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Latin America – a changing political environment, and statesmanship

In an earlier post I wrote of America’s alliances burning while it fiddles in Iraq. In yet another, I observed that China is busy building alliances around the globe, including in the US’s own backyard as it were, Latin America.

Latin America, alas, has always been fertile ground for ferment, and not always in its best interests. No less than Simon Bolivar, the vaunted and still revered liberator of several South American countries wrote the following words as he neared his end:

“I was in command for twenty years, and during that time came to only a few definite conclusions: (1) I consider that, for us, [Latin] America is ungovernable; (2) whoever works for a revolution is plowing the sea; (3) the most sensible action to take in [Latin] America is to emigrate;(4) this country [Great Columbia, later to be divided into Columbia, Venezuela, and Equador] will ineluctably fall into the hands of a mob gone wild, later again to fall under the domination of obscure small tyrants of every color and race; (5) though decimated by every kind of crime and exhausted by our cruel excesses, we shall still not be tempting to Europeans for a reconquest;(6) if any part of the world were to return to a primeval chaos, such would be the last avatar of [Latin] America.” (Quoted in Carlos Rangel’s “The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship With the United States”

Since then, Latin America has indeed had a stormy history, trading domination by Spain for the corruption and repression of its own homegrown tyrants.

In recent times, post WWII, it became a battleground for political conquest between the USSR and the USA. Aside from the strategic threat to America, the USA, under the Monroe Doctrine, has always asserted its right to thwart an attempt by a non-Western hemisphere power to intrude on what it considers its patch.

During the Cold War America fought tenaciously and employed any method and anyone to that end, and with the exception of a close brush with Cuba, pretty well succeeded. There were a few temporary glitches, as in the case of Chile and Allende but that was put to bed fairly quickly by Pinochet and, of course, Nicaragua, once again on the boil.

Now, however, Latin America seems to have drifted off the US geopolitical radar, which does not seem to be picking up some alarming signals emanating from that region. Argentina with Kirchner has moved to the left, and thumbed his nose at Argentina’s international creditors by restructuring their huge debt and agreeing to repay only $0.35 on the dollar. Moving a tad north, sleepy Uruguay, in the doldrums for many a year, has made headlines by electing a leftist government and inviting the heretofore pariah Castro to the presidential inauguration; Bolivia, with a leftist populist administration in the making has begun a controversial land reform and is saying nasty things about the United States and making very complimentary remarks about Cuba and Venezuela.

Then, a really big blip missing on the US screen – Brasil. For the first time I can recall, since the short lived government of Jango Goulart in the 1960s, Brasilian voters brought to power a leftist administration under the guiding hand of the charismatic, life-long labour agitator, “Lula”, now President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Passing over the ever chaotic countries of Peru, and Ecuador and drug and terrorist nest Colombia, we arrive in Venezuela, home to Hugo Chavez the president, and the fifth largest producer of oil in the world which accounts for 13% of the US oil supply. Chavez, self appointed Bolivarian liberator of Latin America, has made a point of cultivating ties with Iran, Libya, China, India and France none of which are exactly on the warmest of terms with the US. In addition to his anti-American tirades, he is busy forging a decidedly left wing socialist alliance amongst the aforementioned Latin American nations, preferably under his tutelage and leadership. Not only could Chavez create serious problems for the US economy by reducing oil supplies, he could reignite a war over long simmering differences with Colombia, a key US ally in the war on drugs.

Suddenly, Cuba, lonely and pining for a sugar daddy since the USSR went broke now finds itself welcome in some significant neighboring company.

What is the US doing amidst this sea change? Well, just recently, this week, Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defence, toured Latin America while his fellow apostle, Rice, did Asia. Presumably Rumsfeld was tipped for the task of mending fences with the Latinos because of his proved tact and diplomacy in dealing with US European allies.

In his recent peregrinations, he has concentrated on the following issues:

While in Argentina, he chastised Venezuela for wanting to buy 100,000 AK-47s from Russia. He said, “I cannot understand why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s” I guess US Intelligence, an oxymoron if ever there were one, has not been able to figure that out any better than Iraq. It would not be too far fetched to surmise Chavez would like to arm a loyal militia considering the attempts that have been made to do away with him both from within and without. He has the great mass of the poor and downtrodden in his country behind him, and with guns in their hands they could wield quite a bit influence and support for him. In addition to internal opposition, he has expressed fears of a US move to overthrow him. I think that must be in the cards considering the US dependence on Venezuela’s oil, but I would rule out an outright invasion. Where would the US come up with the troops? They need all the boots they can muster in Iraq.

Continuing Rumsfeld’s contribution to making the Latins love America, he also visited Brasil where he raised the same issue of Venezuela with Brazil’s vice president and defence minister, Jose Alencar, who declined to offer similar criticism of Chavez. Alencar would only say that Brasil respects the right of self-determination of other countries, an alien concept to Rumsfeld, Rice and the Bush regime.

When one contrasts the headlines generated by Rumsfeld in his visits to Brasil and Argentina with those publicised during the visit by the Chinese President to the same countries, the difference is striking. Following are the lead stories on President Hu Jintao’s visits to Argentina and Brasil

“Hu said in a written speech upon arrival at the airport that he will discuss major international and regional issues with them and “learn from the experiences of Chile’s development and success.”

“China will invest nearly $20bn (£11bn) in Argentina over the next 10 years. The announcement of the trade and investment deals came on the first day of a state visit to Argentina by China’s President Hu Jintao.”

“During the visit, Brazil met Chinese wishes to recognise it as a market economy. In return, Brazil was granted greater access to China’s market for chicken and beef products. The beef deal alone is expected to be worth $600m (£324m) a year for Brazil, ministers said. It also gained a commitment from China to order at least 10 aeroplanes from Brazilian maker Embraer, reported the AFP news agency. To facilitate trade, the Chinese are offering between $5bn (£3bn) and $7bn (£4bn) worth of investment to improve Brazil’s roads, railways and ports.“

No threats, no warnings, no hectoring and lecturing about democracy; no fear mongering about “terism”; no attempts to enlist them in a war against Iraq, Venezuela, Iran or North Korea. Instead, China pursues a low key policy built on enterprise and investment in other countries. China, unlike the US, is not attempting to involve itself in the quagmire of Latin American politics; China has heeded Bolivar’s admonitions and learned from America’s failures in that regard.

Harking back to my post on Weiqi and strategic thinking, and looking at the global geopolitical game being played out, the US is losing territory, influence and respect apace. Even to keep its traditional European allies in line, the US has to rely on threats of economic and technological sanctions (reference the recent clash over the arms embargo on China). Regions once considered to be solid allies of the United States are now being courted successfully by the Chinese. Southeast Asia, and Latin America are the most obvious examples of this policy; it is worth noting that with the exception of the United States, and its satrapies of Taiwan and Japan, China has no significant enemies. The same cannot be said for the United States.

However, the US seems impervious to changes taking place in the world, following instead a policy based on a rigid and doctrinaire ideology, one that can only lead to its undoing.

Categories:Uncategorized

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