Former Florida Governor Promotes Entrepreneurship and Ethanol

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush during a recent trip to the South American region, during which he discussed the growing biofuels business, specifically focusing on ethanol. (Photo: Evaristo Sa / AFP-Getty Images)

Speaking at the Business Future of the Americas conference in Santiago on Monday, June 18, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addressed many problems confronting Latin America and asserted that increased entrepreneurship and a deeper understanding of democracy were the solutions. Bush also promoted the development of biofuels throughout the region.

Katheen Barclay, the co-chair of the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America (AACCLA), introduced Bush as "one of the most thoughtful and productive politicians that the U.S. has recently produced."

In a remark that drew widespread applause, Barclay also said that, "despite having a brother and father who were both presidents, Jeb Bush may emerge as the most successful political leader from that family."

Gov. Bush gracefully responded by saying that his mother Barbara Bush was actually the family's most successful politician.

Entrepreneurial Capitalism

After brief introductory remarks, which Bush made in fluent Spanish, the former governor said that "unleashing entrepreneurialism" was a primary theme in the region.

"Globalization has sped up the world to warp speed," he said, "and the countries of Latin America are falling behind Asia."

Bush also posited that the rise of populism in the region was occurring because of a "perception that capitalism has not brought the promised benefits and that progress can only be achieved by government intervention."

According the former governor, the first step for the region was to create a "field of dreams."

"Like the construction of the baseball field in the middle of a corn fiend, the field of dreams requires faith," he said, "faith that a truly market driven economy will create more opportunities than any government program that can be created."

Bush urged Latin American business and political officials in attendance at the conference to push for increased transparency, more flexible labor laws, and sound fiscal policy in order to make the region's economies more competitive.

"Lifelong employment is no longer a policy that can be adhered to anywhere," he said. "Governments need to focus on education and training … the most important thing that we can all do is to make education the highest priority for the economy."

Bush praised Chile as one notable exception in the region and said that even the United States envied Chile's sound fiscal policies.

Increased Democracy

Once again addressing the rise of what he called "authoritarian populism" in the region, Bush urged Latin American leaders to advance a deeper understanding of democracy.

"For too long, democracy has been defined as having a fair election," he said. "For those of us who believe in freedom and liberty, it's become crystal clear that elections and economic reforms are not sufficient unless they are backed up by good government and respect for private property and the rule of law."

Bush declared that the United States had a role in increasing democracy throughout the region by expanding financial support, increasing work with multilateral organizations, and in reviewing agricultural policies that hurt the developing world.

"The U.S. can continue to fight for free trade agreements," he said. "Panama, Peru, and Colombia are the critical next step, and the defeat of this in Congress would be an unbelievable disaster to some of our strongest allies in the region."

Bush also posited that the full integration of the economies from "Alaska to the Patagonia" should be the goal to create a "flourishing hemisphere."

Ethanol as a Unifying Force

Bush came to Santiago as a co-chair of the newly formed Inter-American Ethanol Commission (IEC), a venture created last December by Florida, Brazil and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The former governor said that the growing biofuel market could also unite the region, stating that the growing interest in energy source resulted from basic needs for economic and national security. He pointed out that if Mexico and Canada were taken out of the equation, most hydrocarbons imported to the United States came from unstable or hostile countries.

According to Bush, biofuels production is a "breakthrough opportunity" for Latin America. "We simply don't have enough corn in the U.S.," he explained.

Ethanol is currently associated mainly with Brazil in Latin America, but countries far and wide are looking to jump on the biofuel bandwagon to solve the region's energy problems.

While Venezuela is one of the largest petroleum producers in the world, the rest of South America is not as fortunate, and energy is not evenly distributed on the continent. Many sector analysts, however, think that ethanol, or the closely-related biodiesel, could bridge the gap between net energy exporters and importers.

Biofuels can be made from many diverse crops including corn, sugar cane, sugar beats, cassava, and palm oil.

Specific South American countries, meanwhile, hope that biofuel production will provide rural jobs and stem the flow of unskilled workers into the region's already overcrowded cities.

Bush said that his ethanol organization was creating research grants throughout Florida to spur the development of biofuels, and also that several universities in both Florida and Brazil were creating joint programs.

According to the IEC's Web site, the organization's main objectives include "promoting increased ethanol-blended fuel use throughout the region, promoting the integration of technical and scientific research efforts across the hemisphere related to the production and distribution of ethanol, and determining investment needs in both agriculture and infrastructure to enable a hemispheric wide market for ethanol blended fuel."

The commission is also organizing a new ethanol information campaign to serve as a "clearinghouse for up-to-date, accurate, and objective information on ethanol," according to the aforementioned site. The IEC views a lack of information, as well as misinformation, as the principal obstacle hindering the expansion of the ethanol market.

The Business Future of the Americas conference was organized by the Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) and drew attendees from over 20 countries throughout the region.

Bush's recent trip to Chile was his third time in the country. He first visited as a young banker in the late 1970's and later returned to help advance the wide-ranging and hugely successful free trade agreement that was signed between Chile and the United States in 2003.

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