A DARK SCENARIO FOR LATIN AMERICA.
Most of the political scenarios for Latin America are drawn in traditional ways, using mostly politically correct ingredients. Because of this cautious approach some possible futures for the region remain insufficiently discussed. One of them has to do with the region becoming the site of active destabilizing plots against the United States. We all know that anti-American sentiment in Latin America has been growing during the last ten years, although not as strongly as advertised by some interested parties. In fact, Latinobarometro and Pew, two credible polling agencies dealing with the Western Hemisphere have recently shown (1) that, even in Venezuela, the U.S. is viewed favorably by over 55% of the population and that the attacks of President Hugo Chavez against this country are rejected by 75% of the population.
Still, there is no doubt that there are strong efforts being made by some Latin American political leaders to harass the United States. If these efforts intensify and take root, Latin America could become a geopolitical hot spot in the mid-term.
The starting point of the anti-U.S. Alliance.
Essentially the current threats against U.S. national security originated about nine years ago with the political alliance between Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator and Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan strongman. This is a symbiotic relationship that has been providing Fidel Castro with money and Hugo Chavez with brains.
The strategy chosen by this alliance is based on two facts and one very partial truth. The two facts are: extreme poverty and extreme inequality in the region. The very partial truth is that these two afflictions are the result of U.S. exploitation of the region’s natural resources aided by the systematic political intervention of this country in the internal affairs of the countries of the hemisphere. To blame our own misfortunes and inadequacies on someone else has been an old and proven method to gain adepts and to stir hate and xenophobia among Latin American societies. This is what Fidel Castro has done for the last forty years and this is what he has recommended to Hugo Chavez , a line of action that the Venezuelan strongman has embraced with enthusiasm.
Hugo Chavez’s strategies.
To do this he has been aided by significant amounts of money derived from oil exports. During the last nine years about $220 billion of oil money have entered the Venezuelan national treasury while national debt has tripled to about $65 billion. This amount of money has been mostly spent in three areas: (a), social programs of a temporary nature, really handouts, to the Venezuelan poor; (b), the acquisition of weapons; and (c), subsidies, donations and promises to Latin American countries in order to consolidate political alliances and establish political IOU’s. At least $40 billion have gone into the third category, an amount roughly equivalent to 2-3% of Venezuela’s yearly GDP during the last nine years.
As a result of these strategies the Fidel Castro/Hugo Chavez axis has been able to make some progress in its political objectives of eroding the political standing of the United States in the hemisphere and, even, of gaining supporters in the U.S. political scene. By financing the presidential campaigns in several countries they have been able to help Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa win the presidencies of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador. At the same time they saw their favored candidates Ollanta Humala, in Peru, and Andres Lopez Obrador, in Mexico lose close elections while remaining politically strong, especially Lopez Obrador. In parallel Hugo Chavez’s major injection of money into Argentina has helped President Nestor Kirchner to join the anti-U.S. club, a move for which he did not need strong incentives.
This is all well known although generally perceived with indifference, sympathy, and tolerance or, even, amusement, in hemispheric political circles. Many celebrate secretly the harassment of such a strong power by smaller, weaker countries. Others are sitting on the political fence, receiving political and material benefits by playing one side against the other. Still others have a weak spot in their ideological hearts for authoritarian regimes and resent the hard sale of democracy being done by the U.S. all over the world. A few even laugh at the colorful antics of President Chavez and have a hard time taking him seriously.
However, political harassment of the United States represents just one aspect in a possible wider plan. Later stages might include actual economic aggression and, even, physical action against the northern “empire”. For the time being the main efforts are directed towards the consolidation of the alliance. To do this:
Chavez is providing money to members of the Armed Forces of Bolivia and to city mayors, in order to increase political control over these important Bolivian sectors (2);
Chavez could be funneling money into Argentina to promote the candidacy of Mrs. Cristina Kirchner (3);
The aid given by Chavez to Nicaragua already amounts to about $500 million and, if he follows through in his promise, will include the financing of a $2 billion refinery;
The economic ties of Venezuela and Ecuador are increasing via the oil industry, although President Correa’s ideology already includes a significant component of resentment against the United States.
