Latin America Swings Left

The United States’ southern neighbors are installing unfriendly leftist governments. Should Washington even give it a second thought?

Readers from the United States may skip this article simply because it is about Latin America—and what does Latin America matter?

Or so many would think.

More so than perhaps any other major region on Earth, Latin America is off most Americans’ radar at the moment.

On casual inspection, the reasoning behind this nonchalance may appear sound. The Middle East, for instance, is a hotbed of terrorist activity backed by Iranian nuclear ambition; clearly, that is somewhere people need to watch. Asian nations like China, Japan and India are propping up the U.S. economic juggernaut; anyone interested in America’s financial health watches the Far East. Europe is rising as a powerful counterbalance to the United States. Even Africa receives attention simply because of its apparently perpetual state of disaster.

Then there is Latin America. There, a man in a red hat makes anti-U.S. speeches and respected analysts laugh him off, saying that the entirety of Latin America is a non-issue for Washington. Americans do not view Latin American nations as serious financial competitors; there is no Latin American terrorist activity in the news; the stability of the Latin American oil supply is considered a minor concern compared to that of the volatile Middle East; Latin America is not the focal point of natural disasters or disease epidemics.

In short, Americans aren’t watching Latin America.

Latin America, however, is certainly watching the U.S.—and not with affection. One of the main goals of just about any Latin American politician right now is to appear anti-Washington. What’s more, the governments of the nations of Latin America are turning toward socialist policies one by one—setting the stage for a host of Castro clones.

There is good cause for Washington to care.

Still No Cigar

The key to understanding why developments in the Southern Hemisphere should matter to Washington lies in the one element of the Latin American political landscape that has not changed since the days of John F. Kennedy.

Where the United States’ relationships with other countries have evolved over time, one nation in the last 50 years has maintained its status as a sworn enemy of the U.S. One leader, now the longest ruling on Earth, has a perfect record of opposing the U.S. despite military threats, embargoes, sanctions and general opposition around the world. During the Cold War, this man brought the world to the brink of hot war by allowing America’s enemy to install nuclear missiles in his island nation. The country: Cuba; the leader: Fidel Castro.

Do we really want Latin American leaders to emulate Castro?

That is exactly the direction things seem to be heading. Consider Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Without this man’s support, Castro’s regime in Cuba might have collapsed by now. Having lost the Soviet Union’s subsidization of oil after the Cold War, Castro found relief from Caracas. Perhaps the best example of what is happening to Latin America as a region is embodied in this man who would remake Latin America in Cuba’s image.

President Chavez has made a point of putting his friendship with Castro in the public eye and painting the U.S.—especially its president—in the most wretched colors possible; a typical pronouncement: “The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the U.S. president has no limits. I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W. Bush.” Here is another: “Jesus was the first socialist, and Judas the first capitalist.”

Chavez has also, according to the Washington Post, “bashed the United States on the al-Jazeera television network and traveled to Libya to receive an award from Moammar Qadhafi” (March 15, 2005). He has openly supported Iran’s nuclear program, saying to the Iranian leadership: “Faced with the threat of the U.S. government against our brother people in Iran, count on us for all our support” (ibid.). If a country is an enemy of the United States, it is a friend of Hugo Chavez.

The converse is also true: Washington’s allies are Chavez’s foes. Earlier this year, he called Tony Blair a “pawn of imperialism” and described him as the “main ally of Hitler”—meaning President Bush.

Chavez also referred to Mexican President Vicente Fox as a “puppy” of the United States and warned him: “Don’t mess with me, sir, because you’ll get stung.” As a result of this exchange, Mexico and Venezuela each recalled its ambassador from the others country.

This conflict was Chavez’s follow-up to the Summit of the Americas on Nov. 4-5, 2005, in Argentina, where Fox backed the U.S. proposal for the formation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (ftaa) and Chavez declared it dead, saying, “All of us here have brought an undertaker’s shovel, because here in Mar del Plata is the tomb of the ftaa” (Seattle Times, Nov. 5, 2005).

President Chavez was joined in his opposition of the ftaa by 30,000 protesters who showed up in Mar del Plata, where the summit was held. By the end of the first day, initially peaceful marches turned violent with a group of about 200 trying to break through the security cordon around the hotel where the heads of state—including U.S. President George Bush—were staying. Some threw rocks with slingshots; others burned American flags. Ever the diplomat, President Chavez held an anti-Bush rally. Police were forced to use tear gas to break up the crowd and arrested over 60 people.

The violence wasn’t limited to Mar del Plata, or even elsewhere in Argentina. It reached into Uruguay, for example, where “hooded protesters chanting anti-Bush slogans attacked bank buildings and shops, and shattered windows” (ibid.). Some called President Bush a fascist and terrorist; others praised Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.

The New York Times called George W. Bush “the most unpopular president ever among Latin Americans.”

