Viewpoints on Energy, Geopolitics, and Civilization
James Stavridis / Bloomberg: America
needs to refocus on its own hemisphere
Bolivia, Chile, Peru and (of course) Venezuela are in political crisis.
Latin America's chaos is an opportunity for the U.S.
It is an angry political season in Latin America. Chile, the most stable South American country and richest by gross domestic product per person, is convulsed by violent street protests that may require a complete rewrite of the nation's constitution. Peru also faces a crisis, with President Martin Vizcarra and the congress declaring each other illegitimate. In Bolivia, riots following a controversial and flawed election ( according to independent observers from the Organization of American States) forced President Evo Morales to take political refuge in Mexico City.
Drug violence has shot back up in Mexico, highlighted by a recent shootout in which the son of the incarcerated drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was apparently allowed to escape capture. Venezuela continues to smolder, torn between leftist President Nicolas Maduro, heir to the authoritarian Hugo Chavez and supported by Cuba and Russia, and democratic opposition leader Juan Guaido. Political tensions are likewise high in both Brazil, under conservative populist leader Jair Bolsonaro, and in Argentina, where newly elected populist leader Alberto Fernandez intends to take the country back to the left.
In seemingly every direction, there are violent street protests, dramatic political swings in governance and economic uncertainty. What can the U.S. do to play a constructive role in furthering democracy and economic progress?
During my three years leading the U.S. Southern Command roughly a decade ago, I was in charge of all military operations south of the Mexican border. I was born in south Florida, speak reasonable Spanish, and traveled throughout the region repeatedly. Back then, a major focus was on countering what we saw as political challenges from the left, led by Venezuela's Chavez. Armed with petrodollars when oil prices were spiking north of $100 a barrel, Chavez was able to help fellow left-wing governments to power in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. At home, he controlled everything, rigging elections, trampling democratic opposition and destroying the country's economy by taking government control of major industries and agriculture. He worked closely with politicians on the left in Brazil and Argentina. To various degrees, these nations leaned away from the U.S. and engaged closely with Cuba, often with support from Russia and China.
I met with Morales, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and other leftist leaders. They were full of disdain for the U.S. and were at pains to tell me that Washington had no role in Latin America. One Venezuelan defense minister said to me: “You are finished here. Take your troops and your ships and your planes and go home.” We had good relationships in a few places – Chile and Colombia, notably – but the U.S. was not in a leadership role in that hemisphere, to say the least.
Within a few years, however, the rising tide of the left began to ebb, as oil and other commodity prices dropped, economic policies began to fail, Chavez died of cancer (after medical treatment in Cuba) and a number of governments shifted from left to right, notably Argentina and, more recently, Brazil.
Now the political winds may be shifting again. It seems bewildering, but there is a common denominator: income inequality and a growing sense from lower-to-middle class voters that the elites on both left and right continue to drive policy without really addressing their people's long-term needs. This has resulted in a kind of Latin American version of the Arab Spring.
It's important to put things in optimistic perspective. Despite the turmoil, the region is vastly better off than in the late 20th century. The days of brutal military dictatorships are gone (other than in Cuba and Venezuela), hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, infrastructure and education are improving, and the political process – while messy and hard to generalize – gives voice to democratic impulses, and over time will have an impact on the underlying challenges of inequality.
Because so much is in flux, the U.S. has an opportunity in the region, and is actually in a better position than it was a decade ago. A good strategic approach starts with reinforcing strong relations with the keystone regional partners: Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru. In addition to increasing diplomatic and trade ties, joint military exercises would help stabilize not just those nations but the entire region. Chile, for example, has one of the world's longest coastlines but a small and overtaxed navy that would greatly benefit from U.S. expertise. Working with Mexico and Central American countries to address gangs and drug cartels through foreign aid and civilian security cooperation is a much better approach to solving illegal migration than simply building a wall.
As for the chaos in Venezuela, the U.S. should operate in the background with the OAS taking the lead; unilateral military action is not the way to help Guaido take office. Cuba should be warned that more sanctions are coming if it doesn't curtail destabilizing activities in Venezuela. Stronger regional free-trade arrangements would help insure that a future democratic Venezuela would be able to put food on the shelves and provide jobs for the people. The U.S should also pay more attention to the oft-forgotten Caribbean nations in terms of aid and senior-level engagement; the flow of Venezuelan refugees has only added to their seemingly intractable economic malaise.
The good news is that all of that can be done at relatively low cost. When I was serving as commander of the U.S. Southern Command, I would look enviously as billions of dollars flowed into the U.S. Central Command to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the equivalent of my annual budget was spent each week in Afghanistan alone. That was understandable in those days, as we had hundreds of thousands of troops in those two conflicts. But today, with 95 percent of those forces withdrawn, we should reapportion a fraction of that spending to this hemisphere, which is in every sense our shared home.
The world to the south is not “America's Backyard,” an expression rightfully despised throughout the region. But Latin America and the Caribbean represent a natural set of partners and allies for the U.S.; it is a region with huge potential in every dimension. The linkages – economic, security, cultural, linguistic – are only increasing. The challenges are immense, but so are the strategic possibilities.
We invite you to join us as a sponsor.
Circulated Videos, Articles, Opinions and Reports which carry your name and brand are used to target Entrepreneurs through our site, promoting your organization’s services. The opportunity is to insert in our stories pages short attention-grabbing videos, or to publish your own feature stories.
James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former supreme allied commander of NATO, and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is also an operating executive consultant at the Carlyle Group and chairs the board of counselors at McLarty Associates. Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published by Bloomberg, on Nov. 27, 2019. All comments posted and published on Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of Petroleumworld.
Use Notice: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of issues of environmental and humanitarian significance.
We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.
PW 300.000 plus request per week
Hit your target - Advertise with us
All works published by Petroleumworld are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.Petroleumworld has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Petroleumworld endorsed or sponsored by the originator.
Petroleumworld encourages persons to reproduce, reprint, or broadcast Petroleumworld articles provided that any such reproduction identify the original source, http://www.petroleumworld.com or else and it is done within the fair use as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Internet web links to http://www.petroleumworld.com are appreciated. Petroleumworld Copyright© 1999-2018 Petroleumworld or respective author or news agency. All rights reserved.
We welcome the use of Petroleumworld™ stories by anyone provided it mentions Petroleumworld.com as the source. Other stories you have to get authorization by its authors.
Internet web links to http://www.petroleumworld.com are appreciated.
Petroleumworld welcomes your feedback and comments, share your thoughts on this article, your feedback is important to us!
Petroleumworld News 11 28 2019
We invite all our readers to share with us
their views and comments about this article.
Send this story to a friend Write to email@example.com
By using this link, you agree to allow PW
to publish your comments on our letters page.
Any question or suggestions,
please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Best Viewed with IE 5.01+ Windows NT 4.0, '95,
'98,ME,XP, Vista, Windows 7,8 +/ 800x600 pixels