April 19, 2006

Supporting A Different War on Terror

Posted in International Politics, Latin America at 9:11 pm by greatparanoiac

An AP article in today’s Washington Post reported that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has promised his government will blow up his country's oil fields if the United States should ever attack.

“Speaking to other South American leaders, Chavez said his conflict with Washington is rooted in the U.S. thirst to control oil. He said the Americans will be denied that in Venezuela, which is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and one of the biggest suppliers to the U.S. market.”

This came in answer to speculation of plans to get Chavez out of office. Of course, U.S. officials denied such plans against Chavez, but also call him a threat to stability in the region. Everyone's a threat to stability in some region, except the U.S. Bush is making sure his country is a threat to the world.

While the U.S. calls Chavez a threat to stability and continues to talk about Latin America’s turn to the left, there doesn’t seem to be much attention paid to how there are two different types of ‘leftist’ parties in the region. An article in the May/June 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs gives us more insight.

Jorge Castaneda’s Latin America’s Left Turn examines how one type of ‘left’ has radical roots but is modern, while the other remains populist. Instead of focusing on Chavez’s rants, the US should look at fostering a relationship with the modern left. Let's look at the recent events and trends in Latin America:

"Starting with Hugo Chávez's victory in Venezuela eight years ago and poised to culminate in the possible election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico's July 2 presidential contest, a wave of leaders, parties, and movements generically labeled "leftist" have swept into power in one Latin American country after another. After Chávez, it was Lula and the Workers' Party in Brazil, then Néstor Kirchner in Argentina and Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, and then, earlier this year, Evo Morales in Bolivia. If the long shot Ollanta Humala wins the April presidential election in Peru and López Obrador wins in Mexico, it will seem as if a veritable left-wing tsunami has hit the region.”

The traditional parties in Latin America that relied on a patronage system are disintegrating (except Colombia). Voters are drawn to leftist and socialists movements that promise redistribution of wealth and marginalizing corrupt traditional parties who never delivered economic prosperity to the region and instead supported U.S.-backed policies like privatization. Castaneda argues:

“This forecast became all the more certain once it became evident that the economic, social, and political reforms implemented in Latin America starting in the mid-1980s had not delivered on their promises… the region has had singularly unimpressive economic growth rates.”

Unfortunately in talking about corrupt traditional parties, the article doesn’t mention the situation in Colombia with its rightist government. The impact of  U.S. policy of military support for a government that is trying to kill its way to stability has been horrendous. Having travelled to Colombia to visit family, I've had a chance to witness the beauty in the country as well the human rights abuses.

Citizens living in rural areas are killed and their only misfortune was to get in the way of the fighting. This has been going on for decades. In fact, UNHCR has labeled the internal displacement of people in Colombia as second only to Darfur as a humanitarian crisis. Many people think Palestinians are the most internally displaced population, but it's actually Colombia (well, there population is also ten times larger).

The war is not simply left versus right. There is a right-of-center Colombian government with armed forces supplemented by armed US military. The government has ties to paramilitary units that operate death squads. They fight with at least two groups of fighters who long ago ceased to be of any leftist ideology.  Instead, they operate as armed militias that raise money by drug trafficking. Some might say that security has improved under President Uribe, but this strategy has also created an environment favorable to human rights abuses.

Nonetheless, in dealing with the advent of the left in Latin America, it would be in the U.S.’s interest not to use divisive measures in the region in dealing with Chavez. Why risk experiences like what happened with Central America in the 1980s or Cuba before that?

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