Friday, January 12

The chickens come home to roost for State's failed policies in Latin America

On Saturday Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kicks off a four day visit with the presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua, who are being sworn in within days of each other after recent election victories -- and who are sworn enemies of free market policies. Rafael Correa, a supporter of Mr Chavez and his anti-Americanism, assumes the presidency of Ecuador on Monday. Ahmadinejad will also meet with Evo Morales, the left-wing President of Bolivia who took office a year ago.

At least the Pentagon is getting their head screwed on straight and realizing Iraq is not Poland; they're trying to jump start state-owned Iraqi industries that Paul Bremer wanted privatized. But the US Department of State, the US Congress, and USAID still have a ways to go before they stop trying to act like Margaret Thatcher in their policy toward developing countries outside Europe.

Of course free markets are superior to ones that are rigidly state-controlled. But one cannot exclude millions of a developing country's poorest from an economic miracle, and not expect political repercussions that savage a young democracy.

I return to the theme of priorities, which I mentioned in my recent posts on the Millennium Challenge Account. First we sacrificed democratic principles at the drop of a hat in order to fight Soviet Communism. Then we were willing to deal with any ruling class around the globe, no matter how corrupt and oppressive, which agreed to sell out their country's key industries to foreign investors.

Why don't we try something new for a change, and set forth a defense-based foreign policy -- instead of an economics-based policy -- that sticks to the core issue of democracy?

Nowhere are US foreign policy priorities more skewed than in Latin America. So how's that been working out for the US?
February 2006: "Bolivia has not previously had the close relationship with Iran that Cuba and Venezuela have been developing. But Bolivia's new president, Mr. Morales, has talked recently with Ahmadinejad about forming a trilateral energy alliance between Iran, Venezuela, and Bolivia. Among other things, it would provide Bolivia with expertise to nationalize its oil and gas industry."(1)

January 10, 2007: [President Hugo] Chavez said the constitution would be changed to allow the government to take control of the natural gas industry from foreign companies, which now have wide rights in the [Venezuela energy] sector. Earlier this week, he said he would increase state control over four key oil production projects. Those projects [...] are operated by U.S. firms such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron as well as foreign multinationals Total of France and BP. [...](2)

January 11, 2007: "During 16 years, the people endured the consequences of this neo-liberal economic model," [Nicaraguan President Daniel] Ortega said, referring to the free-market policies of his three conservative predecessors. "What benefits has this model brought us? Where is the wealth? [...] Poverty and hunger ... make the vast majority of Nicaraguans suffer, no matter what political party they belong to."

Many Nicaraguans expect new aid deals to be announced after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in Managua for a visit Sunday.(3)
So what should the US government do in response? At the moment, envoys should haul suitcases full of cash, and attache cases full of the type of aid and development assistance proposals that Mr Ortega likes, when they pay their respects.

Then everybody concerned needs to put on their thinking cap and figure out the differences between privatization and democracy. Once they climb that mountain, figure out the differences between foreign investment and democracy.

1) Latin America's leftist regimes get cozy with Iran by John Hughes for The Christian Science Monitor.

2) Chavez Would Abolish Presidential Term Limit by Juan Forero for The Washington Post.

3) After Long Hiatus, Ortega Returns to Office in Nicaragua by Hector Tobar and Alex Renderos for the Los Angeles Times.

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