What About Latin America?

Ray Walser /

After two Presidential debates it’s becomingly increasingly clear there will be little discussion of U.S.-Latin American relations in the final month.

How will the next President handle President Hugo Chavez, the deteriorating U.S. – Venezuelan relationship, and growing ties with Russia and Iran? What about Russian warships headed to the Caribbean for joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy or Chavez’s soliciting Russian help with nuclear power?

Enriched by Venezuela’s oil revenues, agents of Chavez’s government have conspired with narco-terrorist guerrillas in Colombia, shipped suitcases of cash to Argentina, and worked to firm up relations with Middle Eastern terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. Oil and other subsidies from Chavez give Raul Castro in Cuba a major means to preserve a communist dictatorship well beyond its expiration date.

Borrowing from the Hugo Chavez’s playbook, Evo Morales swept into power in Bolivia in 2006, promising mass-government handouts while deriding the free market and “Yankee imperialism.” Morales has tightened his grip on the state nationalizing the gas industry, cutting away at private property rights, defending the right of farmers to grow coca [the base ingredient of cocaine], and pushing his country to the brink of civil war. In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa has utilized his brand of populism to win control over the nation’s central bank and key economic resources and to guarantee longevity in office. In Nicaragua, Sandinista president Daniel Ortega pines for the bad old days of the 1980s and even traditional Central American friend Honduras is tempted by offers of cheap oil and other financial aid from Venezuela.

And yet, the stalled Colombia Free Trade Agreement in Congress seems to indicate that our public elected officials have little interest in shoring up our ties with one of our strongest allies in South America.

In the past, U.S. presidents articulated broad visions and bold measures to advance U.S. interests and leadership in the Americas. One hopes that the candidates will be able to look past the current crisis on Wall Streets and beyond sniping over their fitness for high office to articulate a clearer, bolder vision of the way forward in the Americas. Let’s hope the instincts for American leadership prevail in reasserting the importance of democracy, human rights, economic freedom, and individual liberty in the Western Hemisphere and across the globe.

Israel Ortega co-authored this post.