Reagan goodwill trip puts Latin America on his map
Rio de Janeiro
President Reagan is about to get his first in-depth look at Latin America.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
His trip this week to Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Honduras - including meetings with six hemisphere presidents - ''puts Latin America squarely on Mr. Reagan's map,'' in the words of Rio de Janeiro's Jornal do Brasil.
The President's only other firsthand look at the region came with brief forays into Mexico's border area and a couple of stops in the Caribbean.
''This is a goodwill mission intended to promote friendly ties throughout the hemisphere,'' says a United States spokesman.
Such officials suggest that Mr. Reagan will steer clear of any cold war rhetoric during his Latin American travels - although he may mention perceived threats from Cuba and Nicaragua as he visits Central America and Colombia.
If he does avoid stress on a communist threat, that will contrast sharply with the hard-line administration rhetoric that characterized Alexander Haig's term as secretary of state with his emphasis, for instance, on ''drawing the line'' in El Salvador. The difference in tone appears to be orchestrated by the President's new secretary of state.
''George Shultz is a different sort of man,'' says the spokesman, ''and his stamp on foreign affairs is having an impact with a stress on economic and political interdependence of the hemisphere.''
Brazilians, in particular, are awaiting President Reagan's visit to Brazil Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 with subdued expectation. Pleased that the United States President is coming here, Brazilians nevertheless see little likelihood that the visit will produce any spectacular or concrete results.
Rather, they expect the visit to indicate US support for Brazil's scheduled return to full democracy, which moved forward Nov. 15 with the first nationwide elections in 20 years. Brazilians also view Reagan's trip as a pat on the back for Brazil's growing economic and political role in Latin America and the world.
The Brazilian government hopes the trip will ''help fortify ties'' between Brazil and the US and ''let the US know more about us,'' according to the Foreign Ministry here.
''This is unknown territory for Mr. Reagan'' says a Brazilian Foreign Ministry spokesman. ''The visit should help change that situation.''
But talks between US and Brazilian leaders could venture into some sensitive areas. There are some knotty problems between the two countries, centered largely in the area of trade. Brazil needs to export more, in part to reduce its huge foreign debt. But it hints that US protectionist measures could threaten the entry of some Brazilian products into the US.
At the same time Brazil, seeing itself as a developing nation, has imposed many trade barriers of its own - especially in recent months as it has moved to reduce the debt crunch, much of it owed to US private banks.
The foreign debt is now pushing $85 billion, according to figures just released by Brazil's central bank. The bank Nov. 27 admitted that reserves, which were $7.5 billion in January, had fallen to less than $3 billion last week.
The debt, together with Brazil's need to export more and import less, are expected to be among the key issues in Mr. Reagan's talks with Brazilian President Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figuerido, government finance officials, and the Brazilian private sector.
Planning Minister Antonio Delphim Neto will tell Mr. Reagan that Brazil ''simply does not have any way to solve our indebtedness, our payments for services, or our balance-of-payments problems except by restricting imports and pushing exports.''
That, of course, has led to government subsidies for many Brazilian products. The subsidies infuriate US producers, who find they cannot compete price-wise with Brazilian shoes, textiles, orange juice, and other products. President Reagan will bring up this point, but he is likely to tread lightly on it. After all, much of Brazil's foreign debt is with US banks, and he does not want to say anything that might impinge on debt repayment.
In the Brazilian view, President Reagan's trip indicates that the US understands Brazil's needs and the way that Brazil is trying to handle its problems.
Brazilians also believe that the US banks understand this. Already this month six major US banks have given Brazil $600 million in emergency aid and President Reagan is likely to announce a $1 billion US government loan during his visit. These advances are stopgap measures to tide Brazil over until it can obtain credits from the International Monetary Fund of up to $6 billion by late this year or early next year.
Mr. Reagan's visit ''makes a little more palatable our need to call in the International Monetary Fund,'' an Economy Ministry official says.