August 4, 2009

August 4, 2009 | Commentary on Latin America

Foreign Policy Fizzling: Down South, Things Don't Go Better with Obama

With dictators on the rise, democracy under assault and foreign powers making inroads in Latin America, it's not clear the Obama administration has a plan for dealing with it--other than more of its "Have a Coke and a Smile" brand of foreign policy.

Unfortunately, considering the challenges we're facing, relaxed soft-drink diplomacy just isn't going to cut it.

Topping the list is Venezuela, a major thorn in our side for some time now, but which has, remarkably, only gotten worse since President Barack Obama took office.

Caudillo President Hugo Chavez continues nationalizing the economy, muzzling the media and corralling any political opposition into a one-party state.

That's not all.

Just last week the Chavistas were fingered providing weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a narco-terrorist group, which has been fighting the government (a U.S. ally) there for years.

This, of course, is just the latest report of Venezuelan support for the FARC.

Adding to the problem, a recent U.S. government report claims the Chavez regime is turning a blind eye to FARC cocaine trafficking through Venezuela, which finds its way here.

Chavez is leading--and in some cases bankrolling--the Latin American, anti-U.S. authoritarian left in places like Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and even El Salvador.

It's no surprise that Chavez's chum, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, has also been implicated in having FARC ties. He also recently closed a U.S. counter-drug air base in his country. Not likely a coincidence.

Despite all of this, Washington has decided to send an ambassador back to Caracas after our envoy was expelled by Chavez in 2008. Go figure.

In Honduras, the Obama administration was almost silent on the constitutional power-grab by now-deposed Chavez ally, President Manuel Zelaya. Then, remarkably, it chose to side with the ousted authoritarian-in-the-making over democratic forces.

In addition to doing little to deal with anti-gringo politicos rising in Latin America, the Obamanistas aren't doing much to help our amigos, either.

Both Colombia and Panama are still waiting for movement on free trade agreements and just south of the border Mexico could certainly use more help in fighting the drug cartels.

And the Russians are coming--to Latin America, that is. Just after Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Georgia and Ukraine, Russia parachuted into Venezuela, offering to add to the $4 billion in arms it has already sold there. Russian military bases are possible as well.

On energy, Moscow has agreed to build nuclear reactors for Caracas, inflicting early-stage insomnia for some. Cuba is getting a look, too: Joint oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico is likely.

Another potential problem?

Iran is playing on anti-American sentiment and developing ties with the expected cast of characters: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Tehran's ally Hezbollah is already present in the region.

Sad to report, despite promises of a better approach to foreign policy than President George W. Bush, Latin America hasn't gotten better on Obama's watch.

Unfortunately, most of what we--and the region--are hearing from the administration on our Latin America policy is silence. That needs to change, but soon.

Peter Brookes is senior fellow for National Security Affairs in the Davis Institute at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Related Issues: Latin America

First Appeared in Boston Herald