BRICS trample US in South America
By Pepe Escobar
The long-term Big Picture remains inexorable; BRICS and South American nations -- which converge in the Unasur (The Union of South American Nations) -- are betting on a multipolar world order, and a continental process of independence. It's easy to see how that is oceans away from a Monroe doctrine.
Reprinted from RT
It started in April with a rash of deals between Argentina and Russia during President Cristina Kirchner's visit to Moscow.
And it continues with a $53 billion investment bang as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visits Brazil during the first stop of yet another South American commercial offensive -- complete with a sweet metaphor: Li riding on a made in China subway train that will ply a new metro line in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the 2016 Olympics.
Where is the US in all this? Nowhere; little by little, yet inexorably, BRICS members China -- and in a smaller measure, Russia -- have been no less than restructuring commerce and infrastructure all across Latin America.
Countless Chinese commercial missions have been plying these shores non-stop, much as the US did between World War I and II. In a key meeting in January with Latin American business leaders, President Xi Jinping promised to channel $250 billion for infrastructure projects in the next 10 years.
Top infrastructure projects in Latin America are all being financed by Chinese capital -- except the Mariel port in Cuba, whose financing comes from Brazil's BNDES and whose operation will be managed by Singaporean port operator PSA International Pte Ltd. Construction of the Nicaragua canal -- bigger, wider and deeper than Panama's -- started last year by a Hong Kong firm, to be finished by 2019. Argentina, for its part, clinched a $4.7 billion Chinese deal for the construction of two hydroelectric dams in Patagonia.
Among the 35 deals clinched during Li's visit to Brazil, there was financing worth $7 billion for Brazil's oil giant Petrobras; 22 Brazilian Embraer commercial jets to be sold to Tianjin Airlines for $1.3 billion; and a raft of agreements involving top iron ore producer Vale. Chinese investment might go some way into overhauling Brazil's appalling network of roads, railways and ports; airports are in slightly better condition due to upgrades prior to the World Cup last year.
The star of the whole show is undoubtedly the proposed $30 billion, 3,500 kilometer-long, Atlantic-Pacific mega-railway, that is slated to run from the Brazilian port of Santos to the Peruvian Pacific port of Ilo via Amazonia. Logistically, this is a must for Brazil, offering it a Pacific gateway. Winners will inevitably be commodity producers -- from iron ore to soya beans -- exporting to Asia, mostly China.
The Atlantic-Pacific railway may be an extremely complex project -- involving everything from environmental and land rights issues to, crucially, the preference for Chinese firms every time Chinese banks deliberate on extending lines of credit. But this time, it's a go. The usual suspects are -- what else -- worried.
Watch the geopolitics
Official Brazilian policy, since the Lula years, has been to attract top Chinese investment. China is Brazil's top trading partner since 2009; it used to be the US. The trend started with food production, now it moves to investment in ports and railways, and the next stage will be technology transfer. The BRICS New Development Bank and the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), of which Brazil is a key founding member, will definitely be part of the picture.
The problem is this massive trade/commerce BRICS interplay is intersecting with a quite convoluted political process. The top three South American powers -- Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, which also happen to be Mercosur members -- have been facing repeated "destabilization" attempts by the usual suspects, who routinely denounce the foreign policy of Presidents Dilma Rousseff, Cristina Kirchner and Nicolas Maduro and yearn for the good ol' days of a dependent relationship with Washington.
With different degrees of complexity -- and internal strife -- Brasilia, Buenos Aires and Caracas are all simultaneously facing plots against their institutional order. The usual suspects don't even try to dissimulate their near total diplomatic distance from the South American Top Three.
Venezuela, under US sanctions, is considered a threat to US national security -- something that does not even qualify as a bad joke. Kirchner has been under relentless diplomatic assault -- not to mention US vulture funds targeting Argentina. And with Brasilia, relations are practically frozen since September 2013, when Rousseff suspended a visit to Washington in response to the NSA spying on Petrobras, and herself personally.
