Elite Perceptions of the US

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The US plays a positive role but has sometimes neglected the political dimension of its interventions


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  • People and culture
  • Inconsistent foreign policy


In my opinion the US is the most powerful and influential nation in the world, economically, politically and culturally. This perception, however, has evolved over time. It is far different from the perception I had in my youth, in the sixties and early seventies, when we all considered the United States the ideal country where everyone wanted to live. We now live in a much more global and multipolar world, where the United States competes with other countries to lead the world.

As an economist, my perceptions are particularly influenced by economic events. My lectures at the university where I teach usually begin by providing a picture of the global economy in which I highlight the growing importance of emerging economies in both demographic and economic terms, but I also note the critical role of the US economy in currency markets, international trade and innovation. The IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, recently pointed out: ‘What happens elsewhere in the world—be it the success of recovery in Europe or the continued smooth functioning of supply chains in Asia—matters increasingly for the United States. But the converse is also true: What happens here [in US] matters increasingly for the global economy.’ (IMF Survey Magazine, September 2013).

My views are also influenced by the political events and the economic initiatives of the United States government, which the Peruvian media covers with special attention. The opinions of the US president and secretary of state are very important to me. I follow closely international reports, such as the Global Economic Outlook, a variety of World Bank reports, papers by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and international press such as El Pais and The Economist.

I travel to the US at least once every two years to visit family and friends, and by trips help shape my perceptions. Conversations with US citizens, company visits and interactions with academia provide an effective way to refine and develop my views.

While US influence in Peru has declined, it still remains crucial

My perceptions of the US are also influenced by the opinions of business leaders. As I see it, the success of American companies in the field of science and technology is a clear demonstration of how competitive and innovative enterprises in the United States are. The success of companies such as Apple, for example, is a source of inspiration to many young Peruvian professionals and entrepreneurs. Equally important are the achievements of American artists and scientists. However, despite my positive view of the United States in this area I do not deny the acute economic and social problems facing the country.

While US influence in Peru has declined, it still remains crucial. The US share of Peruvian exports and imports is around 18 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. US monetary policy also has a direct impact on the Peruvian economy through its influence on interest rates and the exchange rate, and the policies of the Federal Reserve are closely monitored by Peruvian media. In fact, along with economic developments in China, this is one of the most prominent themes in Peruvian economic press.

A topic of great concern to me is how the US manages its economic, political and military power. This is a concern I share with a great portion of my compatriots in Peru and Latin America. Sometimes, the US has used its power to influence the domestic affairs of foreign countries. This practice has been erroneous and sometimes counterproductive. Consequently, I believe that as the key power in the world the US is respected, and to a certain extent also feared, but it is not always well liked. This can make it harder for the US to reach a common understanding with international partners, something which is regrettable given its rich culture and the social values of its citizens.

Finally, the United States plays a positive role in international affairs but it has sometimes neglected the political dimension of its interventions. It is not enough for the US to simply act correctly, it is essential for it to be able to persuade all relevant stakeholders about the ethical and respectful basis of its foreign policy. Many of us in Latin America are pleased about the changes in US policy towards Cuba, for example. This is a positive development. We were in fact surprised by how long it has taken the US to realize that its policy towards the government of Cuba was counterproductive, as it unintentionally supported the Castro regime. I hope these positive developments continue, for the benefit of Latin American countries. It would certainly contribute to a more healthy and respectful view of the United States in my region.