By Beatrice E. Rangel
George Herbert Walker Bush decided to take a dive into heaven while the Group of 20 was meeting in Argentina.
Paradoxically, as president he advocated among his Latin American colleagues for the establishment of hemispheric caucus that would promote growth and deter crises.
The presence of the Group 20 in Latin America in a way was a tribute to the most strategic mind to live at the White House since president Jefferson.
As such, he launched a foreign policy that aimed at preserving stability despite the change wave propelled by economic activity that was about to enter the digital age.
In the Middle East he drew the line to Saddam Hussein while respecting the U.N. mandate and Iraq's sovereignty.
He took advantage of Russia's self-inflicted implosion to open arms to Eastern Europe and East Germany through foreign direct investments and acceptance to NATO.
In Latin America he was a development militant who understood that the only way to preserve freedom was through progress.
And he dedicated a good part of his mandate to plant the pillars for future development in Latin America.
His Initiative for the Americas aimed at lifting the weight of debt from the Latin American economies through the Brady Plan. He then designed what should have been the engines of growth: free trade and foreign direct investments
The Free Trade Alliance for the Americas (FTAA) was planned to promote specialization among the Latin economies while enhancing their income streams. As income streams grew foreign direct investment would make up for the lack of internal savings and trade and that foreign direct investment would expand the middle classes thereby paving the way to self-sustainable growth.
The initiative of the Americas was only half way implemented as the FTAA was the subject to a vitriolic fight led by Lula's Brazil against free trade. While Brazil engaged in a never-ending negotiation for a free trade agreement with Europe and opened the doors of Mercosur to Venezuela, a country that had no significant exchanges with the trade alliance its diplomats depicted as a tool for U.S. dominance and a weapon of servitude designed by the United States to keep Latin America underdeveloped. Further, Brazilian diplomacy committed to many initiatives that ran counter to its long-term interests such as accepting the Argentina's Kirchner levy on exports without opening a procedure in Mercosur or suing Argentina at the WTO.
Without free trade, the Latin American economies went back to their good all corporativist ways and rent extraction.
As a result, except for Chile, the Latin economies have made little or no progress in the first two decades of this century.
In fact, one could even argue that they are not doing well at all and that their performance is worse than that of the turn of the century.
To be sure, South America's middle-income population has risen from 16% in 2001 to 27% in 2011, and the segment that was poor dropped from 17% to 7%. In Central America and the Caribbean progress was significantly smaller from 2001 to 2011 -- the middle-income share of the population grew only from 19% to 21%, while proportion of poor declined by just 3%.
Today middle class creation has come to a virtual stall. Development experts estimate that should the FTAA have taken hold, middle class growth would have reached 25% in South America and 30% in Central America. This would have placed the region on a self-sustained growth track.
But Latin leaders preferred to follow the petro dollar track of Hugo Chavez instead of the road to development created by GHW Bush. As Topo Gigio would put it "What a class act!!!"Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.
For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.
You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.