And that leads us to a crucial geostrategic issue -- so far unresolved.
NSA spying may have leaked sensitive information on purpose to destabilize the Brazilian development agenda -- which includes, in the case of Petrobras, the exploration of the largest oil deposits (the pre-salt) found so far in the young 21st century.
What is unraveling is so crucial because Brazil is the second-biggest economy in the Americas (after the US); it is the biggest Latin American commercial and financial power; it hosts the former second-biggest development bank in the world, BNDES, now overtaken by the BRICS bank; and it also hosts the biggest corporation in Latin America, Petrobras, also one of the world's top energy giants.
The hardcore pressure against Petrobras comes essentially from US shareholders -- who act like the proverbial vultures, bent on bleeding the company and profit from it, allied with lobbyists who abhor Petrobras's status as the priority explorer of the pre-salt deposits.
In a nutshell, Brazil is the last great sovereign frontier against unbounded hegemonic domination in the Americas. The Empire of Chaos had to be annoyed.
Ride the continental wave
The constantly evolving strategic partnership of the BRICS nations has been met by Washington circles not only with incredulity but fear. It's virtually impossible for Washington to do real damage to China -- but much "easier," comparatively, in the case of Brazil or Russia. Even though Washington's wrath targets essentially China -- which has dared to do deal after deal in the former "America's backyard."
Once again, the Chinese strategy -- as much as the Russian -- is to keep calm and carry a "win-win" profile. Xi Jinping met with Maduro in January to do -- what else -- deals. He met with Cristina Kirchner in February to do the same -- just as speculators were about to unleash another attack against the Argentine peso. Now there's Li's visit to South America.
Needless to say, trade between South America and China continues to boom. Argentina exports food and soya beans; Brazil the same, plus oil, minerals and timber; Colombia sells oil and minerals; Peru and Chile, copper, and iron; Venezuela sells oil; Bolivia, minerals. China exports mostly high-value-added manufactured products.
A key development to watch in the immediate future is the Transul project, which was first proposed at a BRICS conference last year in Rio. It boils down to a Brazil-China strategic alliance linking Brazilian industrial development to partial outsourcing of metals to China; as the Chinese increase their demand -- they are building no less than 30 megalopolises up to 2030 -- that will be met by Brazilian or Sino-Brazilian companies. Beijing has finally given its seal of approval.
So the long-term Big Picture remains inexorable; BRICS and South American nations -- which converge in the Unasur (The Union of South American Nations) -- are betting on a multipolar world order, and a continental process of independence.
It's easy to see how that is oceans away from a Monroe doctrine.
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His regular column, "The Roving Eye," is widely read. He is an analyst for the online news channel Real News, the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He argues that the world has become fragmented into "stans" -- we are now living an intestinal war, an undeclared global civil war. He has published three books on geopolitics, including the spectacularly-titled "Globalistan: How the Globalised World Is Dissolving Into Liquid War".
His latest book is "Obama Does Globalistan."
America is losing influence in Latin America — and that's great news
Ryan Cooper ---- The Week
Is Bolivian President Evo Morales a despot, despite the fact that he just won a free and fair election? So argues The New York Times editorial board, calling him a caudillo because he might try to change the Bolivian constitution to run again in 2020.
Let's set aside the absurdity of smearing someone as an authoritarian based on speculations about future events. The real gripe of the Times board can be seen toward the bottom of the piece (well spotted by Glenn Greenwald): "This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region."
This is not just rank hypocrisy, as Greenwald demonstrates. (You almost never see pieces lamenting the fact that Saudi Arabia is an abusive tyranny; perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the Saudis take U.S. orders.) The woe-is-us stance also has it completely backward. The decline of American influence in Latin America is long overdue and great news to boot, for two major reasons.
The first is the direct effects of policy. I've written before about how U.S. influence in Latin America has been almost totally malignant: a bloody history of imperialist theft, coups, civil wars, a catastrophic drug policy, and much more. The U.S. has spent a lot of time brutally stamping on our neighbors to the south in a strategy of imperialism by proxy and often hasn't even had anything to show for it.
