Venezuela-bashing at Wall Street Journal

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Mon Mar 24 09:38:31 MST 2003

(Read this editorial columnist from
the Wall Street Journal, attempting to
explain away US isolation throughout
Latin America, blaming it on Franco-
philia among the Latin Americans.
Hard bashing of Mexico's Fox and
Chile's Lagos by the WSJ writer.

(Interesting commentary on how the
Venezuelans have used oil in a way
similar to how the Cubans use their
doctors to win friends and influence
people throughout the continent.

(She doesn't share the view of some
on the left and ultra-left that Lula is
any big friend of Washington, either.)

March 21, 2003 12:16 a.m. EST

Friends Don't Let Friends
Fight Terror Alone
Wall Street Journal

Anti-Bush partisans are rushing to brand U.S. military
action in Iraq as the result of a "diplomatic" failure. Yet,
when you consider what the president had to draw from, a
pro-war coalition of 40 is not too shabby.

Latin America, for example, was not a happy hunting ground.
Too many governments there share the French sentiment that
it is U.S. hegemony that represents the greatest danger to
world peace. Many are not just unreliable allies, but
reliable opponents. Threats by supposed U.S. amigos Mexico
and Chile to vote against the U.S. in the U.N. Security
Council stand in stark contrast to the statesmanship of
Britain's Tony Blair and Spain's Jose Maria Aznar.

The Chilean and Mexican decisions ought not to surprise.
The region is steeped in a populist tradition, unfamiliar
with notions of leadership Mr. Blair has so deftly displayed
and easily manipulated by anti-American agitators. Both
Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and Mexico's Vicente
Fox are weathering adverse domestic political storms
right now. Neither has the skill or confidence to lead on
an unpopular issue. In Latin America defying Uncle Sam
continues to be the low-cost method of choice for scoring
easy points in opinion polls.

Still, Mexico and Chile have been a disappointment to
those of us pulling for mature Latin leadership. These two
countries have shown that they are thoroughly comfortable
free-riding off the stability the U.S. provides but rather
uncomfortable with shouldering any responsibility. The
politically incorrect truth about the courage of Latin
leaders to stand up to militants and despots is that it is
nearly non-existent -- save for Colombia's President Alvaro
Uribe and El Salvador's Francisco Flores, both of whom are
backing the U.S.

This is a big problem, not so much for the U.S. but for
Latin Americans. In a post-Cold War world, Latin
"democracies" were supposed to be grown-ups, behaving like
partners. Regionally, there was a real chance for Latin
leadership at the Organization of American States. But old
habits die hard.

Just ask the Venezuelan people, suffering under the
repression of Hugo Chavez. Not unlike what we have witnessed
from Chile and Mexico and a host of third-world players in
the U.N., OAS members have been incapable of putting
domestic interests aside to come to the aid of their
oppressed Latin brethren.

Whether it's Brazil, busy "counterbalancing" American power,
or Caribbean nations trying to get paid for going along, the
result is the same. The OAS is rendered a feckless, impotent
waste of money and prime Washington real estate.

As to the abandonment by Mexico and Chile of Resolution
1441, it need hardly cause a blip on U.S. radar. The U.S.
has tried to help Mexico modernize through trade but, on the
whole, it remains a third-world nation with a president
whose most important policy goal is the exportation of his
own people. It has not been a friend to the U.S. It chose
the first anniversary of 9/11 to formally withdraw from the
Rio Treaty, which holds that an attack on one treaty member
is an attack on all. Chile is a land of 11 million people
who have the misfortune of being led by a socialist
president who still praises Lenin.

The U.S. might do well to re-examine its policies in the
region in recognition of the fact that Mr. Uribe and Mr.
Flores have accepted huge political risks at home to
back Iraqi liberation. Congress has not yet ratified the
Chile-U.S. free-trade agreement. Why not instead cut a deal
with dollarized El Salvador or trusted friend Colombia,
which suffers disproportionately from America's war on
drugs? Let Mr. Lagos peddle Chilean wine in France.

The U.S. job of sorting friends from backstabbers will be a
lot easier than the task Latin American nations need to
undertake, developing foreign policies that go beyond the
childish obsession with defying "imperialism." Appeasement
of tyrants is fine for backwater nations that plan to
ultimately rely on modern powers to fix the damage. But if
Latin Americans want to be considered serious world players
they will have to carry their own share of the burden of
preserving peace and democracy in difficult moments.

Consider the plight of the Venezuelan people who have been
begging the region's leaders to demand that Mr. Chavez
restore their civil rights. The Venezuelan media is being
violently harassed, dissidents have been killed, arrested
and forced into exile, the military has taken over much of
the government and Mr. Chavez now appears to be making
alliances with rogue states that support terror and South
American guerrillas. All the while the OAS, which purports
to be the region's defender of democracy, has twiddled its
thumbs. Its merry-go-round of negotiations simply signals to
Mr. Chavez that regional leadership is helpless to confront
him, even rhetorically.

Is this because Latins, perched on moral high ground,
respect "democracy" so much that they cannot bear to mess
with the elected Mr. Chavez? Hardly. Liberal idealism has
nothing to do with it. To start with, more than a dozen
nations in the 34-nation OAS get subsidized oil from Mr.
Chavez. A diplomat tells me that some Central American
countries have complained about calls from the Venezuelan
ambassador to the OAS to "remind" them of the price break
they receive. A bloc of Caribbean nations that enjoy this
favor, and also get medical services from Cuba, represents
more than one-third the OAS's votes and refuses to
acknowledge Mr. Chavez's misdeeds.

Other governments, led by Brazil, seem to harbor ideological
sympathy for the Venezuelan military man who claims he
toppled the elites on behalf of the "exploited" classes.
He wins favor in some Latin circles precisely because,
like Castro, he is a nuisance for the U.S.

The U.S. has hung back from responding to the cries for help
from the Venezuelan people, knowing full well that if the
issue of removing Mr. Chavez becomes a U.S. project he will
rally even more supporters in Latin America. Mr. Chavez has
violated so many basic human rights that it was hoped that
the OAS might declare him in violation of its charter. So
far there has only been paralytic hand-wringing.

Forget about Iraq. Latin America can't even deal with local
tyrants. Perhaps Latin leaders feel confident that if Mr.
Chavez makes things really ugly the U.S. will save their
bacon. If that happens, Latins will have no one to blame but
themselves for another round of U.S. paternalism.

Write to Mary Anastasia O'Grady at mary.o'grady at

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