As a new administration is coming to power, there is a tremendous need to reset U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere, a policy that has been erratic and based on false premises.
The Western Hemisphere is the neighborhood where the United States lives. It is reasonable to assume that a better neighborhood will make us safer and stronger.
The last two decades were characterized by the rise of the left in Latin America.
The extreme left led by President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela has been authoritarian and anti-American. Furthermore, it strengthened alliances with rogue states such as Iran as well as with terrorist groups including the FARC and Hezbollah.
While the moderate left in countries like Brazil did not go as far as Venezuela and its allies, it served as an enabler of extremism and anti-Americanism. Brazil actively pursued a foreign policy aimed at reducing U.S. influence in the region and saw the authoritarian left as an ally.
In fact, the moderate and extreme left were triumphalist, united in their pursuit of a new order based on alliances with Third World countries while viewing Western countries as rivals.
Under President George W. Bush, U.S. policy in Latin America was delegated to the State Department while the Administration directed its efforts to Asia and the Middle East.
Under President Barack Obama, U.S. policy was characterized by mea culpa.
In Obama’s eyes, the U.S. was a source of trouble and arrogance in the region. Therefore, the president subordinated U.S. policy to a mere adaptation to the circumstances without even attempting to exercise any influence in the region.
Normalization of relations with Cuba has been the main thrust of American policy in the Western Hemisphere. Such policy was guided by two main principles. First the need to follow the will of the majority of the countries of the region and secondly, to establish Obama’s own legacy as the person who broke the traditional intransigent U.S. policy towards Cuba.
Authoritarianism flourished and democracy declined throughout the region. Cuba did not substantially change its human rights policy and continued to support the repressive apparatus of the Venezuelan government.
Under the leadership of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela was also turned into a narco-state with part of its political and military elite seriously implicated in organized crime.
The country has become a key transition point for transportation of illegal drugs.
Likewise, Venezuela’s relations with Iran and subversive and terrorist groups has continued to thrive. Hezbollah cells cooperate with drug cartels in the building of tunnels along the U.S./Mexican border; the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are training revolutionary fighters of the Bolivarian Alliance in Bolivia; Iran extracts uranium from Venezuela; and Venezuela and some of her allies are selling passports to Iranians and other individuals from the Middle East.
None of these detrimental elements was challenged by our foreign policy establishment.
Today, Latin America is threatened with anarchy as the rule of law and transnational crime increases. Our Southern border is more vulnerable to criminal elements than ever before.
China has increased its economic and strategic presence in the region raising its leverage. General John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command has pointed out that Russia has increased its profile in the region at levels not seen in three decades.
There is now an opportunity for the United States to seek a renewed alliance with countries such as Brazil and Argentina, whose governments are no longer ran by anti-American presidents. An emerging giant could be a very good strategic ally just like any other NATO member or Western ally. Likewise, the U.S cannot show any more tolerance to violations of democracy and human rights such as in Venezuela.
First, because the assault on democracy is carried out by regimes that are likely to be involved in criminal activity, while pursuing alliances with rogue elements and adopting an anti-American attitude. Secondly, because democratic regimes are more likely to find common ground with the United States, find common goals and make the region safer.
The fact that President-elect Donald Trump most recently stated that he stands with the people of Cuba and Venezuela is very encouraging. This is an opportunity to develop an effective foreign policy.
A Trump administration should take into account all these factors and develop strategies accordingly.
One thing is for sure: the status-quo is unsustainable and a lot of past defective policy needs to be reevaluated.
Luis Fleischman has worked as adviser for the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy on issues related to Latin America. He is the author of "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Threat to U.S. Security." Fleischman is an adjunct professor of sociology and political science at Florida Atlantic University Honors College and FAU Lifelong Learning Society. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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