The second is the indirect effects that imperialist policy has on its victims. One of the less-appreciated aspects of the horror that was colonialism is how it facilitated tyranny and corruption long after the occupiers were driven out. After the end of Europe's subjugation of Africa, for instance, every country across the continent suffered a collapse of democracy of one kind or another (save one, though that may end soon).
The reason is that colonial powers built oppressive, anti-democratic institutions. Imperial powers also usually denied education and training to the oppressed majority, thereby leaving few people with much leadership experience after independence. After the Belgians fled the Congo in a panic in 1960, for instance, there were only a few dozen university graduates left to administer a nation four times larger than France.
Latin America had a different experience with colonialism, starting with the fact that something like 90 percent of the indigenous American population died through disease and war after contact with the Europeans. But there are similarities, with most Latin American countries struggling with relapses into military dictatorships rooted in Spanish-era government.
Latin America's history of direct colonization by Spain and Portugal ended far before Africa's did. But these effects linger on for a long time, and the United States has exacerbated them by inflicting its fumble-fingered brand of indirect imperialism for much of the last century.
A critical part of encouraging the development of firm democratic institutions throughout the world is to refrain from imperialist meddling. This is especially true for countries that are already holding fair elections. The reason Venezuela's Hugo Chávez got so much mileage out of anti-American propaganda is because of America's long history of monstrous policy in Latin America — including supporting a coup attempt in Venezuela as recently as 2002 (lauded at the time by the Times editorial board, naturally). The first step to taking the wind out of the anti-American sails is to stop blowing on them like mad.
Evo Morales may well try to hang on to power indefinitely — it wouldn't be the first time a populist leader has done so. But there's little the U.S. can do about that but make it worse. It's time we left Latin America to manage its own internal politics.
How the U.S. is Losing Latin America
By Chris Estep ---- Ivn
Recently, American foreign policy priorities have been highly focused on the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions. Between winding down the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and navigating the tumult caused by the Arab Spring, President Obama has spent much of his diplomatic capital in the Middle East.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the president has further increased American diplomatic involvement. For the past few years, the U.S. has engaged China on trade and security issues, grappled with the increasingly volatile situation in North Korea, and worked to develop more robust trade partnerships with other countries in the region.
Meanwhile, American clout in Latin America is waning. Nick Miroff of the Washington Post wrote in January that “with Washington’s diplomatic attention largely focused elsewhere, on Asia and the Middle East, Latin America’s shift had resulted in declining U.S. influence.” Mark Weisbrot agreed with this analysis when he wrote in The Guardian that “Latin America, and especially South America, has become independent of Washington in the past 15 years…”
"China has surpassed the U.S. as leading trade partner in some Latin American countries."@ Chris_Estep
This presents a huge challenge to American foreign policy interests. Already, the trade relationship between the United States and Latin America has suffered. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, exports to South and Central America decreased from approximately $183 billion in 2012 to roughly $169 billion in 2013. At the same time, imports from Latin America were approximately $172 billion in 2012, and decreased to roughly $146 billion in 2013.
Even as trade between the United States and Latin America has been disappointing, China has moved into the gap left by the lack of U.S. interest in the region. Patricia Rey Mallen of the International Business Times reported in December 2013 that “in some Latin countries, China has even reached the status of top trading partner. For example, with respect to Brazil, China surpassed the U.S. in 2009…”
Not only is China working to out-trade the United States in the Latin American region, China is also working to out-invest the United States in the region. Weisbrot writes:
“China has already helped Venezuala with tens of billions of dollars of loans–much of which has already been repaid–as well as investment. It has also provided significant lending and investment in Ecuador, Cuba, Brazil and other countries.”
The United States has also made critical mistakes with regard to many countries in Latin America. Last July, Anthony Boadle of Reuters reported that several nations in the region were “irate” in response to allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency has been monitoring the Internet.
