It is unmistakable the swing to the left that Latin American politics has taken of late. Beginning roughly eight years ago with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, leftist leaders have popped up in a variety of countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and recently Morales’ election in Bolivia. And with elections in Peru, Mexico, and Nicaragua, even more Latin American countries could fall under leftist sway.
The large question is how did this come to pass? Not making any judgments on the merits or detractions of left governments in place in Latin America, but merely how did a segment of the political spectrum that the United States spent decades arduously striving to keep out of power return so confidently and abruptly? The United States used a multi-faceted campaign in Latin America to keep leftists, who were suspected of joining Cuba or the USSR, from coming to power. For example, the Chile Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (1976) details the interference perpetrated by the United States in Chile from 1963 to 1973. Included in its findings, the United States spent millions on covert intervention in Chilean politics from 1970-1973. The money financed such operations as planted “news” stories in Chilean magazines and newspapers; propaganda; and political activities among workers, students, women’s groups and other civic organizations. President Nixon, with Henry Kissinger, even developed and executed a highly secretive coup to prevent Salvador Allende, Chile’s Marxist leader, from ascending to power after the 1970 elections. The coup failed, so the US used various economic and propaganda methods to discredit Allende and foster hostility against him. These included cutting off access to international loans and stimulating local capital flight; feeding misinformation to Chilean military officers to engender fear of Cuban subversives working in Chile; and financing opposition groups, including terrorist right-wing movements. This method of approach was not unique to Chile either; America spent a great deal of money and energy to keeping leftist movements under the rug in Latin America. So why have we seemingly surrendered so easily now?
One could make the argument that, not that the Cold War is over, there is little to no threat of leftist governments making deals with Communists to become a “danger” to America. This is largely true. While Castro remains in power, Cuba’s Communist threat pales in comparison to the USSR of yesteryears. However, this lack of ideological enemy does nothing to diminish the fact that there is a lot at stake in this for America, indeed all of the Americas.
Latin America’s shift to the left has been precipitated from decades of mismanagement, interference, and neglect by the West, most centrally the United States. The emergence of Communist Cuba brought the US to abandon the Monroe Doctrine and actively begin direct and indirect interference in Latin American politics and economies. What arose from decades of such intervention was a mutant form of US-bred capitalism. This system consolidated power into the hands of right-wing governments and perpetrated the spread of rampant cronyism. The majority of the populace did not see an up tick in their relative stations in life, nor was there an improvement in basic governmental services. The result? Distrust for the American way of doing politics and economics.
These rebellions against American hegemony have become increasingly visible. The Summit of the Americas last fall is a perfect example, with major demonstrations against the United States, and the election of a non-US-backed candidate to the Organization of American States. Venezuela’s nationalizing of its oil programs has led Bolivia’s president-elect to begin nationalizing his country’s natural gas resources. The list goes on and on.
What does that mean for us as a country? Plenty. If the socialist agendas espoused by these new leftist leaders begins to succeed, and it brings up the majority of impoverished peoples in terms of their quality of life, then the American methodology of economics as a model to the rest of the world is compromised. Countries have a viable alternative that excludes the United States completely. While it is not necessary for everyone to follow the US’s method of development, it has been a doctrine, enforced by our capitalist business method, that we have enforced for decades, and has helped make us a very profitable nation. Thus, this could also shut out American business interests, as these countries would be more likely to work with other socialist countries or countries that are merely not the United States. And since American business has depended on developing nations to provide labor, land, and materials for so long, their loss of VIP status in such regions of the world could have drastic repercussions in the American economy.
There are other areas where we could fall as well. Politically, we would be undermined by this ideology of social equality and justice, should it succeed where our efforts to extinguish it have failed. We lose face, and also compromise the ability to have an effective input into the decisions of other regional leaders. Isolated. And, taken to an extreme, the socialist movement could find its way back to our own soil. Last winter, Venezuela’s president decided to subsidize heating oil to the poorer residents of New England, a move that was wise politically for him, as it also bolstered his image in the United States. However, it also gives some segment of the US population a taste of what socialism might hold for us. It is not a perfect system; not by any means. But there has not been a large socialist movement since the early part of the last century. If it were to gain momentum, due to partly the actions of these neighbor governments, there could be some major policy changes, both domestically and internationally, for the United States.
And not let us forget the drug war, that pest of American foreign policy. I have been against the war since I was old enough to make up my mind about it. But it has been a cornerstone of america’s foreign policy, particularly in regards to Latin America. But the left’s ascendancy has the potential to recreate our allies and stances on the war. Morales in Bolivia recently promised to legalize coca, the main plant used in forming cocaine, and Mexico’s government recently legalized the possession of small amounts of a variety of drugs, from marijuana to ecstasy. These changes, so openly in contrast to American desires, flaunts the left’s newfound power, and might force some reckoning by the United States to arrive at a compromise.
Now a lot of this is speculation, some of it far-fetched. But it represents a possibility of what can happen if the United States remains apathetic to the changes that are transpiring around us. These are the dangers that lie in being too complacent over what is happening to our neighbors. I would not advocate for a second moving back to the contras and coups which defined our policy towards Latin America for a long time. However, there are great implications that could arise from what is taking place down south in its drive to the left. And I hope these countries succeed; I would not wish destitution on any nation, and socialism has a great deal of advantages to it; some of which we would be wise to heed for our own citizens. But this is a warning to our own country that our policies are not as powerful, as embraced, as they once were (or as we hoped), and their fall, without an alternative, could prove disastrous to this country. America would do well not to interfere, but to listen to what these countries are saying, acknowledge their messages, and work together to form a better future for all of us.