Today's crisis is a great opportunity for Latin America

A few weeks ago, I met with some of my non-Mexican friends at a local lunch meeting – in other words, my Latino friends from places like Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Central America.  I also refer to them as my "fútbol friends" because baseball is not usually a topic at these sessions.

I was curious to hear their reactions to a much discussed column by Andres Oppenheimer about the growing disenchantment in Latin America.  This is a major point from the column:

South American countries, which enjoyed an economic fiesta in recent years thanks to record high world prices for their commodity exports, are suddenly finding themselves simultaneously hurt by China’s slowdown, lower commodity prices, a flight away from developing countries by international investors, and a stronger dollar that makes their imports of manufactured products more expensive.

Complicating matters further, Brazil, the giant economic engine that pulls several of its neighbors, is suffering one of its worse economic and political crises in recent years. Its economy is expected to have a negative growth rate of about 2 percent this year.

For the first time in 25 years, with one exception in 2009, Latin America’s overall economic growth may be negative this year.

This is happening at a time when most of Latin America is run by elected leaders, with the obvious exceptions of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia.  Nevertheless, many of these elected leaders have turned out be lousy governors, from the corruption in Brazil to the crony capitalism in Argentina.

The point is that there is more to democracy than having elections, as anyone living in Latin America can tell you.  You can't really do it without the rule of law.

The new crisis does offer an opportunity to move on and avoid the mistakes of the past, especially the poisonous anti-Americanism that seems to benefit only college professors, or the personality cults like Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

The region has the natural resources, a growing middle class, and lots of well-educated people, and it seems prime for a strong future.  It just seems to lack leaders who believe in the region's strengths.

Here are some of the points that I made to my friends:

1) Beware of China, and start looking again at the U.S.  China's economic tumbles are starting to worry many in the region.  Can the Chinese really deliver?  The recent case of "railroad diplomacy" may be a sign that doing business with China is not simple after all.  That Chinese canal in Nicaragua is not a success story, either.  U.S.-South America trade is already big, but we need to make it bigger.

2) Invest more in education, especially since most of these countries do not need large standing armies for national defense.  By the way, I am not talking about public education – rather, allow more competition so that investors are willing to take education to isolated people who could be huge consumers if they only had an education.

3) Continue to promote your exports to the world.

4) Vote for people who are willing to break the dependency on government that has corrupted Brazil, for example.

I am not sure if we got anything fixed.  They are complicated problems.  Overall, I'm happy to see that Latinos are thinking about a future rooted in the rule of law rather than personality cults.   

From Perón to Castro to Chávez, I think Latinos have had their fill of populist demagogues.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

A few weeks ago, I met with some of my non-Mexican friends at a local lunch meeting – in other words, my Latino friends from places like Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Central America.  I also refer to them as my "fútbol friends" because baseball is not usually a topic at these sessions.

I was curious to hear their reactions to a much discussed column by Andres Oppenheimer about the growing disenchantment in Latin America.  This is a major point from the column:

South American countries, which enjoyed an economic fiesta in recent years thanks to record high world prices for their commodity exports, are suddenly finding themselves simultaneously hurt by China’s slowdown, lower commodity prices, a flight away from developing countries by international investors, and a stronger dollar that makes their imports of manufactured products more expensive.

Complicating matters further, Brazil, the giant economic engine that pulls several of its neighbors, is suffering one of its worse economic and political crises in recent years. Its economy is expected to have a negative growth rate of about 2 percent this year.

For the first time in 25 years, with one exception in 2009, Latin America’s overall economic growth may be negative this year.

This is happening at a time when most of Latin America is run by elected leaders, with the obvious exceptions of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia.  Nevertheless, many of these elected leaders have turned out be lousy governors, from the corruption in Brazil to the crony capitalism in Argentina.

The point is that there is more to democracy than having elections, as anyone living in Latin America can tell you.  You can't really do it without the rule of law.

The new crisis does offer an opportunity to move on and avoid the mistakes of the past, especially the poisonous anti-Americanism that seems to benefit only college professors, or the personality cults like Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

The region has the natural resources, a growing middle class, and lots of well-educated people, and it seems prime for a strong future.  It just seems to lack leaders who believe in the region's strengths.

Here are some of the points that I made to my friends:

1) Beware of China, and start looking again at the U.S.  China's economic tumbles are starting to worry many in the region.  Can the Chinese really deliver?  The recent case of "railroad diplomacy" may be a sign that doing business with China is not simple after all.  That Chinese canal in Nicaragua is not a success story, either.  U.S.-South America trade is already big, but we need to make it bigger.

2) Invest more in education, especially since most of these countries do not need large standing armies for national defense.  By the way, I am not talking about public education – rather, allow more competition so that investors are willing to take education to isolated people who could be huge consumers if they only had an education.

3) Continue to promote your exports to the world.

4) Vote for people who are willing to break the dependency on government that has corrupted Brazil, for example.

I am not sure if we got anything fixed.  They are complicated problems.  Overall, I'm happy to see that Latinos are thinking about a future rooted in the rule of law rather than personality cults.   

From Perón to Castro to Chávez, I think Latinos have had their fill of populist demagogues.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.