"Exports to South/Central America decreased from about $183B in 2012 to roughly $169B in 2013"
Then in September, before the United Nations General Assembly, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff condemned NSA phone eavesdropping. She also cancelled a state visit to the United States.
In the end, it is apparent that the United States cannot afford to lose influence in Latin America. According to a January report by the World Bank, GDP growth in Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to be 3.7 percent in 2016. Columbia is expected to see growth at or above 4 percent for the next several years. Brazil’s growth rate is expected to increase from 2.2 percent in 2013 to 3.7 percent in 2016.
In Foreign Affairs, Christopher Sabatini wrote that “twenty-first-century Latin America has its own, autonomous power dynamics. A little realism would go a long way.”
What should the United States do to reverse its declining clout in Latin America?
Latin America is poised to make solid economic gains in the next several years, and the United States should actively re-engage in the region. On issues of trade and security issues, America can make substantial progress with countries like Mexico and Colombia and Brazil. The United States cannot allow itself to be out-done in its own backyard, and especially by one of its primary rivals: China.
The world has nothing to fear from the US losing power
by Mark Weisbrot
The news that China will displace the US as the world's largest economy this year is big news. For economists who follow these measurements, the tectonic shift likely occurred a few years ago. But now the World Bank is making it official, so journalists and others who opine on world affairs will have to take this into account. And if they do so, they will find that this is a very big deal indeed.
What does it mean? First, the technicalities: the comparison is made on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, which means that it takes into account the differing prices in the two countries. So, if a dollar is worth 6.3 renminbi today on the foreign exchange market, it may be that 6.3 renminbi can buy a lot more in China than one dollar can buy in the US. The PPP comparison adjusts for that; that is why China's economy is much bigger than the measure that you have most commonly seen in the media, which simply converts China's GDP to dollars at the official exchange rate.
The PPP measure is a better comparison for many purposes. For example, take military spending: the money that China needs to build a fighter jet or pay military personnel is a lot less than the equivalent in dollars that the US has to pay for the same goods and services. This means that China has a bigger economy than that of the US, for purposes of military spending. And in a decade, the Chinese economy will most likely be about 60 percent bigger than the US economy.
President Obama has just returned from a trip to Asia where he was criticised for not being tougher with China. However, Americans may want to consider whether "containing" China with a "pivot" to Asia is an affordable proposition. When the US had an arms race with the Soviet Union, the Soviet economy was maybe one-quarter the size of ours. We have not experienced an arms race with a country whose economy is bigger than ours, and whose economic size advantage is growing rapidly. Are Americans prepared to give up social security or Medicare in order to maintain US military supremacy in Asia? To ask this question is to answer it.
Fortunately, such an arms race is not necessary. China is a rising power, but the government does not seem to be interested in building an empire. Unlike the US, which has hundreds of military bases throughout the globe, China doesn't have any. The Chinese government seems to be very focused on economic growth; trying to become a developed country as soon as it can. Since China has 1.3 billion people, having an economy the size of the US means that average living standards are less than one-fourth of ours. They have a long way to go to become a rich country.
Of course, just because an arms race is unnecessary or unwinnable doesn't mean it can't get started. The Washington foreign policy establishment is much accustomed to the authority, prestige, and privilege of being the overwhelmingly dominant power on the planet. And as we saw during the eastward expansion of Nato in the 1990s – now coming back to haunt us in a new cold war with Russia – there are politically powerful military contractors that can also have a voice in US foreign and military policy.
The American people, according to polling data, are of another point of view. They are largely tired of unnecessary wars and mostly sympathetic to Obama's response to critics while in the Philippines: "Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force, after we've just gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and to our budget?" It is arguable that the only reason our government is able to maintain an imperial foreign policy is that so few Americans serve in the military and pay the ultimate price for it.
Still, there is a powerful ideology of American exceptionalism and a widespread belief that if the US does not run the world, somebody worse – possibly China – will. The fact that the US and its European allies still have more democratic societies with more developed rule of law than most middle-income countries – despite the setbacks of the past decade – reinforces this notion that the world will be worse off if the US loses power and influence.
