The language suggests that Latin America is waiting for a United States that pays it more respect, attention, and gives it more money. Sure, this is all important. But you simply cannot develop an intelligent policy towards Latin America without realizing that past and current American policy does more than simply "ignore" these countries. Many of the problems in these countries are related to American policies towards Latin America. Many Latin Americans understand and believe this. The leftward shift is partially a product of it.
- Latin America as a whole receives less aid from the US in one year than Egypt does on its own.
- A large proportion of US aid to the western hemisphere goes to Haiti.
- Much of Latin America feels ignored.
- This will be the first time Bush has visited Uruguay and Guatemala.
The White House recognises the perception and so has called this a "year of engagement" in the region to counter the negative view.
Meanwhile, the US administration seems to believe that the goal is simply stopping Chávez from gaining any more influence (if not taking him from power). While Chávez is certainly guilty of spurious and probably unhelpful rhetoric towards the Bush administration, as well as the occasional buffoonery, and perhaps even authoritarian tendencies, the Bush administration has created the figure of Chávez as Public Enemy #1.
Look at the recently published State Department report on human rights. While there are, of course, reasons to be concerned about Venezuela, they don't match up to the Bush administration's rhetoric of Chávez as a dictator and human rights abuser. Look for the comments in the report on the suppression of free speech in Venezuela, a favorite talking point of the administration. What do you find? Not much. Compare the list of HR concerns for Venezuela with those of Colombia, a staunch ally of the US in South America. What do you find? Consider the role of the US in funding Colombian projects such as the drug war. Compare Amnesty International's or Human Rights Watch's reports on the US. What do you find?
Now consider again the sustained criticism of Chávez on human rights grounds.
It is not the case that most Latin Americans feel ignored or can be bought off by more development support. It's that the very paradigm of how the US thinks of Latin American development has been rejected by many, perhaps most, of the people in the region. Chávez provides an alternative (though not a terribly articulate one). That is his attraction. It is not Chávez the person; it is the possibility of an alternative - and not necessarily an old-timey socialist one - through which people other than the political and economic elites actually do see some benefits.
Basing American policy on some notion that Latin America is like a child that needs more attention and perhaps a bigger allowance, and the occasional spanking, is precisely why Latin America has been turning away from the US. Many Latin Americans see the growth of poverty under the American model, and the decrease in poverty under the Chávez model. They've seen US-backed anti-democratic governments, and locally empowering democratic models from Venezuela and elsewhere. Yet, Bush sees only this:
At some point, you have to examine your own ideological blinkers.
Asked by a reporter about Mr. Chávez’s “so-called alternative development model” calling for nationalization of industry, Mr. Bush said: “I strongly believe that government-run industry is inefficient and will lead to more poverty. I believe if the state tries to run the economy, it will enhance poverty and reduce opportunity.”
He added, “So the United States brings a message of open markets and open government to the region.”