"I don't care about his sexual affairs, but his lies have created political problems, and the politics affected the economy, and now we are all paying the price."
By John Ward Anderson
MEXICO CITY The day after independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr delivered his report on the Monica Lewinsky affair to Congress, the stock market in Brazil fell 15.8 percent, the market in Argentina nose-dived more than 13 percent, and stocks in Mexico plummeted almost 10 percent.
It was a perfect illustration of the axiom: When the United States catches a cold, Latin America sneezes.
And it helps explain why people here and across Central and South America are concerned that their fortunes, individually and collectively, are tied to the fortunes of President Clinton. A chart in El Universal newspaper here showing stock losses after the delivery of Starr's report called the market slaughter "The Clinton Effect."
"I don't care about his sexual affairs, but his lies have created political problems, and the politics affected the economy, and now we are all paying the price," said Eduardo Hernandez, 29, a Mexico City public relations executive.
Beyond the economic fallout, Mexicans are concerned about the political implications of a weakened Clinton presidency. In his first 5½ years in office, Clinton won passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), cobbled together a $50 billion bailout to rescue Mexico's economy and supported Mexico when critics in Congress tried to decertify it as a reliable ally in the war on drugs. Decertification would carry stiff economic and trade penalties.
"He has staked a huge amount of capital on Mexico, including NAFTA and the '95 [bailout] package, so the more serious Mexicans are very concerned about what happens when there's no leadership there," said Luis Rubio, head of the Center for Democratic Studies, a Mexico City think tank. Absent a defender like Clinton, he said, "The potential for Mexico to be a scapegoat for things in the United States is infinite from drugs to NAFTA to trade to immigration."
With so many unresolved issues on the hemisphere's agenda, and with the region's economy threatened by the global financial instability, many Latin Americans said they are incensed that the United States is investing so much time, energy and money in a matter they consider insignificant.
A Mexican official said it was "ridiculous" that the world's one remaining superpower "is engaging in this level of scrutiny on a personal matter which has to do with a man, his wife and a lover," rather than exerting leadership to combat the spreading economic contagion.
"In as much as Clinton's political problems at home are impeding his leadership on this issue, it does not bode well," the official said, citing in particular the Clinton administration's failure to get Congress to approve new funding for the International Monetary Fund to make emergency loans to economically distressed countries.
"The time and political capital spent defending his presidency from the exposures of his sexual weaknesses have prevented him from being the creative foreign policy president he could have been," columnist Richard Seid wrote in the Mexico City Times. "Bill didn't keep his fly zipped and we're all paying for his flaw."
Correspondents Anthony Faiola in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Molly Moore in Mexico City contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company