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Published: Saturday, 1/14/2006

Latin American democracy

IF ONE views an ideal Latin America, one composed of free-standing, prosperous, and democratic countries, 2005 qualified as a year of progress.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela, each in its own way, showed positive movement in that direction this past year.

The unfortunate part for the United States is that Latin American success and independence often defines itself in opposition to whatever the United States wants.

In some ways, the United States is damned if it does and damned if it doesn t in Latin America. It is lambasted if it pays close attention that becomes interference. It is equally criticized if it ignores a Latin American country Mexico is a case in point. That is viewed as neglecting an important neighbor.

Latin American leaders also have no patience with the United States obsession with Fidel Castro, and play off it.

Bolivia s new president, Evo Morales, and the Bush Administration s second-favorite enemy in Latin America, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, keep hitting the White House s hot button by exchanging visits with and saying nice things about Cuba and Mr. Castro.

Also, Bush Administration attachment to a drug policy required by its nominal dedication to family values has put the U.S. in the position of looking the other way while pro-Bush Colombian president Alvaro Uribe amends the country s constitution to gain a second term and continues to dodge meaningful negotiations with the country s rebels to end its civil war.

Big events in 2006 in Latin America will include 10 elections, including in Mexico, Colombia, and once-again-postponed balloting in the tormented half-island of Haiti. An administration triumph in the region in 2005 was U.S. congressional approval of the Central American Free Trade Area accord, implementation of which, behind schedule, should begin this year.

(Another in a series of regionally focused analyses of international affairs at the turn of the year.)

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