Cuban exile Carlos Alberto Montaner analyses the role Latin America, and its populist regimes, play in international politics.
Latin America is, for better or for worst, the invisible continent.
The benefits, paradoxically, can be seen in the sad case of Venezuela. When Maduro threatens the US or Spain and blurts out random atrocities nobody cares. We should be thankful for this. Nobody listens to him. He doesn’t count. He is barely perceived. He is a two-bit dictator and that bothers him.
The downside is that no enemy is small, let alone a Colombian big guy that is 2 meters high and weighs 130 kilos. Like Panamanians, given to nautical metaphors, say there’s no more profitable attitude than “navegar con bandera de pendejo” (sailing with the flag of a jerk).
Nobody can deny that Maduro wanders around the world exploiting his vaguely incompetent persona as a folkloric man that speaks to birds. But he does much more than speaking the language of feathered creatures and twist grammar: he sponsors drug lords, he grants illegal passports and he is an ally to Iran, the FARC and Islamic terrorists while in his country he encourages the biggest wave of corruption it has ever seen.
All of this, according to Venezuelan politician Carlos Sanchez Berzaín, has untied a disorganized exodus of those who are the most disenfranchised. If people from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico immigrate to the US in massive numbers is because people like Nicolás Maduro have created the conditions for millions of people to think that, like Bolivar used to say, all a well educated Latin American can do is leave.
It is ridiculous for the Unites States to insist on fighting the symptoms of the problem (drug traffic, terrorism, corruption or illegal immigration) while ignoring the roots of this scourge. It is a great mistake for the US to ignore people like Maduro, Castro and the rest of the usual suspects.
100 days after becoming president, Donald Trump still hasn’t named Assistant Secretaries of State for the Western Hemisphere or formed a coherent policy in relation to the dangers emanating from the area. His administration hasn’t even named an ambassador to the OAS.
This is not surprising, given that its bordering countries have no self-preservation instinct and are not capable of formulating a policy to protect themselves.
In Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos toyed with the fantasy of having Maduro was his new best friend even when he knew thousands of members of the guerilla were hiding in Venezuela. In Brazil, Lula and Dilma did not care that a big chunk of the cocaine produced by the FARC and Venezuela exported by the “Soles” Cartel, in which generals were deeply involved, flooded the street of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
It is essential, at this point, to ask ourselves 3 basic questions:
Why are totalitarian dictatorships like Cuba or populist authoritarian regimes like Ecuador and Venezuela the only Latin American countries that have built a common foreign policy to achieve their aims?
It may be because they hope to sink the United States and the values that sustain the liberal democracies they so hate and they know they have to act internationally to achieve this.
Why are Latin American democracies incapable of formulating an individual or collegiate foreign policy to defend themselves from permanent authoritarian harassment?
It may be because our political leaders (with a few exceptions) only see as far as the end of their noses, or because they have delegated that function upon the US without understanding that, at the end of the day, Americans could care less about what’s happening outside their frontiers unless it affects their security or interests. This can be easily deduced from the perpetual isolationist undercurrent that has been present in the country ever since George Washington left the presidency recommending that his compatriots stayed out of European affairs.
Why is the US more interested in what happens in South East Asia or the Maghreb than in the developments happening in its own backyard, just a few hours away from Trumps still imaginary wall?
I suspect it has something to do with Americans self-perception. Whatever Washington may recommend, the mainstream sees itself as an extension of Europe and has European concerns. Latin American was spawned and heavily guarded by Spain for centuries and very few Americans can perceive the threat insignificant nations can pose. They can’t see, they can’t hear and they can’t feel it. Tragic.