September 15, 2008 1:23PM

The LA Times on Latin American Saber‐​Rattling

The Los Angeles Times has an editorial today on recent developments in Latin America where last week both Venezuela and Bolivia expelled their U.S. ambassadors. The basic premises of the editorial are correct: Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales are escalating their anti‐​American bravado in order to divert the public’s attention from the deep economic and political problems caused by their misrule. Also, the U.S. should refrain from confronting both leaders since that’s exactly what they want: a fight with Washington.

However, the editorial misses the point in two fronts: First is the insistence in presenting Evo Morales as a crusader in favor on the long‐​oppressed indigenous population, whose plan to “redistribute the country’s wealth” is facing strong opposition from “wealthy white landowners” that want to “secede from the country.” What Evo Morales is actually doing is pushing for a far‐​reaching socialist constitution that would undermine Bolivia’s shaky democratic institutions and nationalize the economy, just as Hugo Chavez has done in Venezuela. In his efforts, Morales has candidly admitted to violating the law in several occasions. He doesn’t seem to care much.

Moreover, the opposition to Morales’ autocratic rule doesn’t come from “wealthy white landowners” looking to secede from Bolivia, but from five provinces whose populations voted overwhelmingly in favor of greater autonomy for their regions. If only “wealthy landowners were behind the unrest, then the Eastern half of Bolivia would be one of the wealthiest regions in South America, since between 60 to 80 percent of their voters backed the autonomic constitutions approved in recent referenda. Nor is it a conflict between “whites” and “indigenous.” The governor of one of these restive provinces is a 45 year‐​old Quechua woman. These provinces don’t want to secede from Bolivia. They just want greater control in their local affairs, given that Bolivia is one of the most centralized nations in all Latin America. The autonomy they are proposing is similar to the one enjoyed by the 50 states here in the U.S.

The second shortcoming of the editorial lies in implying that Obama would be the candidate best positioned to deal with Chavez and Morales, since his popularity in Latin America would weaken their rampant anti‐​Americanism. However, let’s not forget that the harshest words to Chavez coming from a presidential candidate have been Obama’s. The democratic candidate even referred to the Venezuelan as “the enemy” in a recent interview. Not a good way to avoiding fights.