It is in this climate that leftist governments are emerging throughout Latin America. The region is in the midst of an 18-month election cycle which is seeing the emergence of left-leaning, anti-American leaders. Why? In part, it is because of a spreading hatred for U.S. policies in Latin America and elsewhere.

The new Bolivian president, Evo Morales, used the slogan “Long live coca, death to the Yankees” in his election campaign last year and has dubbed President Bush a terrorist; a coca farmer himself, he also has no intention of cooperating with the U.S. war on drugs. Rather, Morales has said he will take a cake made with coca leaves to Fidel Castro on his birthday.

That a coca grower opposes the war on drugs is to be expected, but President Morales’s second shot came as more of a surprise: He has followed Hugo Chavez’s lead by nationalizing Bolivia’s oil and gas sector. Naturally, the oil and gas companies whose assets the government seized—literally surrounded with military personnel—were concerned as to how they would be compensated for their material and financial loss. In a fair-minded masterstroke they might not have considered, the president ruled out any compensation, reasoning that the oil giants had surely recovered their investment by now. Then, in a move that has echoes of Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, Morales announced that land is next up for grabs. The U.S. should not look to Morales for friendship.

In Argentine legislative elections last October, the success of President Néstor Kirchner’s Justicialist Party—which gained political control of parliament and of Buenos Aires—gave him a mandate to lead his country further in a socialist direction, “advance his populist agenda—and cement his authority” (ibid., Dec. 16, 2005). During the Summit of the Americas in November, the anti-American Kirchner boasted that in his private meeting with President Bush he would “win by a knockout.”

In Peru, the most extreme, anti-U.S. presidential candidate, Ollanta Humala, was narrowly defeated on June 4 by former president Alan Garcia—a leftist himself, but not a supporter of Chavez like Humala. The election, though, showed widespread popular support for Humala’s views: He actually won in 14 of Peru’s 24 states and “vowed not to let his election loss halt his ‘grand transformation’ of the country,” bragging that he and his supporters had “changed the political map of the country” in only one year (Associated Press, June 6). Humala’s party won the largest number of seats in April 9 congressional elections, “evidence that Chavez’s anti-American brand of politics remains influential in Peru” (ibid.). Meanwhile, the new president, Stratfor predicted, will still “maintain a certain distance from Washington” (May 26).

With more elections set for this year, anti-Americanism is the one common theme across every political party. Candidates in countries such as Ecuador and Nicaragua “will compete to be seen as the most anti-American” (ibid., January 16). Up-and-coming leaders in the region adhere to either the moderate socialism found in Brazil and Argentina (which each endorse certain elements of capitalism), or the more revolutionary Chavez brand in Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Last October, a Republican senator from Florida, Mel Martinez, warned that Latin America risks sliding into a “populist Chavismo, anti-American sentiment” if the U.S. doesn’t take on a more comprehensive, active approach to the region (Miami Herald, Oct. 1, 2005). If the world’s politicians can be bothered to watch, they will see how correct that warning was.

Off the Agenda

In their determination to defy the U.S. and work against it at every opportunity, nations of Latin America are joining forces in the area of trade in order to decrease their dependence on America. The U.S.-backed ftaa is for all practical purposes dead, while the Latin American trade group Mercosur (comprised of founding members Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) is growing stronger, with Venezuela having joined last December and Bolivia expected to join.

Cuba’s trade with Mercosur and Brazil accounts for 80 percent of its foreign trade. The president of Brazil has said that he favors trade with Latin American countries over the U.S.; in fact, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said last year that the U.S.-backed ftaa is off the agenda in Brazil altogether and had been for two years—much to the surprise of Washington. He and the president of Argentina have opposed the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba and want to increase their own trade with President Castro. Two state-run oil firms of Brazil and Venezuela have plans to begin construction on a $20 million lubricants factory in Cuba.

Now, Cuba has requested associate membership in Mercosur. A few years ago, this request would have been considered beyond ridiculous. The United States of America—the largest trading partner of virtually every country on Earth—refuses to trade with Cuba. Washington would certainly have a less-than-friendly posture toward a group that boasts Cuba as a member. Even discussing the idea shows how intent Latin American governments are on alienating the U.S.

U.S. influence in Latin America is evaporating. What will takes its place?

To many, China might appear to be the prime candidate. Make no mistake: China is definitely marginalizing the U.S. in the Latin American region both economically and militarily. Beijing’s actions are causing the United States’ power in Latin America to decline. Also, there is an ideological connection between the Chinese and much of Latin America because of what appears to be their mutual acceptance of communist and socialist thinking. Combine those two factors, and it might appear that Latin America has a future as the resource basket for Beijing.

The ideology that actually reveals where Latin American loyalties are headed, though, is religious.

