Octobre 09, 2008
The Oct. 6 editorial "A Choice for Latin America" described the regional situation in excessively stark terms, leading to a misguided policy prescription. Latin America is indeed going through profound changes, some of which are more salutary than others. While the erosion of democratic checks and balances is troubling, the growing participation of once-marginalized groups in the political process in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador is a welcome trend.
It is important not to exaggerate Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's sway in the region. The editorial's assertion that Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Cuba are "satellites" of Mr. Chávez and that "Honduras and Paraguay may be swinging his way" overstated Mr. Chávez's influence and glossed over fundamental differences among these countries. As U.S. influence declines, Latin American nations are understandably diversifying their alliances and jockeying to advance their interests.
However tempting it might be for Washington to cut off trade preferences and aid to governments that "dismantle democratic institutions and attack U.S. interests," it is hard to see how such punitive measures would improve U.S. standing in Latin America. On the contrary, by alienating the United States from regional allies such as Brazil and Chile while fostering anti-American sentiment among the hundreds of thousands who would lose their livelihoods, these moves would undermine U.S. interests.
As president, Barack Obama or John McCain will hopefully try to repair U.S. relations with Latin America, but the choice is not between ignoring the region and disciplining governments that resist U.S. policies. Happily, there is a middle ground. The United States can help shape an environment more congenial to its interests -- but only if it resists myopic, self-defeating measures and stays engaged even in unfriendly places.
Vice President for Policy