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Was Latin America witnessing a Chavez-Bush Show?


It is quite easy to try to pin the blame for the negative reactions to Bush’s Latin America’s visit on Hugo Chavez. Certainly the Venezuelan President was undertaking a parallel visit to some countries and was drumming up anti-American sentiment. But Bush’s trip in the first place was designed to counter the growing influence of Venezuela in the region. The region here, of course, includes the Caribbean where we are told that the American President will soon send a navy medical ship to treat patients. We are also hearing about a proposed meeting on June 21 between the American President and Caribbean Leaders. We have however to go beyond Chavez and the Chavez- Bush relationship, that was shaped by Bush’s support for a failed coup against the Venezuelan President. The American President has low approval ratings even in his own country and is among the most hated leaders throughout the world so do we expect it to be any different in Latin America, given Bush’s policies and traditional US approaches to Latin America.{{more}}

Even without Chavez the people of Latin America would have been hostile to Bush’s visit for they see their poverty and a lot of the problems in their region as tied up with America’s policies especially its free market policies that give freedom to exploitation by their multi-national companies. Chavez calling Bush a Devil made news around the world but Mayan priests in Guatemala have endeavoured to purify their sacred archaeological site after Bush’s visit. The Coordinator of a Mayan NGO stated, “That a person like Bush with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the US, with the wars he has provoked is going to walk in our sacred lands is an offence for the Mayan people and their culture” Another of the indigenous leaders had his say, “No, Mr. Bush, you cannot trample and degrade the memory of our ancestors. This is not your ranch in Texas.”

Chavez did not have to tell the Mayans to make those comments. They understand fully the implications of Bush’s policies. While it is true that one has to draw distinctions between responses to particular leaders and the countries they lead it is true that American policies in Latin America have traditionally fuelled a lot of the problems faced in the region. One will remember America’s support for the death squads and paramilitary forces in the region. Even today Bush’s broad embrace of Alvaro Uribe of Colombia raises a number of questions at home. Uribe is widely popular but allegations of ties by his administration with paramilitary groups, particularly the United Self Defense Movement of Colombia that is associated with assassinations and disappearances of thousands of people are growing. Moreover, Commanders of that group seemed to have been granted protection against extradition to the US for crimes.

One of the things for which we can accuse Bush as we could for many of his predecessors is his hypocrisy and double standards. He speaks of democracy but sides with some of the worst violators. He speaks of democracy but blacklists governments like that of Hamas that have been freely elected by their people. In that scenario elections don’t seem to matter unless leaders are elected who are friendly to the American administration. Bush is now playing catch up in Latin America and the Caribbean that have been seriously neglected by the Administration as it focused its attention on terrorism and the war in Iraq to which it has committed billions of dollars. Something is seriously wrong with any administration that can spend billions of dollars on war but is reluctant to put money into health insurance, social security and to improve minimum wages. And these are for its citizens! You can imagine what the situation will be like with those who are not their own. Bush’s problem with Latin America is that the region has been installing leftist leaders, a reflection of the impact of traditional policies on the people. Fortunately for Mr. Bush, leaders like Tabare_ Vazquez in Uruguay and Lula da Silva in Brazil are moderate in their positions and are still holding out a hand to America. But he cannot take them for granted especially the Uruguayan President who has described his government as an anti-imperialist one.

All of this is not to let Chavez go scot- free. A poll carried out some time last year by Chilean based Latinobarometro had given a 39 percent rating to both Bush and Chavez with the comment that there were strong criticisms of the approaches of both leaders with their ‘you are either with us or against us’ attitude. Chavez’ unorthodox approaches and belligerent positions will always bring criticisms but he has been getting high marks for using his petrodollars on social and educational programmes among the poor in the region. Chavez obviously has his own agenda but one has to be suspicious of Bush’s policies that have been forced by the influence that Chavez has been gaining in the region. Is it a matter of too little too late for George W?

In the final analysis the region should not see itself as willing to sell its soul to the highest bidder. Whatever aid is given must fit into the region’s own agenda. Brazil and Uruguay have shown that leftist as they are they are open to friendly relations once it fits in to their own agenda and no attempt is made to thwart them from it. I looked at Bush landing in Guatemala and surely he looked tired and dejected. Protests followed him everywhere and it must be painful to Americans to see the reactions to their President and to hear the names that he was being called- ‘murderer, fascist, hypocrite and planet polluter.’ But this will certainly not be new for them. He has been called similar names elsewhere and even by his opponents at home. Some have even been suggesting that he should be tried for war crimes. There is really no resting place for George W. He brings out the worst in people wherever he goes. At home he has to face a Democrat controlled Congress and anti-war protesters and abroad even when among friends he can bet there will be persons protesting outside. The pressure is now building up against his Vice President without whom he will be no body. I am sure he is eagerly counting off the days left in his presidency. Chavez and Bush might have had a side show but the real show is there for all to see.