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What Choices Will Latin America Make?

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A recent article in The Hoover Digest, "Do Latin Americans Want Development?" by William Ratliff, a Hoover Institution research fellow, described the crossroads where Latin America finds itself. It says much about the state of the nations south of the border and something about the Chinese and Indian economic "miracles."

Ratliff describes the Buenos Aires Summit of the Americas in late 2005 which was muddied by Hugo Chavez' attacks on George Bush, the candidacy of President Evo Morales and news in the world of futbol/soccer. The next big conference on the future of Latin American economies was the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) conference in October on the growth of trade relationships between A.L. (America Latina) and the Asian nations. The major issue there was identifying why living standards for so many have improved during the past decades in Asia and "so few" in A.L.

The first question is whether the Latin American peoples really want development and whether they can live with the sacrifices that might be necessary to earn it. Latinos are famous for flowery talk (and political, legalese writing in Spanish is amazingly 18th or 19th century) and grand meetings but, like many of us, short on follow-through. The Hoover Institute conference asked why Asians have been so much more successful over the past forty years. No one showed any evidence that Latinos are less intelligent. But there is evidence that Asians have shown themselves "…more serious, pragmatic, farsighted, and committed."

Whereas Asia was growing steadily for decades, Argentina passed through military dictatorships, incompetent civilian governments, a “dirty war,” the biggest debt default in world history, and the sudden impoverishment of millions. Recent economic growth is on a very shaky foundation of incomplete — and sometimes reversed — reforms.

Today Brazil, at the heart of Latin America, is again in crisis. President Lula da Silva’s term took a very negative turn with one of the biggest corruption scandals of the decade. But as Latin American expert Alvaro Vargas Llosa points out, corruption is the symptom in this crisis, not the cause. The cause is a labyrinthine political system, with deep historical roots, that invites corruption and serves the powerful cliques, not the people.

A.L. remains rife with scandals, tensions and corruption. Hugo Chavez is being… Hugo Chavez. Even Costa Rica, which has been so admired for its democracy, "… is rife with scandal." Latin America accepts the fact of corruption and influence so surprisingly easily. Do they really want change? The 2004 Latinobarametero poll showed that a small majority want democracy, a majority wish for better homes, food, education, and opportunities. It also showed that many are so frustrated with their national systems that non-democratic regimes which can offer the goods might be welcomed.

The New York Times article of 21 August by Simon Romero describes the strengthening of Venezuelan relationships in the Middle East. Venezuela has been related to the OPEC countries since the 1980s but this new turn has made Iran "… Venezuela’s closest ally outside Latin America'." Chavez recently proclaimed, “We stand by Iran at every moment, in any situation,” Mr. Chávez said in Tehran, where he received the golden High Medallion of the Islamic Republic from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Venezuela, Syria, and Cuba were the only countries to oppose referring Iran to the United Nations Security Council at a meeting in February of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Chavez is also courting Syria, China, Malaysia, and Angola. He is also changing the nature of Venezuelan foreign policy to "… distance itself from the United States by reaching out to countries on the margins of American influence, including Belarus, Zimbabwe and Cuba." Chavez has also jumped onto the traditional anti-semitic bandwagon. In Qatar he said on Al Jazeera that "… Israeli military actions in Lebanon" were “being carried out in the style of Hitler, in a fascist fashion.”

Mexico appears to accept Felipè Calderòn for President in the footsteps of globally-conscious Vicente Fox. Harvard educated and moderate, he promises a government of manos limpia — clean hands. The opposition mirrors much of the feeling of Latin America — progress for the poor immediately with little regard for the nature of the governmental system. If Calderòn has six years of policies that try to push Mexico toward more education, modernization and globalization, the future of Mexico may lean toward democratic development.

The question for the industrialized nations, the G8, the powerful nations, is whether Latin America, like China and India, is another sleeping giant waiting for the opportunity to grow a billion person economy and whether the giant will be friendly or not. Asia and India have made themselves known. In spite of the problems of developing societies, they are striding into the future. A.L. now has some serious questions to face and choices to make.

The U.S. has serious issues to face in its relationship with the neighbors who share this hemisphere. It cannot paint a black and white picture of Central America and South America because they are not black and white nor shades of grey. Colors and tempers explode here. This is another world and the U.S. must accept that fact and begin to deal with its diplomatic, economic, and social relations in a way that shows the hemisphere that it is not a swaggering giant to be toppled but a potential friend and ally of those countries that make the transition to democracy.

