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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 01:13 GMT 02:13 UK
Latin America stands up for itself

By Tom Gibb
BBC correspondent in Sao Paulo

US Secretary of State Colin Powell will be in Chile this weekend for a meeting of the Organization of American States.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
US diplomats are going to have to work harder
It is a sign of Washington once again turning its attention to Latin America after a period of neglect because of the Iraq war.

After Chile he goes on to Argentina for meetings with the country's newly installed President, Nestor Kirchner.

Washington is trying to tempt all of Latin America into a free trade pact but Colin Powell will find a region increasingly determined to pursue its own agenda in the world.

Memories in Latin America are still strong of US interference in support of military dictators across the region which, perhaps, explains why there was so much public scepticism about US motives in Iraq and so little support here for the war.

What is new is that such views were reflected by governments.

Breaking rank

Much to Washington's fury, two of its closest allies, Mexico and Chile, both refused their crucial votes in the UN Security Council over Iraq.

Colin Powell is likely to find a new generation of leaders in Latin America much more determined to pursue an independent agenda.

Brazilian President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva
Lula brings a powerful new voice to the region
They are being led by Brazil's new president, former union boss Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, or Lula.

Last week he told a chanting crowd of union members in Sao Paulo that he was determined to achieve the dream of greater Latin American unity as the only way of standing up to rich countries.

"The first article I wrote back in the 1970s was to show that a worker by himself is an easy stick to break, but a pile of sticks together become so strong that no-one will be able to break them," he said.

"We are going to make South America and Latin America unite so as to make us so strong as to be difficult to break."

But this is no anti-US revolution.

Harder line

Leaders like Lula and Nestor Kirchner are talking about greater regional integration to give strength in trade talks with the United States.

They are, says Brazilian analyst Christopher Garmen, being highly pragmatic.

"The US administration shies away from such a dynamic, but in practical terms, there's nothing the US can actually do against that," he said.

"Although I would be somewhat hesitant however to state that this is necessarily an anti-US position.

"I think that there may have been a lot of anti-US rhetoric, but in practice I think that they're going to be hard-nosed and pragmatic over the types of concessions and negotiations they're going to carry out with the US administration."

Much of South America remains to be convinced, however, that the free trade deals at present on offer from Washington will benefit ordinary people.

It's a region where in the future the United States may have to work much harder than it has in the past to get its way.

The President of Mexico Vicente Fox will be answering your questions in our interactive programme Talking Point. You can send your comments and questions to him about the relationship between Latin America and its northern neighbour the US using the form below

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US rebuilds Latin American bridges
28 Apr 03  |  Americas

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