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The Washington Post has an excellent op-ed piece posted by Jorge G. Caste├▒ada, Vicente Fox’s former foreign secretary, outlining how Bush’s trip through South America is doing more harm to America’s stature than good.

He argues that the liberal democratic world, at least in this hemisphere, is incredibly fragile outside of North America. Venezuela’s almost limitless oil revenue allows Chavez to spend money on lavish social programs that citizens love, and the free market simply cannot compete with. It’s very hard, after all, to compete with “free”.

That being said Caste├▒ada has a point. Rather than making a physical presence in South America and straining an already tempestuous relationship with the region, Washington should engage in better dialogue with countries that offer a compromising viable alternative to Chavez’s socialism with an authoritarian streak. Chile’s social democracy is a great example of relatively moderate government social policies with a viable free market framework within it.

America should show humility towards our neighbors to the south. Our allies there are crumbling, and the tooth and nail sparring of a full fledged market economy is simply not viable for countries like Bolivia, whose enormous levels of poverty are exacerbated by a relative lack of national resources and industry.

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