Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 110

Jarring Latin America symphonies

By Tukoji Pandit - Syndicate Features

American President George W. Bush and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, have enacted a political pantomime in Latin America, trying to outsmart each other with various promises while seeking the affections of the people of the large but still underdeveloped continent. Bush, for a change, looked sober in comparison with Chavez, whose choice of words for the US president is becoming increasingly acerbic, if not a bit too colourful to conform to the accepted diplomatic norms.

Of course, calling Bush a ‘hypocrite’ is not an abuse, especially when he expresses his concern for poverty and an insufficient dose of democracy in Latin America. Because American aid for the past half a century to the southern hemisphere continent has neither eliminated its poverty nor firmly implanted his cherished version of democracy in most nations there. The US penchant for supporting most repressive of regimes in Latin America is well known. So much so, how many Latin Americans believed President Bush when he said during his week-long, five-nation whirlwind tour of the continent that the US cared for ‘human condition’? Not surprisingly, hostile crowds in Uruguay had forced Bush out of the capital, Montevideo and his Uruguayan counterpart wisely decided to welcome his guest at his retreat some 200 km west of the capital.

The people in Latin America pooh-pooh President Bush’s claim that he is keen to help them because the annual US aid to the entire continent is about half the aid marked for Egypt and other countries like Pakistan or the money it spends on ushering in ‘democracy’ in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US refuses to cut tariff and farm subsidies to help the poor Latin American countries. It is not ready to write off loans to the Latin countries, presumably because they are not his ‘frontline’ allies. Bush wants more trade with the countries in the region but is unable to get the US Congress ratify free trade agreement with the Latin American countries. Unmistakable is the signal to the region is that the US does not want trade ties on equal terms.

A country that has been receiving generous US aid is Haiti and its democracy record is among the most blemished. Colombia too has received a good deal of American aid —to fight drug trafficking. Yet, the menace thrives and the Colombia government is suspected to have links with the militias. The US is erecting a fence to prevent people coming from Mexico, its next-door neighbour.

Brazil’s Left-leaning leader is by no means as rabid anti-American as Chavez is. Keen to have better ties with Brazil, the US wants to import ethanol from it but would not scrap the tariff - 54 cents per gallon - on this alternative fuel that actually US wants to promote in order to cut its dependence on petrol imported from Middle East and Venezuela.

If Bush sounded somewhat defensive through the Latin tour it was not so much because he had deliberately decided not to respond directly to the barbs that Chavez aimed at him but because he knew very well that Washington will not find it easy to regain whatever influence it had over the mainly Spanish-speaking South America. He has been far too much preoccupied with other matters during the last six years of his rule.

This is the period that has seen Left appeal spread to all corners of South America and also the ascendancy of many Left-leaning leaders. Some like Chavez are considered by the US as new symbols of anti-Americanism in what is once an exclusive zone of American influence. The Cuba Club, or call it the Castro Club, anathema to successive regimes in Washington, is growing.

Many analysts have already held that the Bush tour of Latin America was undertaken merely as an obligatory exercise. Nothing came out of it that can drive away the American blues. In the true American style, the Bush visit to the continent was preceded by a publicity campaign to remind the people that the US president had already visited the continent seven or eight times and has increased aid to the region. But there is little to doubt that even best spin masters these days cannot project a very favourable image of the US president anywhere in the world.

Not because there are people (and leaders) who are congenitally against the US and its policies everywhere but because of its almost universally unpopular foreign policy goals. The focus of the Bush foreign policy has been the so-called war on terror and, of course, Iraq followed by a host of issues related to West Asia. Latin America figured on the US radar only after Hugo Chavez began to loom large with his venomous attacks on America.

If the US thinks that the popularity of Chavez stands on dubious ground it is only because the US played a large role in propelling Chavez’s fame. Washington first tried to topple Chavez; when the mission failed, it tried to ridicule him and dismiss him as an aberration but success eluded it. Also despite all its efforts, America has not succeeded in raising a potent rebellion inside Venezuela with the help of its stooges who allegedly crave for ‘democracy’. Chavez has become the successor of Castro as the Latin rallying point against the US.

Chavez, in fact, enjoys the advantage of a deep pocket that Castro never had, thanks to his oil revenue. It helps him to more than match his words of help with hard cash or offer supplies that are very welcome, such as subsidised oil and bonds worth $ 1 billion (Argentina). In Bolivia, the poorest Latin country, Chavez pledged more than one billion dollars for oil projects and community radio stations and also offered to underwrite coca production.

The US has decided to brand the year 2007 as the year of Latin American engagement. But some analysts in the US saw the Bush trip to Latin America as an afterthought. Bush or his advisers who think it will help the US president garner support of the immigrants from Latin America are being too optimistic. It will be even more optimistic to see the Latin trip of Bush as helping him achieve his more likely goal of arresting the rise of Left-wing leaders and politics in the American backyard, a one time play ground for the many intrigues of the CIA.

- Syndicate Features -

Share this