The growing Afghanization of Latin America

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When President Barack Obama was criticized for his over friendly interaction with Hugo Chavez during the Summit of the Americas, he responded by saying that the U.S. has nothing to fear from a country that has an economy six hundred times smaller than ours.

This curious remark by our President brings another logical question to mind: how big is Al Qaeda’s economy in comparison to ours? It is likely that Al Qaeda’s assets are substantially smaller than oil-rich Venezuela’s. Likewise, Iran’s economy is not comparable to the American economy, even in a time of recession and economic crisis.

It is then logical to ask whether national or regional security is endangered in relation to economic capability or in an era of asymmetric wars. Does a country or an entity need to be economically or (even militarily) superior to those who oppose it in order to generate a situation of instability and threat?

The Obama Administration knows the right answer. Otherwise, the President and his national security team would not be so aggressively pursuing a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What this Administration most fears in that area of south-central Asia is the collapse of the state in Pakistan and the inability to produce governability in Afghanistan. Both countries are located thousands of miles away from the United States but still the U.S. government recognizes that a situation of anarchy or Taliban rule in both countries would lead to regional instability. That, in turn, could lead to a situation of chaos with the danger that rogue elements could not only posses a nuclear weapon but also could take over in those places where state authority vanishes.

Obama’s public relations strategy in Latin America, mostly aimed at opening a new page in U.S.-Latin American relations, is consistent with Bush’s policies. In both the Bush and the Obama Administrations, the leading agency in charge of this policy seems to be the State Department whose philosophy is to try to improve the image of the United States in Latin America in order to mitigate the effect of anti-Americanism in the area. Not confronting Hugo Chavez and his allies appears to be a device aimed at portraying them as the instigators and the U.S. as the civilized and reasonable actor. Obama’s apologetic appearance in Trinidad & Tobago was consistent with this conception.

There are a number of elements missing in that view. In previous issues of the “America’s Report” we have described Chavez’s intentions at revolutionizing the area by supporting anti-establishment groups and candidates like himself across the region. We also reported that Chavez has designed a new regime based on absolutism and the elimination of civil and political rights while evangelizing these anti-democratic ideas throughout the region. He has built alliances with rogue states on the basis of anti-Americanism while attempting to remove America’s anti-drug and military presence. His wish to eliminate the American sphere of influence and bring other actors such as China, Iran and Russia into play is more than evident. However, there is one aspect not previously mentioned which deserves more attention, especially for U.S. foreign policy makers; that is the spread of anarchy at the expense of state authority.

A case in point is the Clinton Administration’s introduction of Plan Colombia in order to help Colombia fight the drug cartels and the FARC which by then had taken over forty (40) percent of Colombian territory. At that time, dangerous non-state actors took over this large portion of a democratic state in the Western Hemisphere. It is because of the hard work of President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia that this situation has been largely reversed. In Venezuela and other countries allied with Chavez, not only are we seeing the consolidation of socialist autocracies but also the proliferation of dangerous non-state actors.

Today, Venezuelan airports are being freely used by drug cartels to export drugs to Europe and the U.S.; Chavez and Correa have helped the FARC in the fight against Colombia; Hezbollah cells have increased their fund-raising and other activities in the area with the support of Hugo Chavez; Iran and drug cartels cooperate under the auspices of Chavez; the Maoist Shining Path is reviving its activities in Peru, probably with the help of elements associated with Chavez. In Venezuela Hezbollah and other Islamists are empowered by the regime while Chavez, himself, has made chaos into official policy.

It has been reported that 454 leaders of independent unions have been murdered by parallel official “union” mercenaries. It was also reported that the union leader representing the Toyota workers was murdered after reaching a deal with the Japanese company. The government did not like the deal because an official union leader was able to negotiate a peaceful resolution to a labor conflict. These mercenaries are allegedly criminals recruited in the prisons by the Chavez government. Criminality has already taken on a life of its own which would be difficult to control even if Chavez were no longer president. High-level criminality could serve drug cartels and radical Islamist groups like Hezbollah, or the FARC. More and more potential seditious, underground and criminal groups are encouraged as these Chavez-type regimes advance in the region.

In other words, the monsters fed by the Chavista alliance now have a life of their own and are likely to survive even after their sponsors are gone.

That being the case, what will be the situation in Latin America? Perhaps, it could mean that Colombia’s anarchical syndrome of the 1980’s and 1990’s will expand further. In other words, a situation similar to Afghanistan and Pakistan is likely to become omnipresent and irreversible. If in Afghanistan and Pakistan the danger is coming from the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the warlords and other non-state powerful actors, what makes us think that in Latin America we will be able to control a similar coalition of the drug cartels, the FARC, Hezbollah and the free criminals of the Chavez regime?

Curiously enough, President Woodrow Wilson was very concerned about developments in Mexico during the Mexican revolution early in the 20th century. Order and stability in Mexico were crucial to U.S. policy makers. Wilson and other U.S. administrations supported regional stability. Today, the challenge is even more serious as drug cartels and terrorist groups are far more sophisticated. Latin American countries seem to be apathetic to this possible development or may be they expect some other country to come to their rescue.

The Organization of American States (OAS) whose president is Miguel Insulza has looked the other way while these developments have taken place. The OAS not only has ignored Chavez’s aggression towards their neighbors but it has also ignored assaults on democracy. As the example of Chavez shows us, the collapse of democracy leads not only to authoritarianism but also to chaos and criminalization of society.

Latin American leaders, aren’t you concerned? The advance of drug cartels, terrorist groups and criminality at the expense of state authority is, in the minds of the OAS leaders, only an American problem. They appear to be more concerned about America attempting to somehow influence them than about the dangers coming from the elements mentioned above. This is why they were delighted by Obama’s “different approach”, as if the U.S. is really their problem. To the contrary, it is in their collective interest to work with the United States against this phenomenon while there is still a chance to do so peacefully.

Dr. Luis Fleischman is a senior advisor to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. Center for Security Policy (United States)


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