But the US lost most of its influence in Latin America over the past 15 years, and the region has done quite well, with a sharp reduction in poverty for the first time in decades. The Washington-based International Monetary Fund has also lost most of its influence over the middle-income countries of the world, and these have also done remarkably better in the 2000s.
In the 18th century, those who opposed democratic revolutions like that of the United States had dystopian visions of governance without monarchy. So, too, our foreign policy establishment cannot imagine a multipolar world where the US and its allies must negotiate more and give orders less often. But economic trends are making this reality inevitable, and Americans should embrace it. Whatever the internal political systems of the countries whose representation in the international arena will increase, the end result is likely to be more democratic governance at the international level, with a greater rule of international law, fewer wars, and more social and economic progress.
we don't seem to understand that if you are the 'bully', everyone may be afraid of you, but very few (if any) will like you...
China's big chess move against the U.S.: Latin America
By Patrick Gillespie @CNNMoney
Blankfein: China 'deserves' to be largest economy
China is making friends right under America's nose.Latin America is China's latest business buddy. Chinese banks increased investments in Latin America by 71% last year, and the country plans to double its trade volume with the Central and South American region over the next decade.
This comes as U.S. power in the Americas is starting to erode. U.S. cash is actually fleeing the region as investors see better deals at home or elsewhere.
China doesn't appear as worried about the short-term.
"What we're looking at is not simply an economic play. It's an economic play that also has political and strategic undertones," says Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.
Outside of economic ties, Berman points out that China has helped fund Argentina's nuclear power plant, launched Bolivia's first satellite and is rumored to be helping Venezuela start its own drone program.
But for now, the relationship is mostly economic.
Trading Places: Although America is still the No. 1 trade partner with Latin America, China is already beating it in some places. China is ahead of the U.S. in trade with Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Venezuela, according to M.I.T. data.
It's a win-win for China and Latin America for many reasons. China needs all of Latin America's abundant commodities, like oil and soybeans, while some Latin countries are desperate for cash, which China is happy to provide.
In a sign of the shifting alignments, Latin American countries formed an alliance in 2010 called CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), which excludes the U.S. and Canada.
Two months ago, the CELAC countries held a big meeting. Instead of going to Washington, they went to Beijing for the first formal conference between China and the region.
Of course, the new friendship isn't entirely sunny. Chinese and Latin American economies are slowing down. Demand for goods is declining in China, and Latin America is at the end of a commodity boom, straining ties.
But the potential for long-term ties is strong. China's President Xi Jinping has vowed to double trade between his country and Latin America over the next decade to $250 billion.
"China provides a source of financing and export markets without pressures to adhere to practices of transparency, open markets, and Western style democracy," says Evan Ellis, a Latin American expert and professor at the U.S. Army War College.
Venezuela is a good example. As the country's economy flounders -- some have even dubbed it the worst in the world -- China stepped in, lending the South American nation billions in exchange for oil.
Money talks: China's banks lent $22 billion to Latin America last year. That's more than the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank sent to the region combined, according to Margaret Myers, an expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, which is not associated with the bank.
"These countries have really welcomed China with open arms," says Myers.
Meanwhile, U.S. businesses are losing interest in Latin America. Direct investment from U.S. firms to Latin America has declined almost 20% since 2011, according to Commerce Department data.
Despite the recent Cuba announcement, Latin America remains low on America's policy priorities, some say. Its sleepy attention toward Latin America has allowed China to capitalize.
"As western capital retreats from Latin America...there's a vacuum there. Why wouldn't the Chinese want to fill that?" says David Morton, an emerging market expert and chief equity strategist at Rocaton Investment Advisers.
Is the US Losing Latin America?
by ORION JONES ---- Big Think
What's the Latest Development?
