By Beatrice E. Rangel
With the passing of president Carlos Menem on St Valentine's, only one member of the reform musketeers of Latin America in the 1990s is alive.
The surviving member of the reform trio is Carlos Salinas de Gortari, of Mexico.
Indeed the 1990s were an atypical decade for Latin America. After muddling through the debt crisis of the 1980s and enduring the economic contraction triggered by the oil shock of 1973, Latin American leaders were actively seeking new development avenues to reignite growth.
Many believed that regional integration coupled with trade arrangements with Europe could become the winning development formula.
At the 200 thanniversary celebration of the French Revolution, Mrs Thatcher -- then Prime Minister of The United Kingdom -- promptly underlined the weaknesses of such plans. Trade among Latin American nations was way too weak.
Worse for the foreseeable future, Europe 's focus would be Eastern European nations. Welcoming these nations back home after years of solitude under Soviet control was a top priority for the then European Economic Community.
But the good news was the U.S. could become the development partner that Mexico and Venezuela were seeking.
Back home, the leaders of Mexico and Venezuela recalibrated their strategic thoughts.
Trade and investment would need to come from America.
President Carlos Andres Perez from Venezuela had begun to question the leading economic theory in Latin America, which posited state intervention to protect nascent industries from foreign competition.
All the protection granted to private companies in Venezuela through his first mandate and thereafter had fail to produce competitive multinationals.
His conversations with Helmut Schmidt on the future of capitalism and the upcoming technology revolution greatly inspired him to seek other means to promote development.
Meanwhile, Salinas began deregulating and privatizing to strengthen Mexico's economic muscle in preparation to enter into free trade talks with the United States.
At the same time, in Argentina Carlos Menem was handed power over five months in advance to the constitutional mandate as the country was undergoing a hyperinflation crisis that had wiped away the notoriously strong middle class.
President Menem simply asked" where can we get investments from and how can we enhance trade related income." The answer pointed North of the Rio Grande.
And President Menem instantly decided that resolving Argentina's predicament entailed a swift shift in geopolitics. No more elbow rubbing with the Soviets. No more courting Europe. The partner had to be the U.S. And he found a perfect companion in George H.W. Bush, who was increasingly looking south .
The trio made a significant difference in the region. Besides reigniting growth in these three nations they made significant contributions to peace, stability and democracy in the region.
But, alas there is a price to pay for daring to think differently.
For too many centuries, Latin America has thrived on rent extraction au lieu of wealth creation.
Elites in the three countries organized to either sack the innovator, deviate reforms or bring back to power old timers who would slow the pace of reform.
Fortunately for Mexico, the free trade agreement with the United States sealed in the policies and Salinas successor Ernesto Zedillo not only stayed the course but engaged in significant political reforms.
And while AMLO incarnates a reversal of fortunes, near shoring will most probably end his appeal to Mexicans as well as that of his party.
Unfortunately, Argentina and Venezuela seem to be drifting into chaos, having lost their way.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 José Matías Delgado from El Salvador.