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WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) – Elites in the major countries of Latin America are increasingly bullish about their nations’ economies and increasingly alienated from the United States, according to a new survey by Zogby International, released this week by “Newsweek” magazine.
The poll of 603 prominent Latin Americans–politicians, businesspeople, academics and media figures, virtually all of them with university degrees–suggests that the United States is less important than in the past and has become increasingly unpopular under President George W. Bush.
Indeed, 86 percent of respondents, including 81 percent who identified their political views as being right of center, characterized Washington’s handling of relations with Latin America as being either “fair” (48 percent) or “poor” (38 percent), compared to 13 percent who called them “good” and 1 percent who said they were “excellent.”
Anti-U.S. opinion was particularly pronounced in Mexico where nearly 2 out of 3 respondents described relations with Washington as “poor.”
In Colombia, by far the largest recipient of U.S. aid in Latin America, fewer than 1 in 4 respondents called ties with the U.S. “good”; more than 3 in 4 said they were either “fair” (46 percent) or “poor” (31 percent).
While the United States is still considered to be the country that will prove “most important” to the region’s future, China and the European Union (EU) are also seen as major players, particularly for the economy.
While 58 percent of respondents said trade agreements with the United States were either “important” (26 percent) or “extremely important” (32.5 percent) to the region’s economy, that fell well short of the 80 percent who described such ties with the EU and the 70 percent who cited trade ties with China in the same ways.
Similarly, nearly 27 percent of respondents said China is the country that is most important to Latin America’s future, just behind the United States, which was cited by 30.5 percent.
The new survey, which was co-sponsored by the University of Miami in Florida, covered between 80 and 100 leaders in each of seven countries–Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia. Respondents were interviewed in November and early December.
Compared to a similar Zogby poll conducted in 2002, influential Latin Americans are much more optimistic, especially about their economies. Five years ago, only 7 percent of respondents described the health of their national economies as “good” or “excellent.” That share has risen to 43 percent, according to the latest poll, which also found that a whopping 81 percent expect improvement in the coming years.
The most positive attitudes were found in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Venezuela, particularly about the economic prospects over the next two years.
By far the most pessimistic, were the Mexicans, 83 percent of whom described economic conditions there as “fair” or poor,” and one-third said the situation is apt to worsen.
Brazilians, on the other hand, were the most optimistic, with nearly 9 in 10 forecasting improvement.
Respondents also voiced optimism about the general direction of the region as a whole. Nearly 53 percent said they thought Latin America is on the “right track”; 1 in 3 said it was on the “wrong track.” Peruvians, Brazilians, and Venezuelans were the most optimistic; Mexicans and Chileans were the least.
Asked which of Latin America’s current government leaders represented the best models, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet was chosen by nearly 28 percent of respondents, followed closely by Brazil’s Luiz InÃ¡cio Lula da Silva at 26.4 percent. Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe came in third.
Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez placed fourth with 9 percent, followed closely by Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner at 8.5 percent.
Chavez received the highest rating of all Latin America leaders among the youngest respondents, those aged between 18 and 24. This age group, however, made up only 2 percent of the total sample.
Among those respondents who described themselves as left or left-leaning (4 or 5 on a 1-5 right-left spectrum), Lula and Bachelet topped the list with just over 50 percent each, with Chavez ranking third at 45 percent. About 1 in 3 respondents described themselves as 4s or 5s, and, among those who gave themselves 5, Chavez was the most popular by far.
At the same time, only 28.4 percent of all respondents described Chavez’s influence on Latin America as “positive,” while 62 percent said it was “negative.”
Highest positive ratings for Chavez were found in Venezuela (45 percent), Argentina (36 percent), and Mexico (31 percent). The most negative ratings were found in Peru, at a whopping 91.3 percent.
Just over 1 in 4 respondents described themselves as right (1) or right-leaning (2). Of those, 62 percent said Uribe was the best model of leadership for the continent. He was followed by Bachelet and Lula, respectively.
In contrast to the negative views of the U.S. under Bush, China’s emergence as an economic power was seen by those surveyed in a mainly positive light. Just under half of all respondents described Beijing as an “economic partner” as opposed to a “serious” (7.1 percent) or “potential threat” (12.6 percent).Another 6.6 percent it constituted “no threat”.
The most favorable attitudes toward China were found in Venezuela, Chile, and Peru, while Mexicans were the most leery, probably because of Chinese competition for U.S. markets.
By margins of 2 to 1, respondents in both Chile and Argentina considered China to be more important to Latin America’s future than the United States, while respondents in Peru were split on the question. The United States was considered more important in the other four countries.
The survey found strong support for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) that would include the United States. Overall, nearly 2 out of 3 respondents supported such a pact.
The FTAA was particularly popular among elites in Peru (92.5 percent support), Chile (84 percent), and Colombia (77.5 percent). Opposition was strongest in Argentina (51.9 percent), Venezuela (a plurality of 41 percent), and Brazil (a minority of 41 percent).
Asked whether they thought it was more important for their country’s economy to be integrated with the United States or with other Latin American countries, only 1 in 3 chose the former, while 59 percent – including a majority in each country–opted for the region.
Support for regional integration was highest in Argentina (72 percent), Brazil (64 percent), and Colombia (62.5 percent). Support for integration with the U.S. was highest in Peru (41 percent), Mexico (37 percent), and Brazil (35 percent).