Anger Toward US Boosts Latin America's Leftist Leaders

The anger is a boon for the growing ranks of leftist leaders in the region. Some are challenging US government policies on immigration and Iraq, while others, openly hostile to the Bush administration, are exploiting long-simmering resentment of American

Anger Toward US Boosts Latin America's Leftist Leaders

The graffiti splashed all over the Venezuelan capital leaves no room for misinterpretation of people's view of the US president: ''Bush: Killer."

That slogan, spray-painted on numerous buildings in Caracas, reflects a sentiment that is spreading throughout Latin America. The anger is a boon for the growing ranks of leftist leaders in the region. Some are challenging US government policies on immigration and Iraq, while others, openly hostile to the Bush administration, are exploiting long-simmering resentment of American dominance to solidify their own power.

Democrats and Latin America specialists now are pushing the Bush administration to engage Latin Americans of all political stripes much more actively. In one such initiative, Representative William D. Delahunt, Democrat of Quincy, is planning to bring Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's supporters and opposition leaders to Nantucket again this summer to get the two sides talking.

Delahunt helped foster the first round of ''Grupo de Boston" (Boston Group) meetings for Venezuelan politicians in 2002 and 2003, but the project foundered when the opposition boycotted Venezuelan elections last year.

The revived Nantucket gathering this summer is meant to get the two sides ''out of the sandbox" of the heated Venezuelan political environment and into a secluded arena where they can combine whale-watching and baseball with serious political discussions, said Delahunt, who helped spearhead the effort in 2002. Several officials have already indicated a willingness to attend.

''Particularly as these relationships [between the United States and Venezuela] deteriorate, it's one of the remaining avenues of dialogue left, other than simply the strident rhetoric that emanates from Washington and Caracas," he said.

The Bush administration says that it is committed to maintaining relationships with all democratically elected Latin American leaders, and that it is trying to improve relations through trade initiatives, cultural and educational exchanges, humanitarian efforts, and support for human rights and democracy in the region.

But those efforts have been frustrated in part by anti-American rhetoric and actions in the region, current and former US officials said. The US ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, was recently pelted with eggs and fruit when he tried to deliver a gift of baseball equipment to poor children in Caracas, an episode US officials believe was orchestrated by the Chávez government.

Some critics say the Bush administration has ignored Latin America, particularly since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, when attention shifted to the Middle East. And instead of doing more to ease the poverty and underdevelopment that have given rise to populist leaders in the region, some Latin America specialists say, the administration has become obsessed with personalities like Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and those who cooperate with him, such as Chávez, a frequent and bellicose Bush critic.

''The problem with US policy is that the only thing that has any oxygen left is going after Chávez," said Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based group that studies Latin America policy. ''Chávez didn't invent the problems of anti-Americanism . . . and going after Chávez won't help. It probably gives him a bigger platform that ever," Hakim said.

The Venezuelan president was elected democratically, but is criticized by Human Rights Watch, a prominent rights group, for consolidating power and stacking the judiciary with sympathetic judges. Chávez also flaunts his close ties to Castro.

The Bush administration ''sees everything through the prism of Castro," said Delahunt, who is becoming the Democrats' leading voice on Latin America and who could take over the House subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere if the Democrats gain control of the House this fall. Delahunt, whom Chávez described in a recent interview with the Globe as ''an excellent friend," twice helped negotiate deals to bring cut-rate Venezuelan heating oil to Massachusetts and has spent extensive time in Haiti, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela.

But while the unelected Castro remains the United States' major irritant in Latin America, voters in the rest of the region are putting left-leaning presidents into power through open and democratic elections. Chávez, who frequently needles the Bush administration by calling the president a ''crazy man" and ''Mr. Dangerous," heads into a December reelection campaign with approval ratings of 70 percent to 82 percent, according to recent polls by Latin American organizations.

Bolivia's newly elected president, Evo Morales, recently nationalized the country's gas industry. The US government has met with Bolivian representatives to express concern but has not taken other action.

In Peru, two leftist candidates -- one of whom has talked about nationalizing local industries -- are in a runoff election for president next month.

Chávez says he has a personal gripe with the Bush administration, which he accuses of assisting a failed coup against the Venezuelan leader in 2002, a charge the State Department denies. ''Finally, my Indian blood just boiled. I said, from now on, I decided that the US government, for the most part, is the aggressor against Venezuela," Chávez said in an interview in Caracas. And he said he is not alone in that view.

''Our people started to see the truth about the matter. That is why you see the graffiti against Bush -- not just in Caracas, in the whole world. There is a global protest against Bush," Chávez said.

Latin America specialists distinguish between firebrands like Morales and Chávez and their more democratic and open-market-minded neighbors. But even these more moderate left-leaning leaders in the region have made it clear that they are unhappy with some US policies.

Polls of Latin Americans indicate that anti-American feeling -- and certainly anti-Bush sentiment -- extends beyond the fiery rhetoric of some Latin American presidents.

In a poll last year by Zogby International, a worldwide polling firm based in upstate New York, 81 percent of Latin American citizens gave a negative job approval assessment of Bush, and 86 percent said they disapproved of US management of world conflicts. Nearly half of those interviewed in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina said the United States needed to establish fairer trade policy with Latin America. Several Latin American leaders have complained that US protectionism is interfering with their efforts to market agricultural products in the United States.

Representative James P. McGovern, Democrat of Worcester, said he often saw pictures of former President John F. Kennedy hanging in the homes of even the very poor when he visited El Salvador in the 1980's. But on a visit there in December, McGovern saw the walls of San Salvador splashed with ''Imperialist Bush" and ''Stop the Murders."

Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, said the Latin American leaders are encouraging and creating an anti-American sentiment to garner popular support. ''There's a certain amount of glee when they see someone plucking Uncle Sam's beard," said Noriega, who recently left the Bush administration and is now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

Peter DeShazo, former US ambassador to several Latin American countries, said the United States should support democratic movements in the region and keep an open dialogue with leaders, but wondered how much progress the United States could make with Chávez.

''The question is, to what extent can there still be engagement" with Venezuela ''given the very negative environment that is the product of Chávez's rhetoric?" DeShazo said.

Delahunt, though, is aggressively seeking to bring opposing sides together in Venezuela, and to keep open a dialogue with Chavez, whom he has privately urged to tone down his anti-American rhetoric.

''We obviously have to advocate for our national interests. We have to speak the truth and be transparent," Delahunt said. But ''we have to listen, not lecture," he added, accusing the administration of demonizing Chávez. ''If Chávez had been treated with respect from early on, the relationship would be very different from what it is now."

Delahunt hopes the summer talks will reignite conversations between the two sides and get everyone to the polls in December. Another boycott by Chávez's opposition would only encourage the Venezuelan leader to further consolidate power, Latin American specialists say.

Four political officials, including two Chávez supporters and two opponents who had served in the National Assembly, said after a joint meeting with Delahunt in Caracas on May 1 that they would be willing to come back to Massachusetts and talk.

Noriega, the onetime architect of the Bush administration policy toward Latin America, called the Grupo de Boston effort ''a waste of time. There is a dictatorship taking place there," and the United States should respond by supporting the opposition as well as human rights leaders, Noriega said. ''I just hope there are still some ways to find solutions to this in a democratic way."

But politicians on both sides said in recent interviews in Caracas that they were encouraged by the decision to meet again in Nantucket. ''We can start the dialogue with two different visions . . . to institute conflict resolution," said Pedro Diáz Blum, a Chávez opponent and former member of the National Assembly.


Source: The Boston Globe

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16