Refueling U.S. Foreign Policy
From the April 11, 2007
April 16, 2007
by Jaime Daremblum
President Lula's successful visit to Camp David on Saturday, March 31, bolstered the Bush administration's new diplomatic stratgey towards Latin America.
Spearheaded by a hemispheric initiative to reduce oil-dependency, the Brazilian president's visit may also prove helpful in reviving the stagnated Doha Round negotiations on world trade, as well as in generating joint U.S.-Brazilian efforts to fight malaria and HIV/AIDS in Portuguese-speaking African countries.
Ethanol and energy independence are top strategic issues for both the United States and Brazil. Mutual cooperation could therefore lead to a win-win situation for the two countries and for the region as a whole.
Albeit slowly, the American public has come to realize the dangers of dependence on an oil supply largely controlled by unsavory characters like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and the Middle East's satraps. The administration has proposed cutting Americans' gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next decade, mainly by using more ethanol. It is a worthy goal but also a tall order.
Brazil has a huge advantage over the U.S. in the effort to substitute ethanol for oil. Ethanol now represents over 40 percent of fuel consumption in Brazil. Today, the United States only produces 5 billion gallons of ethanol a year, a level that it will need to increase sevenfold in order to meet the 20 percent target.
Building on the "Memorandum of Understanding to Advance Cooperation on Bio-fuels," signed during their recent meeting in Brazil, Bush and Lula announced in Camp David plans to establish pilot projects to foster bio-fuel production in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. These programs will be crucial for those countries, because they can alleviate their oil import bills while promoting higher employment and economic growth. However, this initiative may become a thorny issue due to the protection the United States provides its corn-growers against the more efficient sugar cane-based ethanol produced in Brazil.
The summit at Camp David comes three weeks after President Bush's trip to Latin America. The two events might mark a welcome change from the administration's apparent neglect of the region. In his tour of five nations in the region, the U.S. President chose Brazil as his first destination. By doing so, South America's giant was given the international recognition it has historically craved. The positive chemistry between Lula and Bush led to the invitation to Camp David, a first for a Latin American leader in 16 years.
The Bush-Lula summits have resonated in Latin America. Although Lula is a leftist leader, he has proven himself strongly democratic and capable of combining social policies with fiscal and monetary responsibility. The results thus far have been a plus for the United States and a setback for Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, who has relied heavily on a connection with Lula to enhance his own image on the world stage. The long-term significance of these undertakings has not been lost on Chavez or his mentor Fidel Castro, who was compelled to attack the U.S.-Brazil agreements from his deathbed.
Now comes the most difficult stage for the Bush administration's reenergized Latin American diplomacy--to follow-up and ensure the policies bear fruit. White House officials are contemplating a wide array of activities to build on the momentum, including a large Latin American conference in Washington and a possible second tour of the Latin America by the president later this year. We should hope that these new developments are not derailed by more pressing foreign policy issues, or by the inexhaustible protectionist appetites of some U.S. Congressmen.
Ambassador Jaime Daremblum is a Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and directs the Center for Latin American Studies.