Saturday, February 04, 2006

Today, Donald Rumsfeld compared Hugo Chavez to Hitler, apparently reaching a new low in relations that have soured even further this week with a brouhaha about allegations of spying.

Rumsfeld also called the election of leftist Evo Morales in Bolivia 'worrisome.'

What has been coming more and more into focus is that the democracies throughout Latin America are moving leftward. Another leftist President, Michelle Bachelet, recently was elected in Chile. Ollanta Humala, another protege of Chavez, has recently surged ahead of his rivals in the polls in Peru ahead of an April election. Leftists have also made substantial gains in recent Parliamentary elections in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Even that old punching bag of Washington, former Sandanista President Daniel Ortega, looks like he may again be President of Nicaragua-- by means of being elected to the office.

Most worrisome for conservatives in Washington is the campaign of Manuel Lopez-Obrador, the populist mayor Mexico City. Even rightist Mexican President Vicente Fox is worried enough that he recently let Zapatista rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos go on a nationwide speaking tour, quite a departure from the norm for a man often labelled as a terrorist. Marcos claims that all three Mexican political parties are the same and is urging an election boycott; It is presumed that the majority of those who heed his call would otherwise vote for Lopez Obrador. Fox may be outgunned by some American rightists though. One reason why the White House has been 'hush hush' on the issue of a border fence is because every time American conservatives say it or make other outrageous statements against Mexican immigrants, it is like manna from heaven for the Obrador campaign (which has been feeding off anti-Americanism and the perception that Americans are anti-Mexican).

What we should do is quit fearing the new Latin America. We should embrace it. Without reactions like Rumsfeld's or members of the Minuteman project, it is likely that a lot of people in Latin America still would like America. Despite the support of the American government in decades past for repressive fascist dictatorships, most people I have met from Latin America have a genuine love of Americans. It is still one region of the world where people are literally willing to die in order to get here from, and insofar as the stated objective of most of the new governments in these countries is to improve living standards for the poor, it seems to me that if we really want to control immigration coming here, the first thing we can do is help them succeed. Case in point: Venezuela. With a boom in oil wealth and Chavez working to improve the lot of the poorest people there, Venezuela is not a significant source of illegal immigration to the United States (although the trafficking of Venezuelan girls and women, often to western Europe or to Caribbean resorts where they are forced into prostitution remains a problem, and one I would be remiss if I didn't say something about; on the whole I like Mr. Chavez' record in dealing with poverty and exploitation, but his failure to even acknowlege that there is a problem with prostitution related kidnappings, sexual assaults, forced servitude and effective imprisonment overseas is inexcusable.)

If we work with the new countries in Latin America, we might find that not only is there a real chance to reduce our illegal immigration problem by giving people more hope where they live, but in some cases the governments they elect may worthwhile allies of the U.S. After all, they have the support of their people, which is different from the characters we have done business with in Latin America for decades.

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