Arturo Valenzuela, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and former NSC Special Assistant to the President for Latin Affairs, spoke about the current state of relations between the United States and Latin America on Monday at the Marriott Library.
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Valenzuela also spoke about the future of U.S. and Latin American relations and how far things have come between the two areas. Several times throughout the keynote address, Valenzuela walked down the aisle of the crowd, pulling out his wallet to aid in a demonstration.
“I carry in my wallet two important pieces of currency,” Valenzuela said. “First is a 500,00 cruzeiros bill from Brazil. At one time, not so long ago, this was worth less than a dollar by U.S. standards. The other important bill I carry is a 10 million Bolivian pesos bill which was the equivalent of about 2 American dollars. If you wanted a loaf of bread you’d have to carry a wheelbarrow full of these to the grocery store.”
Of all the historical and economic changes, Valenzuela said the most important event was the end of the Cold War.
“Many U.S. administrators thought the authoritarianism that existed in the Latin American countries was good because it would ward off the possibility of communism arising,” Valenzuela said. “However, at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. mindset shifted to realize that maybe the authoritarians were part of the problem.”
A turning point in relations between the U.S. and Latin America were the attacks of Sept. 11 in 2001. Mexico, Chile and other South American countries condemned the U.S. decision to attack Iraq, claiming there was not enough evidence available to prove existence of weapons of mass destruction. As a result, former President George W. Bush refused to take former President of Mexico Vincente Fox’s calls.
Another point Valenzuela stressed was the importance of people understanding South America as a continent and nation.
Brooke Jensen, a freshman in urban ecology, attended the event and said Valenzuela helped clarify the current state of affairs.
“I am leaving this address today with a lot greater frame of reference about the past and present relationship between the U.S. and Latin America,” Jensen said. “It brings a lot of current events that you hear about in the news into perspective.”
Valenzuela spoke at the U as part of the 17th Annual Siciliano Forum sponsored by the Hinckley Institute of Politics. Valenzuela’s keynote address was the first of 21 forums on “The Future of U.S.-Latin American Relations” that will occur within the next week.