With 500 million Roman Catholics in Latin America, no matter what happens in Latin America politically, religion will be the predominant factor in foreign policy in the time ahead. Ultimately, the biggest benefactor of Latin American wealth will be Europe (see sidebar, below).

A Mart of Nations

Last September, Chavez announced that Venezuela had moved its central bank foreign reserves out of the United States—just as America reeled from the double-fisted attack of Katrina and Rita. All in all, he sold $20 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds and moved it to Europe.

This is a strong sign of the direction Latin America is headed.

Even as Latin America categorically rejects the possibility of a free-trade area with the United States, Europe has been working to cement its trade ties with Latin American countries.

Negotiations have been underway since 1999 to forge a massive free-trade area joining together the European Union and the Mercosur trade bloc—encompassing 700 million people. The talks have encountered difficulties—in part because of EU demands that Mercosur drop internal trade barriers—but relaunched last September. EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson visited Brazil and Argentina in March for four days to boost those talks. At the fourth joint EU-Latin American summit that took place in Vienna on May 11-13, the EU launched trade negotiations with the Andean trade grouping of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

At the same time, the EU is looking for other inroads—apart from trade—into Latin America. Last December the European Commission proposed a “renewed strategy designed to strengthen the EU-Latin America strategic partnership” (Austria Today, March 24). The policy paper made recommendations including stepping up political dialogue between the two regions, stimulating economic interaction, and tackling inequality. “Today’s partnership,” reported Austria Today, “reflects the increasing importance and growing potential of the Latin American region, and the will of both parties to further strengthen the relationship in the future” (ibid.).

In another effort to move in on Latin America, on March 27-28 the European Commission held a high-level conference in Brussels “on the theme of social cohesion in Latin America, bringing together some 30 ministers from both sides of the Atlantic with a view to drawing up … strategies for enhancing social solidarity in Latin American countries” (European Report, March 28).

The EU is currently the leading donor, top investor and second-most important trade partner for Latin America. Their strategic partnership has developed basically over the past seven years.

To longtime readers of the Trumpet, Latin America’s turn toward Europe should come as no surprise.

As far back as May 1962, Herbert Armstrong’s Plain Truth magazine declared that the U.S. would “be left out in the cold as two gigantic trade blocs, Europe and Latin America, mesh together and begin calling the shots in world commerce.” We are seeing that prediction realized today, and the increasing anti-Americanism of leftist governments in Latin America is a driving force behind it. Bible prophecy tells us Europe will edge the U.S. out of Latin America. It is easy to see that this has already begun.

Many would view the Roman Catholic Church as being a right-wing institution. The Vatican is powerfully anti-liberal. But at its core, the church of Rome is socialist. The very name catholic speaks of a universal collective. Ideologically, the main difference between Catholicism and communism is that one claims to worship a god, while the other worships the state. In practice the two have much in common. This explains why nations can swing so violently from one to the other. Whether Latino countries are democratic, socialist, communist states or monarchies will ultimately be overwhelmed by one factor: Every country in Latin America is overwhelmingly Catholic.

The Bible prophesies of a final resurrection of a European empire—the Holy Roman Empire of old (request our free booklet Germany and the Holy Roman Empire for proof). This empire is termed “holy” because—as in centuries past—it will be guided by a religious entity, the Vatican. The Vatican will use its influence in Catholic Latin America to bind it—particularly economically—to Europe.

Isaiah 23:3 describes the coming European superpower as a “mart of nations.” This means that its presence will be felt throughout the world’s economy. Biblical prophecy also has one general pronouncement regarding Latin America: that it will support the European combine with “all kind of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead” (Ezekiel 27:12). While the U.S. is pushed out of Latin America as a hated enemy, watch for Europe to move in as a welcome guest.

Do we see how critical the situation in Latin America is?

Washington officials seem to think Latin America doesn’t matter as long as Venezuelan oil continues to flow to the U.S. One analyst goes so far as to say that “if all of South America were swept by a Bolivarian revolution, it wouldn’t hurt the United States.”

If the long-term stability of the U.S. oil supply is not a concern, perhaps these analysts are right (America currently imports more oil from Latin America than from all Middle Eastern countries combined). If it does not matter that the democratic principles Washington espouses for the Middle East are leaving Latin America in country after country, then the examples Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales set do not matter. If it does not matter that the entire region will eventually use its considerable resources to support another superpower—as biblical prophecy guarantees us—then the analysis is correct.

But if Washington has any interest in improving its international reputation, securing its oil supply, or preventing future enemies from grabbing resources on which it relies, then President Chavez is more than simply a harmless annoyance. The rise of these types of socialist, Washington-hating leaders to power—along with Fidel Castro’s perpetual existence as a political figure—is another sign of how weak the United States has become, while other global powers, especially the European Union and the Russo-China alliance, grow exponentially stronger.

Maybe Washington should recalibrate its Latin American radar after all.