The disappearance in Aruba last June of Natalee Holloway, an American high school senior on a trip with her classmates from Alabama, received more press and television coverage in the U.S. than any other event taking place in Latin America and the Caribbean this year. I wonder if that is really a reflection of the interest of the average American towards what takes place south of the border or just another indication of media bias.
But there is little doubt that the American media reflects the apathy and lack of interest shown by the U.S. government and the Washington establishment towards Latin American affairs. For example, little attention and respect was shown to those at the State Department that knew Latin America well, like Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, who were instead pushed out.
I find it very strange that Washington considers North Korea's communism and Iran's extremism to be eminent dangers, but not Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's communism and Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner's extremism.
The fact is, U.S.-Latin American relations are at one of their lowest historical points. The majority of Latin intellectuals traditionally have felt a deep and secret inferiority complex toward the U.S., blaming it for everything bad that takes place in the hemisphere. They have taught in both public and private schools and universities for three generations, and finally have seen their favorite students reach the top political positions not only in Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Bolivia, but also again in Chile, where the highly successful accomplishments and the good name of the "Chicago boys" are being meticulously trashed by official lies and horrendous judicial decisions, while Allende's followers are treated as victims and "compensated" from the state coffers.
What took place last week in Mar del Plata, Argentina at the so-called People's Summit would have been unthinkable at any time in the 20th century. Yes, Castro has been attacking U.S. governments and institutions for more than four decades, but the obscenity and insolence of Chávez and his clique have no precedent. Undoubtedly, he was encouraged by the lack of response when last January he said during one of his weekly "Aló Presidente" broadcasts that Condi Rice's problem was her lack of a sex life, something on which he offered to help her.
Such behavior is truly revolting, but also troubling is the fact that the U.S., with little or no consideration, has been making enemies of its traditional friends in Latin America. Since 9/11, U.S. consulates throughout the hemisphere have been denying visas or making it extremely difficult to get them to Latin Americans that do business in this country, who own vacation homes here or studied or have their children attending American schools and colleges, despite the fact that they have been coming here as tourists or to visit family members for decades. Even though no Latin American took part in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there seems to be a clear presumption of guilt once they enter the grounds of an American embassy or are inspected by a Homeland Security officer.
Regarding U.S. policies towards Latin America, there is a double standard everywhere you look. It is crystal clear where Lula, Chávez, Kirchner, Vásquez, etc. want to go. Many ideas and policies of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Che Guevara are being rediscovered and openly applied by them, while U.S. foreign economic policy continues to sail down a third way between capitalism and socialism. No wonder such little respect is shown towards Washington. Free trade, yes, but not regarding sugar or shrimp or steel or lumber or whatever deep pocket lobbyists want to keep out today. Private enterprise and the right to work, sure, as long as the interests of American unions are safeguarded by "fair trade", which includes a "level playing field" (unaffordable wages and working conditions) and "no child labor", even if the real alternative for many of those youngsters is begging or prostitution, rather than going to school.
A hundred years ago, 50% of Americans worked in agriculture and no one in Washington dared to tell farmers that their children could not help in the field or that going to class was more important than food on the table. Most Latin Americans still work in agriculture. Thinking how your great-grandparents would have reacted if Washington tried to apply to them its current foreign economic policies will help understand how Latin Americans see those deceitful policies, displayed as "fair trade".
Unfortunately, socialism and communism have a growing number of advocates in Latin America, while capitalism has no clear support coming from Washington. Instead, too many recycled civil servants enjoy the tax-free life and great power of their current positions at the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and all the U.N. outposts, from where they support failed policies of big government and higher taxes. Is it any wonder some Latin friends of the U.S. feel betrayed?