Morales's victory sets the stage for a year in which leftist populists will be competing for power in elections across the region, including in Peru, Nicaragua and Mexico. All three are among the shrinking cadre of U.S. allies; outgoing Mexican President Vicente Fox uniquely stood up to Chavez during and after Mar del Plata. By the end of this year a Morales imitator could be president of Peru, Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista movement could once again control Nicaragua, and Mexico could be led by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a socialist who has never visited the United States...
Thanks to Mar del Plata, Bush is at least aware of the problem. On his return he ordered a high-level review of U.S. policy in the region. A subsequent meeting of senior officials from the departments of State, Defense, Treasury and other agencies generated a handful of new ideas. For example, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who helped defuse a political crisis in Nicaragua in October, proposed an initiative to deepen U.S. engagement with countries in Central America as they implement the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
Treasury spoke of working more closely with Brazil on its financial stability. There was talk of an energy initiative, perhaps in conjunction with Canada, to compete with Chavez's aggressive program of providing cheap oil to countries in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
There is still, however, no broader strategy for containing Chavez's political and economic offensive, which now includes a regional television network and an energy consortium. Some officials predict the appeal of the caudillo will fizzle and his support in Venezuela will collapse when he proves unable to deliver on the soaring expectations he has created. But Chavez will be cushioned by high oil prices for the foreseeable future.
Moreover, the positive steps the administration is planning are likely to be negated by the American policies that Latin Americans are most focused on: immigration and aid. In both cases the United States is preparing to punish its friends. Mexicans are outraged by the administration's support for tougher border controls and its failure to press reforms that would legalize guest workers. Salvadorans in the United States, including thousands in Washington, may lose their right to remain here and work under "temporary protection status"; sources tell me the administration has made a decision in principle not to renew it when it expires next fall.
Meanwhile, both Mexico and Chile may be excluded from U.S. aid programs this year because of their ratification of the treaty creating the International Criminal Court and their failure to sign bilateral treaties with Washington exempting U.S. citizens from it. A law mandating an aid cutoff in those circumstances provides for exemptions; Kirchner in Argentina inherited one. But administration ideologues have insisted on punishing friendly Latin nations that want to maintain a military alliance with the United States. Chile, which is purchasing U.S. F-16s, may not be able to get Pentagon training for its pilots if, as expected, it ratifies the treaty in the coming weeks.
All these developments may not matter much in the long run. Latin America poses no serious threat to U.S. security. Chavez and his populist followers will fail to create sustainable prosperity, as they have throughout Latin history. The same democracies that are giving leftists a chance to rule, if preserved, will oust them when they fail. In the short term, however, much of Latin America is going to be an unfriendly place for liberal ideas and free markets -- and with them the United States
Anybody who knows the history of this region, and its exploitation can't but be shocked at the BS level of this. The Venezuelan people are doing as a whole a heck of a lot better than before Chavez got into office, for example.