Halfway through the season's presidential and vice presidential
debates, it seems likely there's going to be little discussion of
U.S.-Latin American relations during this election.
No doubt finding answers to the current economic turmoil
deserves priority, but surely there should be time to discuss links
to one of our biggest export markets. Candidates might also show
interest in the persistence of the drug threat, or the dangerous
growth of radical populism and anti-Americanism in our backyard.
Given this, the American electorate would be well served with
policy proposals concerning U.S.-Latin American relations before it
votes next month.
One vexing issue that ought to interest voters is how to handle
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, deteriorating U.S.-Venezuelan
relations, and growing Venezuelan ties with Russia and Iran.
Russian warships are on their way to the Caribbean for joint
maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy and Chavez has solicited Russian
help with nuclear power.
After a flurry of profanity on the seventh anniversary of the
Sept. 11 attacks, Chavez expelled U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy
with the absurd charge that he was plotting a coup. Enriched by
Venezuela's oil revenues, agents of Chavez's government have
conspired with narco-terrorist guerrillas in Colombia, shipped
suitcases of cash to Argentina and worked to firm up relations with
Middle Eastern terrorist organizations, including Hamas and
Oil and other subsidies from Chavez give Raul Castro in Cuba a
major means to preserve his brother's communist dictatorship well
beyond what ought to have been its expiration date.
While most are aware that U.S. relations with Venezuela have
been chilly for some time, the situation in the Andes and Central
America is growing more dangerous as Chavez spreads his brand of
radical populism across the region.
Borrowing from Chavez's playbook, Evo Morales swept into power
in Bolivia in 2006, promising mass-government handouts while
deriding the free market and "Yankee imperialism."
Morales has tightened his grip on the state, nationalizing the
gas industry, cutting away at private property rights, defending
the right of farmers to grow coca (the base ingredient of cocaine),
and pushing his country to the brink of civil war.
In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa has utilized his brand of
radical populism to win control over the nation's central bank and
key economic resources and to guarantee his own longevity in
office. In Nicaragua, Sandinista President Daniel Ortega pines for
the bad old days of the 1980s. Even traditional Central American
friend Honduras is tempted by offers of cheap oil and other
financial aid from Venezuela.
And yet, the stalled Colombia free-trade agreement in Congress
seems to indicate that our own elected officials have little
interest in shoring up our ties with one of our strongest allies in
In the past, U.S. presidents articulated broad visions and bold
measures to advance U.S. interests and leadership in the Americas.
Whether it was Theodore Roosevelt's "Path Between the Seas" or
FDR's "Good Neighbor Policy" or JFK's "Alliance for Progress,"
American presidents have displayed vision.
One hopes that the candidates will be able to look past the
current crisis on Wall Street and beyond sniping over their fitness
for high office to articulate a clearer vision of the way forward
in the Americas. The instinct for American leadership should
prevail in reasserting the importance of democracy, human rights,
economic freedom and individual liberty in the Western Hemisphere
-- and across the globe.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation. Ray Walser, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at Heritage.
First appeared in the San Diego's La Prensa