The Political Bomb at America’s Back Door
[Editor: Originally, the second paragraph of this article stated that Peru received its independence in 1826. It has been changed below to reflect the correct year that Peru declared independence: 1821. 1826 was the year that the last outpost in Peru was surrendered by the Spanish. Also, the ninth paragraph originally stated that Jose Manuel Barroso is a Spaniard when in fact he is Portuguese.]
Anyone half interested in the Latin American sphere is well acquainted with the volatility of politics in Latin America. In the 19th century, inflamed by revolutionary ideas resulting from the American and French revolutions and concerned at the general disregard of the international community for the perceived racism of their colonial overlords, Latino nations rose up in reaction, forcing the issue of decolonization.
The wars of independence in Latin America started in Venezuela, seven of its eastern provinces being first to gain independence from the Spanish in 1811. Paraguay signed its declaration of independence the same year. Argentina followed in 1816, Chile in 1818, Greater Colombia in 1819, Venezuela, Mexico and Peru in 1821. The independence of the Central American isthmus was then quickly, and bloodlessly, accomplished. Ecuador and Brazil followed in 1822, Brazil receiving its independence from the Portuguese. Then came Uruguay in 1825 with the island nation of Cuba, where Columbus made his landfall after the Bahamas, finally gaining its independence in 1898.
In the wake of decolonization, political instability, border disputes, economic ruin and rising national debt plagued Latin America. (These problems continue in many regions to this very day.) This produced a climate ripe for the rise of demagogues. Throughout most of the 20th century, a rash of dictatorships arose—and much of the continent of South America and the isthmus of Central America turned to leftist politics.
The situation changed in the 1990s as free-market capitalism, encouraged by Western economists, was tried in many Latino countries. What followed was a flirtation with more conservative social, economic and foreign policies, heavily influenced by ideas emanating from late-20th century thinking within academia in the United States. Especially influential was the school of young graduates in economics from Harvard.
However, what did not change within Latin America were the deeply rooted systemic problems within its Hispanic nations, which hearkened back to colonial times in many instances. Entrenched hierarchies, institutionalized corruption, and the stratification of Latino society based upon race, all combined to restrict once again any real and positive economic progress of a lasting nature. This was heavily overlaid in countries such as Peru, Colombia and Mexico by the illegal drug trade, which supplies income to so many rural dwellers, not to mention downstream profits reaped by those who process and distribute the wicked weeds in their various forms.
Inevitably, Latin American politics swung back to the left as these entrenched forces within the system failed to yield to genuine reform. Thus we have the present-day scenario with populist leaders of socialist persuasion leading the countries of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia and Uruguay. It seems likely that upcoming elections in Mexico and Peru will achieve a similar result.
The International Herald Tribune commented recently that a White House distracted by events in Iraq, Afghanistan and the general war on terror may be awakening to the ticking bomb at America’s back door: “[T]he Bush administration is worried that a Chávez-led bloc of radicalism may be developing in Latin America” (April 27). Additional concerns have arisen as a result of President Morales of Bolivia announcing, on the very eve of a conference in Vienna between European and Latin American leaders, his intention to nationalize his country’s oil and gas industry. This places him, with Venezuela’s Chavez, firmly on a course of closing their markets in opposition to any initiatives for free and open international trade such as the North America Free Trade Association.
Taking advantage of America’s benign neglect of its Latino neighbors, China has moved aggressively in to Latin American trade over the past decade. Though many of China’s promises to supply capital for the development of industry and infrastructure in Latin American countries have yet to materialize, Chinese-made goods are flooding into Latin America, supplying extremely stiff competition to homegrown industry. This has provoked a groundswell of concern that China may just be taking advantage of the Latinos, exploiting them in what are increasingly seen as one-sided trade deals in China’s favor.
Thus it was amidst this atmosphere of increasingly volatile change within Latin America that its leaders met at a three-day Summit held May 11 to 13, in Vienna, with other leaders of nations more closely attached to their old colonial roots, the leaders of the European Union. The European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso called for a “convergence of interests, not only of values” between Latin America and the EU (Deutsche Welle, May 12). However, the climate was far from one of real unity.
What really clouded the situation was presidents Chavez and Morales touting their closed-market approach against other nations, particularly against the nations of Central America who seek more open international trade relations. But the tide swung against this leftist duo as, in the summit’s final statement, the EU and six Central American states—Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and El Salvador—agreed to open negotiations on setting up a free-trade zone.
Commentators missed the real news in their observations on this EU/Latin America summit. They failed to see that despite the posturing of petty despots such as Chavez, Morales and their aging mentor, President Fidel Castro of Cuba, the trend is fixed. Inevitably there will exist a trade nexus between the European Union and Latin America.
One should not read too much into the “left-wing swing” in Latin America. Currently there are three collectivist (socialist) ideologies extant in the world: communism, pan-Islam, and the socialist universalism of the Catholic religion. Though communism claims to be godless at its foundation, the original socialism has never been without its religion. In fact it is founded in the Catholic social dogma of the ancient religion of Rome!
Ultimately, there is an authority to which the masses, be they right or left wing in their political leanings, really do pay attention within Latin America. It overrides all other influences, economic, political and ideological. That power is simply religion. The Latin American continent is the only continent bound together by one predominant language and one dominant religion. The language is the second-most spoken language in the world: Spanish. The religion boasts more adherents, globally, than any other single religion: Roman Catholicism. It is the national religion of all Latin American nations and the predominant religion of the member nations of the European Union.
All the pontificating and blustering of demagogues such as Chavez and Morales will pale into so much pallid stutterings in the mind of the masses when their papa speaks from Rome! And speak he will. That fact was made clear when Chavez visited, cap in hand, Pope Benedict xvi on May 11 at the Vatican. Not only did the pope extend additional time to get his points across to Chavez, giving him 15 more minutes than the standard 20 due such political leaders, but, as he turned to leave, Benedict broke protocol to personally hand him a stern letter counseling him to have second thoughts about the direction in which he was taking his country. Catholic World News called it “an extraordinary step” and a “challenge” (May 13).
Chavez left Vienna with real food for thought. He knows that Fidel Castro, on whom he has largely modeled himself, has twice over the past year invited Benedict to visit Cuba. He will not buck this pope. He knows it was Ratzinger who routed the liberal priests from their posts in Latin America during John Paul ii’s reign. Now that Ratzinger has the papal title himself, Chavez would be unwise to press further for endorsement of his populist political platform by the church in Venezuela. Other leaders in Latin America will sit up and take note. They know the power of this man, Ratzinger.
It was Ratzinger, working behind the scenes, who contributed to the wave of political change that rippled through Latin America in the 1990s under John Paul’s papacy. The European Union will yet have its day in Latin America. It will get its trading deal with that continent. But it will be far from a free trade deal! It will be nothing but a reversion to that old colonial relationship which once existed under Spanish domination.
One thing will be different this time. It will be the German nation that leads the colonial putsch in Latin America, with the willing submission of its partner in Madrid, under the watchful eye of Rome.
Watch for Pope Benedict to take a real interest in the politics of Latin America from here on. And if you really want to find out the biblical connection, just search Latin America in the archive on this website.