Chavez is conducting a strategy of alignment with political sectors in the United States that oppose the current government policies. For some of these sectors the desire to erode the current administration has proven greater than their love for democracy. The enemy of their enemy has become their friend (4).
Almost all of these strategic initiatives by the Castro/Chavez alliance show an alternative, unfavorable outcome.
Bolivia is in the threshold of a major political crisis, due to the reluctance of important sectors of the country to roll over and play dead to Morales’s pretensions to impose the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly model that ended with the Venezuelan democracy becoming an authoritarian regime.
Mrs. Kirchner, even if she won, as it seems to be the case, might decide to go her separate ways. She has already given some indications that Argentina should not become a simple pawn of Castro/ Chavez in the struggle for hemispheric political leadership. Recent events have convinced her that Chavez’s support probably represents a kiss of death for her political future.
In Ecuador, Correa is already looking at the Bolivian political turmoil with caution, as he does not want to repeat Morales’s errors and realizes that Chavez’s success in Venezuela has been due to his deep pockets rather than his charisma. Correa does not have the money or the charisma of Chavez.
In the United States the individuals and groups that support Chavez are doing so out of personal material or political interest and have been largely rejected by public opinion.
It seems improbable that the alliance of these countries, almost entirely based on money and resentment against the United States, could last for long.
What if this alliance falters?
The main motors of the anti-U. S alliance, Castro and Chavez, understand that this strategy of progressive political harassment of the United States might not succeed. The defeat of Lopez Obrador in Mexico robbed them of a major ally in this strategy. In power Lopez Obrador would have promoted illegal immigration into the U.S. creating numerous points of social and political conflict along the weak U.S.- Mexican border. As it stands today The United States has several ways to weaken Castro/Chavez strategies. In fact, the imminent death of Fidel Castro has practically eliminated much of the brain component of this axis. Hugo Chavez is now in need of an alternative plan.
The chosen alternative is an alliance with fundamentalist groups or countries that share Hugo Chavez’s resentment against the United States. This explains the approximation of Hugo Chavez to Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Both leaders have an anti-U.S. global alliance as one of their main objectives. Their main weapon is oil or, rather, what they can do to the international oil market, in case they decided to suspend exports of this resource. Some 4 million barrels of oil per day would be out of the supply system, causing a major disruption in the world’s economy. They figure that in such a situation they have less to lose than the United States and its industrialized allies.
But oil is not their only weapon. They also have a political weapon to resort to. It has to do with the concerted action of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and FARC, assisted by violent indigenous groups such as those in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador and socially turbulent groups like the illegal immigrants already living in the United States.
By promoting the action of these groups against the United States and its Latin American and European allies these groups can do much harm to global political stability. In this scenario one the main promoters of this action would not be located in the Middle East or in the Far East but in Latin America. This would be the first time in history, as far as we can tell, that a Latin American political leader becomes a major threat to world stability.
Political scenarios based on traditional assumptions such as the existence of a dormant and orderly hemisphere and on the existence of international bodies like the Organization of American States, where political controversies and imbalances can be rather easily adjusted, do no longer seem to fit Latin American reality. Violent scenarios with global implications should also be considered. Scenarios are not only attempts at visualizing the future but, also, warning signals that will serve to act now, in order to mold desired outcomes.
Gustavo Coronel. “Misreading Venezuela”, Human Events.com, August 15, 2007
Gustavo Coronel. “Chavez tiene a militares y Alcaldes Bolivianos en su nómina”.
In my Blog www.lasarmasdecoronel.blogspot.com, August 28, 2007
The Nuevo Herald, “Chavez y el maleta-gate”, August 16, 2007
Gustavo Coronel. “A letter to Danny Glover”. The American Spectator, May 31,