America’s bipartisan Latin folly


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

While pundits called President Obama on his failure to mention Israel and the Palestinian problem in last week’s State of the Union Address, a far greater omission went ignored: Latin America.

Aside from one fleeting reference (to Colombia and free trade), the closest Obama came geographically was a rhetorical jaunt to the Caribbean to note the disaster in Haiti.

Mexico is battling a full-blown narco-insurgency right on our border. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez is constructing a vicious dictatorship. Argentina’s stumbling toward a government crisis. While we were napping, Brazil became a great power.

None of them warranted a subordinate clause in one of the longest State of the Union speeches of our time.

The folly of slighting our own hemisphere is a maddening, bipartisan Washington tradition. We obsess about our no-win efforts in the Middle East while ignoring dynamic societies next door.

The future’s here — yet we’re stuck over there. We have the strategic perspective of a drunken teenager.

From Mexico down to Chile (which just voted a conservative government into office), there are multiple success stories, such as Colombia, and reasons for alarm, such as Bolivia. We largely ignore them all. Let’s look at just four key states:

Venezuela: In 2011, it will be 200 years since patriots in Caracas declared independence from Spain — but, barring miracles, next year’s celebrations will be hollow: Chavez has methodically dismantled the country’s constitution, economy and democracy. He’s now exterminating media freedom (with nary a whimper from the American left).

The rigging of September’s parliamentary election is already underway. This major oil producer now suffers rolling blackouts. Devaluation and inflation are gutting the crippled economy. Crime is burgeoning. Free speech is a memory. Pro-democracy demonstrators are beaten and tossed in prison.

This is happening in a once-booming state that enjoyed a half-century of uninterrupted democracy pre-Chavez. And Washington shrugs.

After a brief flirtation with Chavez (whose once-full pockets are empty), Latin America’s major states have edged away from him. Yet our president wouldn’t offer Venezuela’s democracy activists one word of encouragement.

Mexico: As I’ve maintained for years, no country is as important to our security, our economy and our society as Mexico. Yet we regard this huge state with its population of 111 million as a banana republic without bananas. Meanwhile, 16,000 people have died in Mexico’s struggle with narco-insurgents over the last half-decade.

There’s a brutal civil war underway within pistol range of American cities — but we’re obsessed with Afghan tribal spats. The situation disproves for all time the claim that we have a rational foreign policy.

Brazil: If you combined Brazil’s 199 million people with Mexico’s 111 million, the joint population would be larger than that of the United States. The combined GDPs of the two states total almost $3 trillion. Brazil’s land mass is almost the size of our own. Mexico City is this hemisphere’s largest urban area, followed by Sao Paulo, Brazil. (New York City ranks third.)

And, after the US, Brazil has the most influential foreign policy in the hemisphere, more active than that of Canada (or of Chavez’s noisy but broke Venezuela).

How many media reports have you seen about the election looming in Brazil this fall, in which the country appears ready to settle down in the political center?

Argentina: This heartbreaking country, a third the size of the United States, with a population of 41 million, has seen its hopes frustrated time and again by dictators, thieves and demagogues. Now a husband-and-wife team, the Kirchners, are scrambling for ways to preserve their waning power.

Looting pensions and the economy, playing the shopworn anti-American card and scheming at the Lady Macbeth level, the Kirchners are increasingly out of step with a more educated, savvier population. Argentina’s a country waiting for a sensible alternative.

Can anyone in DC find it on a map?

Latin America is in the midst of a turbulent period of transitions — slowly outgrowing its leftist tantrums and strongman interludes, with ever more governments striving to satisfy more-demanding populations. The possibilities for productive cooperation are enormous.

But who’s the most vigorous foreign actor on the scene? China.

It used to be said of Argentina and Brazil that each was “the country of the future — and always will be.” Today, it’s the United States that’s stuck in the hemispheric past. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2010 NY Post

Ralph Peters new novel, “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. He is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His most recent book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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