All Around the Neighborhood

A quick look at our amigos from Toronto to Tierra del Fuego

•Civil Strife Index *

Why? Because any terrorist attack on U.S. soil will send the world's economy tumbling again.

•Life Expectancy77 years

•Reefer Quality Index*****

•Literacy Rate 97%

•Foreign Debt Index

Officially the United States is in the clear when it comes to formal external debt, but huge trade deficits in some areas (China, Japan) and skyrocketing budget deficits at home (the likes of which the World Bank and IMF would never tolerate in client countries) are major causes for concern.

•Trade Power Index *******

•Poverty Rate 13%

•Corruption Index *1/2

The trains run on time (usually), public officials on the take wind up in jail (sometimes), and you don't have to slip the guy at the post office a $20 bill to get your package before next month.

Venezuela

Embattled president Hugo Chavez has called the FTAA "a perverse mechanism that would be a death order for the future of the region." Chavez was the only signatory to the original FTAA draft agreement who put an asterisk next to his name. His opposition to the FTAA is conditional (Chavez believes South American nations should form trade blocs to wield greater negotiating power at FTAA talks), but important given Venezuela's status as a founding member of OPEC -- whose edicts could be trumped by FTAA rules -- and the fourth-leading supplier of oil to the U.S. He knows the U.S. needs his oil as much as his country needs our trade. The U.S. is Venezuela's leading trade partner, and in a show of the left-leaning president's tendency to act the gadfly, Venezuela has become Cuba's leading trade partner under Chavez's rule. The resource-rich country (fifth-largest oil exporter in the world) does about half its petroleum business outside the Western Hemisphere but needs more private investment in the telecommunications and power-generation sectors to weather the ebb and flow of the oil market. If Chavez survives his ongoing struggle with the Venezuelan upper classes, and continues to believe that the FTAA is too biased toward U.S. corporations, this country could be a powerful opponent to the FTAA.

•Civil Strife Index ***

Despite the unrest and talk of guns and so on, there's something about Venezuelans that keeps them from seriously duking it out -- for now, at least.

•Life Expectancy 73%

•Reefer Quality Index***

•Literacy Rate 92%

•Foreign Debt Index $89 billion

Is Chavez serious about tackling this debt? Some observers see signs that he is, but all signs from Caracas are subject to change at any moment.

•Trade Power Index **

•Poverty Rate49%

•Corruption Index ****1/2

Hugo Chavez may have been elected to the Venezuelan presidency (after two failed coup attempts) but he's had to resort to strong-arm tactics to stay there. The kind of stranglehold on government that Chavez needs to remain in office isn't exactly conducive to transparent governing, nor is his increasing reliance on mobs of angry, poor Venezuelans.

Sources: Bank for International Settlement; International Monetary Fund; Latin American Network Information Center/University of Texas, Austin; Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development; Transparency International; United Nations Development Program; United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America; World Bank

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