A Swerve toward Socialism South of the Border

By Holston, Mark | The World and I, August 2005 | Go to article overview

A Swerve toward Socialism South of the Border


Holston, Mark, The World and I


Today, when policy makers in Washington, D.C., look south, the view is unsettling. With every passing national election, more of the region's countries are picking avowedly leftist politicians as their leaders. Latin American countries are increasingly charting a course that runs counter to their historically close ties to the U.S. and orienting themselves away from traditional links to North America.

With Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay now in control of democratically elected left-of-center governments, a new order is slowly beginning to emerge. As the U.S. is increasingly focused on the global fight against terrorism, the war in Iraq, and the emergence of China as an economic and military behemoth, Latin American nations are forging new trade and diplomatic alliances and generally thumbing their collective noses at the country that once played a dominant role in their daily lives.

As these revolutionary changes sweep the region, Washington is left largely on the sidelines. Perhaps at no time in recent memory has the U.S. been relegated to the role of a bit player in the Western Hemisphere. Recent events underscore the new reality.

--Uruguay may be South America's smallest nation, but it is the fifth country in the region in recent years to elect a leftist president. The success of former Montevideo Mayor Tabare Vazquez is all the more significant in that his victory represents the first time in 180 years that a candidate not running under the banner of one of the two long- entrenched major parties triumphed at the polls. Among his first official actions in early March were to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba and enter into a trade pact with Venezuela. He has also vowed to work for regional integration and to reverse economic policies installed by recent conservative governments.

--In early May, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva convened in Brasilia the Summit of South American and Arab Countries, an unprecedented event that brought together for the first time heads of state and government leaders from these two disparate regions of the world. Lula observers see in the event yet another example of the Brazilian chief of state positioning himself as a leader of global stature.

--A small flotilla of warships from the People's Republic of China paid a visit this spring to the Peruvian port city of Callao, where a Chinese admiral told his Peruvian counterpart of his country's desire to develop a closer relationship with the South American nation.

--Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a thorn in the side of U.S. administrations for almost a decade, has upped the ante in his effort to compete with Washington for influence in the region. Venezuela and partner nations of Argentina, Cuba, and Uruguay launched in late July the Telesur TV network to provide programming to countries throughout Latin America that Chavez and other leaders say is needed to counter biased reporting by U.S. and European-based television services. Chavez has also threatened to jam broadcasts from the U.S. that he finds offensive.

--Thanks to a national treasury brimming with profits from the sale of copper, Chile has touched off a mini arms race in the Southern Cone region. The country recently purchased three refurbished frigates and two new submarines for its navy, prompting neighboring Peru and Argentina to plan upgrades of their own aging fleets. The big loser, however, is the U.S. Chile's surface ships are former Royal Navy and Dutch vessels; its submarines are being built by a French- Spanish consortium. Argentina will also look to Britain for ships, while Peru is acquiring eight Italian frigates.

--In riot-wracked Haiti, literally in Washington's backyard, Brazil is exerting its new regional leadership role as head of a United Nations peacekeeping force staffed largely by its own military forces and personnel from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and other nations. …

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