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How our neighbors see us
August 2, 2007 -- Story from Miami Herald

By Marifeli Perez-Stable,

Under the auspices of the Pew Research Center, the Global Attitudes Project conducts surveys in 54 countries on world affairs. Citizens in six Latin American countries -- Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela -- were interviewed in the most recent survey. A partial profile of their views follows.

Gauging attitudes toward the United States is a key concern. Though unfavorable views increased since 2002, I was surprised at the findings.

Except for Argentines, the other Latin American interviewees did not manifest a knee-jerk anti-Americanism. Very or somewhat favorable rankings carried the day in Chile (55 percent), Mexico (56 percent), Peru (61 percent) and Venezuela (56 percent). Brazil (44 percent) and Bolivia (42 percent) didn't trail far behind, clearly making Argentina (16 percent) an outlier.

Opinions of President Bush were another matter altogether. Intensely negative across the board, Argentina (87 percent) leads the pack with the others falling in the 60-80 range. Latin Americans blame the United States for the gap between rich and poor countries, dislike the U.S. idea of democracy -- which may be related to the overwhelming perception that Washington promotes democracy where it serves its interests -- and oppose U.S. efforts against terrorism. A majority of Bolivians and Peruvians, nonetheless, favor these efforts. U.S. popular culture -- music, television and movies -- and U.S. science and technology are heartily given pluses.

Argentines (67 percent), Bolivians (73 percent), Brazilians (72 percent), Chileans (61 percent), Mexicans (75 percent), Peruvians (75 percent) and Venezuelans (64 percent) see a great deal or fair amount of U.S. influence in their countries. Less than half in Chile, Peru and Venezuela consider this influence a bad thing. Argentina (80 percent) again stands as an outlier; the rest registered in the low 60s. Latin Americans rank global warming as a most serious problem and identify the United States as the country most responsible.

Attitudes toward other countries were also solicited. Somewhat or very unfavorable views of Russia, for example, prevailed in Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. While more positive than negative, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela still ranked Russia below 50 percent.

Booming commodity exports -- a significant factor in Latin America's recent economic growth -- may explain why China does better than either the United States or Russia in the survey. Mexican opinions -- which China dislodged from second place among U.S. trading partners -- were split down the middle, and Chile's registered the most favorable ratio. Latin Americans give Iran the poorest marks of all, especially regarding its nuclear ambitions, which 79-91 percent oppose.

Venezuelan attitudes and other Latin American views of President Hugo Chávez are particularly noteworthy. Only 40 percent of Venezuelans view the United States negatively. Sixty percent have a somewhat or very unfavorable opinion of Iran and 48 percent do of Russia; Chávez has courted both countries. Venezuelans are least likely to blame the United States for the gap between rich and poor countries and are most enthusiastic about U.S. popular culture. Only 47 percent think U.S. influence is a bad thing.

While Chávez applauds Iran's nuclear ambitions, 81 percent of his compatriots deplore them. Solid majorities in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru express little or no confidence in Chávez; solid minorities in Argentina (43 percent) and Venezuela (45 percent) express the same mistrust.

The Global Attitudes Project also asks participants about their lives and their expectations. Perhaps the most interesting addresses where in the ''ladder of life'' they see themselves. Argentines (59 percent) Brazilians (63 percent), Mexicans (76 percent) and Venezuelans (60 percent) rank themselves ''high.'' Pluralities in Bolivia and Peru self-describe in the middle. Chileans split equally: 46 percent high and 46 percent medium. More than 50 percent of all respondents are optimistic about their future; Brazilians (71 percent) and Peruvians (65 percent) are enthusiastically so.

At first glance, the answers to how satisfied or dissatisfied interviewees were with the way things were going in their countries baffled me. In all, solid majorities responded dissatisfied; in Brazil and Peru, around 80 percent did so.

How could this be if so many saw themselves at a good place in life? Were they expressing dissatisfaction with their governments? If so, it's a general malaise. Most respondents in the 54 countries were unhappy with the way things were, including 71 percent in the United States.

Marifeli Pérez-Stable is vice president for democratic governance at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C., and a professor at Florida International University.