of George H.W. Bush to that of Bill Clinton, there was "a certain continuity in Washington's policies looking south," Dodd said. "The terrorist attacks in the United States will likely not change that continuity but strengthen it."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu

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