To be sure, Latin America has never belonged to the US, but its history of political involvement in the region, essentially choosing leaders from its embassies, is on the wane. As countries have steadily chosen stable and democratic governments, economic engagement has worked to build the region's reputation anew. "China is now Latin America’s second-largest trading partner and rapidly closing the gap with the US. India is showing keen interest in the region’s energy industry, and has signed export agreements in the defense sector. Iran has strengthened its economic and military ties, especially in Venezuela."
What's the Big Idea?
The US has been unwise to reject growing political ambitions from states like Brazil, which offered to broker nuclear arms talks between the US and Iran before President Obama declined the invitation.
"Gone are the days when military muscle and the politics of subversion could secure US influence – in Latin America or anywhere else. A world power today is one that can combine economic vigor and a popular culture with global outreach on the basis of shared interests." The US is still in a better position than any other nation to maintain and strengthen ties with its neighbors to the south.
As the BBC begins a special series on Latin America, Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler gives his view on the region's leftward trend and its changing relationship with the US.There is trouble ahead for Uncle Sam in his own backyard. Big trouble.
It is one of the most important and yet largely untold stories of our world in 2006. George W Bush has lost Latin America.
While the Bush administration has been fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, relations between the United States and the countries of Latin America have become a festering sore - the worst for years.
Virtually anyone paying attention to events in Venezuela and Nicaragua in the north to Peru and Bolivia further south, plus in different ways Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, comes to the same conclusion: there is a wave of profound anti-American feeling stretching from the Texas border to the Antarctic.
And almost everyone believes it will get worse.
President Bush came into office declaring that Latin America was a priority. That's hardly surprising. It's been a priority for every American president since James Monroe in 1823 whose "Monroe Doctrine" told European nations to keep out of Latin American affairs.
In pursuit of American interests, the US has overthrown or undermined around 40 Latin American governments in the 20th Century.
For his part, President Bush even suggested that the United States had no more important ally than... wait for it... Mexico.
None of that survived the attacks of 9/11.
Mr Bush launched his War on Terror and re-discovered the usefulness of allies like Britain.
While Washington's attention turned to al-Qaeda, the Taleban, Iraq and now Iran, in country after country in Latin America voters chose governments of the left, sometimes the implacably "anti-gringo" left, loudly out of sympathy with George Bush's vision of the world, and reflecting a continent with the world's greatest gulf between rich and poor.
[Violeta Chamorro] told me that Washington politicians could always find money for wars in Latin America - but rarely for peace
The next country to fall to a strongly anti-American populist politician could be Peru.
Voters there go to the polls on 9 April to elect a president and Congress.
The presidential frontrunner is Ollanta Humala, a retired army commander who led a failed military uprising in October 2000 and who is now ahead in the opinion polls.
Now, opinion polls in Peru are not especially reliable. They under-represent poor voters in the countryside.
But that is the point. The rural poor form the backbone of Mr Humala's support. If he is ahead even in the flawed opinion polls which tend to under-count his key constituency, Mr Humala is confident he can take the presidency.
And if he does, there will be more ulcers in George Bush's White House.
Shades of red
Like President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and President Evo Morales in Bolivia, Mr Humala talks of the evils of what he calls "the neo-liberal economic model that has failed to benefit our nation".
He dismisses the role of multinational companies that "offer no benefits" to the people of Peru, and he speaks of a new division in the world.
Daniel Ortega, once Enemy Number One, could be back in power
Where once Cuba's Fidel Castro could harangue the US with talk of the colonisers and the colonised, Ollanta Humala attacks globalisation as a plot to undermine Peru's national sovereignty and benefit only the rich on the backs of Latin America's poor.
"Some countries globalise, and others are globalised," is how he puts it. "The Third World belongs in the latter category."
All this may discourage foreign investment, but it is mild compared to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
He compares President Bush to Hitler.
"The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the US president has no limits," Mr Chavez says. "I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W Bush."
If you were to colour a map of anti-Americanism in Latin America, for nearly 50 years Fidel Castro's Cuba has been the deepest red. Three of the most economically developed countries - Brazil, Chile and Argentina - are now in varying shades of left-of-centre pink.