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  • RedTard

    RJ, soon that version of history will be replaced with the one that claims Mugabe is a result of bad US policy and western meddling. In the meantime bringing up those sort of facts earn you the ‘racist’ monikor in many people’s eyes. I remembers South Africa didn’t do too bad either before they started seizing white farms.

  • RedTard: Zimbabwe is an example. They were a colony of the UK for a long time, and eventually they demanded independence. They got it. But a lot of Brits remained there, and they owned large chunks of property, and used this property to farm. Their farms were successful, and Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of Southern Africa.

    Then this communist Robert Mugabe clown took dictatorial power and forced the whites from their farmland. And the “indigenous people” had no idea how to make this land productive, so now Zimbabwe is facing famine, and has to import food.

    Still, Mugabe enjoys strong support from many Africans, as well as Huga Chavez Frias, the dictator of Venezuela.

    Anti-American commies of a feather, flock together…

  • RedTard

    See, even the liberals realize how great the US is. Whenever something goes wrong anywhere in the world it’s always the US’s fault indicating that we have massive overwhelming influence and power. Of course, when something goes right it’s the hard work and dedication of the indigenous people. That’s probably exactly the opposite of how a Republican would look at it.

    Liberal doctrine states that Africa and Latin America are poor helpless victims who are suffering the legacy of colonialism and outside influence. Gee, wasn’t the US itself a colony and didn’t France, Britain, et al interfere in our affairs? How come we’re not a third world shithole?

  • Clavos


    The opening words of the Marines Hymn are “From the Halls of Montezuma…”

    US has interfered in LatAm affairs repeatedly–at one time, we ran Guatemala and Costa Rica as plantations for United Fruit Co.

    Remember the Maine and Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill?

    Just a few examples…

  • “The U.S. has interfered with the governments of Latin America quite successfully for the past 183 years and still attempts to do so.”
    You’re kidding! We don’t even know where the fuck Latin America is much less be fucking with their governments.
    What are ya, a freakin’ Guevarista? Che Slater?

  • You are partially right, Les. US interference in Latin America has been absurd, violent, manipulative and aggressive. The subversion of the Allende government of Chile allowing the dictator, Pinochet, to take control is one example. However, brutal dictatorships have also arrived on their own. We have manipulated economics in countries but the “economic distortions detrimental to the countries that the U.S. considers its ‘back yard'” are not limited to US involvement. Economic distance between the rich (few) and the poor (many) is a long tradition in the region.

    Michael. Some of us have noticed corruption in US politics. Remember the venerable Huey Long? Tammany Hall? Mayor Richard Daly in Chicago? I worked in Chicago in ’67 in a law firm — it prepared me for the traditions of Mexican life.

    However, the distinction is that in the US we have an expectation of honesty. In A.L. the expectation is for “business as usual”. That is part of Mr. Ratliff’s article. Latin Americans have hard decisions to make about the nature of their society.

    I will give you a break on anti-semitism. Obviously realpolitik is not always based on racial hatreds. Israel can and does do things that are or could be unacceptable.

    However, Chavez (do follow the Times link) had a noted anti-semite in his administration. He is supporting the Iranian president who denies the German massacre of millions took place. In the midst of the terrorist threat some of the 21st c. “civilized” world has returned to the eternal anti-semitic hate-mongering. Lebanon, sadly, had its’ choices to make — to support a violent terrorist group or to “just say no”. Was Israel right? I am digesting an Open Democracy article on US/Israeli military planning. The jury is still out. Is demogogic posturing with anti-semitic slogans therefore acceptable?

  • I get the sense that Latinos are more circumspect in regards to their government, with much less trust in it than Americans have in theirs. So they see corruption but Americans don’t. Hmm. Corruption is rampant in US politics, but few notice, and we have the gall to tell LA what to do.

    And another thing:
    “Chavez has also jumped onto the traditional anti-semitic bandwagon. In Qatar he said on Al Jazeera that “… Israeli military actions in Lebanon” were “being carried out in the style of Hitler, in a fascist fashion.”
    THINK, criticising Israeli policy or behavior is automatically anti-semitic? Gimme a break!

  • Les Slater

    The U.S. has interfered with the governments of Latin America quite successfully for the past 183 years and still attempts to do so.

    Brutal dictatorships are forced on countries whenever the U.S. sees its interests threatened.

    This has resulted in economic distortions detrimental to the countries that the U.S. considers its ‘back yard’.