It is the 11th hour for US-Latin American relations. The mineral wealth in such countries as Colombia is of untold magnitude and as yet unexploited. We will need access to it in the future, more than ever. Let us aid them with the exploitation and if possible become partners in this development.
But we are preoccupied with energy, inflation, the status of our relations with the Soviet Union, and many other pressing problems in all parts of the world. Our neighbors to the south have felt, and still feel, that we are not concerned with their welfare but only in what we can sell them and what benefits we can derive from dealing with them.
Our business is conducted with them as we conduct it here in the U.S.
* Writing to them in English, not answering their letters except with either short, curt notes or some printed form.
* Sending agents printed agreements along USA lines with 30 days' notice of cancellation instead of doing as the Europeans and the Japanese do, sending a typewritten agreement for longer periods in Spanish (or Portuguese for Brazil).
* Expecting immediate results instead of building for the future on a solid basis. This is due to the US policy of working with salesmen who have to bring iin results todaym not tomorrow.
* Spending only a few days in a sales territory instead of thoroughly investigating and becoming acquainted with the politics, finance, etc., of the place. Perhaps the Latin American merchants do not remark on the traveler's lack of interest, but they speak of it openly behind his back, as they have done to me so often during many years of dealing with them. Very often the US salesman does not speak Spanish. It must be realized that the European or Japanese traveler always speaks the languages.
Besides all of the foregoing, we have created an image in Latin America which is not flattering. For instance, I remember in the Canal Zone the Americans regarded the Panamanians as a sort of "second class" people. For many years the US citizen who was sent to Latin America to open a branch for his firm seldom mixed socially with the people of the country he was assigned to.
Another memory the people of Latin America have is that of our GIs and hundreds of other entrepreneurs starting operations as exporters after the last war. The world was denuded of merchandise, and they so often shipped inferior goods, made a quick buck at any cost, and then went out of business. I can honestly speak of this because I witnessed it and lived through it.
On the political scene also we leave memories of our backing dictators such at Batista, Somoza, Trujillo, and others.
We must make a new image in Latin America and enter the next decades on a reformed basis -- working politically, socially, and commercially. What are some of the steps we can take?
We should start with education right from the first grade of school on up, teaching facts of history, geography of the whole area, and making Spanish an obligatory course. Courses on business in Latin America should be taught in our colleges and universities, preferably by Latin American professors. There should be seminars for business groups on the same subject.
We should exchange more students and business personnel in Latin America. It is true that the Department of Commerce issues a wealth of statistics which are useful to experienced people, but to those not initiated in foreign trade it is like telling a cook what materials to use and now showing him how to use them.
I also think that we must use the cooperation and services of Latin American women's groups in our efforts to have a mutual cooperation between both hemispheres. I have found these groups imbued with a desire to bring prosperity and learning to their countries.
Let us remember that 20 years ago we did not face the competition from such countries as Brazil, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan -- besides Europe and Japan. Importers in Latin America can secure anything they need from countries other than the USA. I have seen Japanese catalogs, all of them in two or three languages. Their travelers observe all the niceties required. Their head offices operate in a manner appropriate to the territory. It is much the same for West Germany and other European countries.
The US must get on with the job.