Peru - if Mr Humala wins - would join Venezuela and Bolivia in bright post-box red, with two other countries - Mexico and Nicaragua - possibly about to follow.
Nicaragua is close to my heart. What has happened there for the past 20 years sums up the failures of US policy across Latin America.
As a young reporter I travelled across Nicaragua witnessing the fall of the left-wing Sandinista government led by the revolutionary Daniel Ortega.
Now in this new century things are changing, and [Latin America's] potential is being realised
For years Mr Ortega was Washington's Enemy Number One, the ultimate bogeyman.
President Bush's father, George Bush senior, was a key player in undermining Mr Ortega and the Sandinistas.
Mr Bush senior had been Director of Central Intelligence and Ronald Reagan's vice-president before he became president of the United States in January 1989.
During the Reagan administration money was channelled - illegally Democrats said - to the Nicaraguan "Contra" guerrillas, a motley crew of CIA trained anti-communists, paramilitaries and thugs.
The resulting scandal - known as "Iran-Contra" - almost brought down the Reagan administration. George Bush senior survived the scandal, and as president managed to see his policies finally work when Nicaragua's own people threw out the Sandinistas in a democratic election in 1990.
After the polls closed in the capital, Managua, I stood in a counting station next to a young Sandinista woman in green military fatigues. Shaking with emotion she brushed away a tear as the voting papers piled up for the Washington-supported opposition candidate, Violeta Chamorro.
"Adios, muchachos," the Sandinista girl called out to her defeated comrades, "companeros de mi vida!!!" (Goodbye boys, comrades of my life.)
That was then. This is now. The young Sandinista revolutionary, Daniel Ortega, is back. He may well be re-elected president of Nicaragua.
Can you imagine it? The man who survived CIA plots and Contra death squads, who relinquished power peacefully to Washington's candidate, Violeta Chamorro, sweeping back into the Nicaraguan presidency?
It will be a huge embarrassment for George Bush junior, a symbol of everything that has gone wrong with American foreign policy in the hemisphere. And guess who predicted it would go wrong? Violeta Chamorro herself.
The night before her election victory over Mr Ortega I was invited to dinner at the walled compound of Mrs Chamorro's house in Managua. She told me that Washington politicians could always find money for wars in Latin America - but rarely for peace in Latin America.
She said even a slice of the money used to back the anti-communist Contra guerrillas could build a new Nicaragua - but she predicted that if she won the election Washington would declare victory - and then cut off the money supply. She was right.
And now? Well, most of my travelling in Latin America in the 1990s was to cover bad news: insurgency in Peru, American troops invading Panama, the killings by the Contras in Nicaragua, the repressive regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba, and armed thugs burning the rainforest in Brazil.
Even then, the potential of this wonderful continent was obvious.
Now in this new century things are changing, and the potential is being realised. With the exception of Cuba and Haiti, democracy has flourished, almost everywhere.
Latin American voters have thrown out their governments and - often - given a two-fingered salute to Washington. That is their prerogative.
Economically, some countries - including Peru - have been roaring ahead.
Their cultures are flourishing too. A new generation of novelists is following the path blazed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Carlos Fuentes.
The music? In this special series, we'll be hearing from Novalima from Peru - just one of the talented new bands.
And the cinema? If you haven't seen some of the new hot films from Mexico or Argentina, then you are missing a real treat.
I will be reporting shortly for Newsnight from Argentina on the New Generation cinema which is hotter than a chilli pepper and cooler than a long-neck beer. Plus we'll be covering the run-up to Peru's elections live from Lima, and assessing the huge leftward shift from Argentina to Venezuela.
Oh, yes, and I've also been an extra in a film being made in Buenos Aires. (I don't think the Oscar judges are likely to get too interested. But it was fun.)
I hope, in other words, that Newsnight's Inside Latin American season will capture some of the spice and rhythms of a continent full of life, and hope and promise.