Loss of U.S. influence in Latin America opportunity for Canada

March 2, 2011

By Daniel Duquenal
Troy Media

CARACAS, Venezuela, Mar. 2, 2011/ Troy Media/ – Events are occurring in the Middle East that, even last December, we would never have thought possible.

The modern Beys and Pharaohs have been ejected from power and the worst dictator of the area is teetering. The Western World, in fear for his oil supply, resembles deer caught in the headlights. And yet there are other world concerns that need to be kept in mind, in particular for the U.S. which is slowly but surely losing dominance in its own hemisphere.

Events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries are occurring at the same time as the U.S. has a chance to recover some of the influence it lost in Latin America under former President George W. Bush’s tenure.

It was in 1998 that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won his first election, reviving Fidel Castro’s old dreams under a new format financed by the oil boom that started in 2002. But, because of U.S. incompetence, Chavez was able to survive a 2002 setback, which led him to hatch schemes in many Latin American countries, including Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, where he succeeded, and Peru and Mexico. But other countries tied their band wagon to a cash rich Chavez and closed their eyes to his abuses as well. By the time Bush was replaced, it seemed that the whole area was veering from left to hard left: only Mexico and Colombia seemed to be the last allies.

The left tide recedes

But a world financial crisis, which definitely put a strain on Chavez’ chequebook, and the election of Barack Obama as U.S. President stymied the leftist tide. Obama’s election, particularly, brought with it a propaganda bonus that had been lost with Bush.

Yet, these “victories have not translated into the ability of the U.S. to recover the ground it had lost in the preceding decade, a void that Brazil has been busily filling. This has led to a mostly silent contest between the U.S. and Brazil to assert their dominance, a contest which has included dirty tricks from Brazil, such as trying to create a separate structure from the Organization of American States (OAS), one which will not include either the U.S. or Canada.

The leftist tide has, in fact, been receding faster than would have been believed two years ago. Its first major setback was the Honduras coup: although mishandled at first by the U.S., it eventually became the first real victory in the area for democracy over Chavez’s authoritarian neo-socialism. Both Chavez and Brazil’s President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, overplayed their hands in Honduras, with Lula even offering shelter to former Honduras President Josa Manuel Zelaya Rosales in his embassy at the worst moment of the crisis. This was an error on Zelaya’s part, because Brazil had never exerted significant influence in Central America before and thus looked like an unacceptable interloper, almost as imperialist an interloper as the U.S. of yore.

But there was another contribution to counter Lula’s and Chavez’ ambitions: in Panama, Honduras and Chile: the democratic right took office, in Chile after 20 years of centre-left concertacion. And it seems that the coming elections in Peru and Argentina could confirm a more centrist route for Latin America, the more so now that the new leader of Brazil Dilma Rousseff – seems to have less international ambitions than Lula did.

Unfortunately the U.S. neither seems to wish nor is unable to recover its leadership in the area. For example free trade agreements (FTA) keep languishing in Congress, taken hostage by unions and other interest groups.  

New paradigms wanted

There are, fortunately, other options for the Americas besides a soft struggle between Brazil and the U.S. for dominance: partnership has become the new buzz word. It started in the U.S. State Department with the understanding that there is life after Iraq and that it is south of the Rio Grande. A first priority, with a Republican House more inclined to support anti Chavez initiatives, should be to approve an FTA with Colombia before the country starts drifting elsewhere.

Brazil’s Roussef may want to forget the cheap leftist ideas that Lula practiced only outside Brazil. By keeping Chavez and Cuba (and Iran) at arms’ length, Brazil could become, under her, a real mediator, welcomed and respected, and not be seen as the wannabe substitute of the U.S.

There are other options that could be very appealing: Canada could wake up and realize that the U.S. is a weakening barrier and that there is more to do for the Americas than helping some little islands in the Caribbean. Let’s dream of a Three C Group composed of three countries with an impeccable record in human rights and economic development in the last quarter century, one in North America, one in Central America and one in South America: Canada, Costa Rica and Chile. What countries could say no to their combined friendly mediation offer to help solve some regional conflict?

Due to the situation in Venezuela, Daniel Duquenal is a pseudonym. A former scientist now living in the Venezuelan countryside managing his small family business, Daniel edits a very popular blog called Venezuela News and Views.