Super Senior River Rat
Joined: 22 Sep 2007
|Posted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 1:11 am Post subject: Latin America's New Leftists
|WASHINGTON -- For decades, even centuries, the bane of Latin American democracy has been the military takeover. Democrats from Guatemala to Peru and from Argentina to Chile have fought valiantly to keep political power from falling into the uncompromising hands of the generals.
And now, after an amazing number of years without military coups, we wake up and find one topping the news, in little Honduras in Central America. It happened in the night, of course. The elected president, a wealthy rancher named Manuel Zelaya, was ousted from his home Sunday in his pajamas and unostentatiously flown to neighboring Costa Rica.
Of course, President Obama called the coup "not legal" and talked of a "dark past." His was the new voice of a new United States, which no longer supports Latin coups on behalf of its own economic interests. But wait just a minute! Did we get that right? For almost immediately it became obvious that something entirely new may well have happened in poor little Honduras.
The veteran congressional leader sworn in by his fellow lawmakers as interim president, Roberto Micheletti, was from the same Liberal Party as President Zelaya, and Micheletti pleaded with the world to understand that the army had acted only under an official arrest warrant, backed by the Supreme Court and based on the president's flouting of the constitution. The court found that Zelaya had unconstitutionally called a referendum that would allow him to succeed himself and stay in power.
Zelaya has long been busy linking Honduras to the leftist Hugo Chavez government of oil-rich Venezuela -- he had even made the country a member of Chavez's Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, a trade and political bloc formed by the Venezuelan strongman to counter U.S. interests in the region. The Honduran leader also ordered ballots from Chavez for his referendum.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the well-informed Mary Anastasia O'Grady noted: "Calculating that some critical mass of Hondurans would take his side, the president decided he would run the referendum himself. So ... he led a mob that broke into the military installation where the ballots from Venezuela were being stored and then had his supporters distribute them in defiance of the Supreme Court's order. The attorney general had already made clear that the referendum was illegal, and he further announced that he would prosecute anyone involved in carrying it out."
So what we were seeing in Honduras -- indeed, what is already working itself out there -- was not an old-style military coup. Instead, this was an attempt by the institutions of the country, led by the Supreme Court, to avoid "Chavismo" and "another Venezuela" in Honduras. Since being democratically elected in 1998, Chavez has rewritten the Venezuelan constitution to grant him power to rule by decree for one year and to control the judiciary. Since then, he has effectively moved to control the Supreme Court, the electoral tribunal, the state oil company and independent TV stations. This is the new blueprint for leftism in Latin America.
The drama continued to unweave. A meeting of hemispheric leaders followed in Managua. There, one could clearly identify the new lineup of leftist leaders, which has blossomed beyond Hugo Chavez, the first in our era after 1959's Fidel Castro, to now include the presidents of Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, the last two having already changed their constitutions a la Chavez in order to gain additional power.
As it becomes obvious that, in Honduras, we are likely seeing an attempt by various institutions to avoid a potential maneuver that would prepare the country for a leftist populist dictatorship, we need to pose the question: "Is there some new ideology that could be explaining all of this?"
At a meeting just after the coup at the Hudson Center for Latin American Studies here, a number of excellent scholars outlined their ideas of how Russia, China and especially Iran are actively promoting their agendas in Latin America with little opposition from the U.S. Russia has recently had joint military operations with Venezuela, Iran's influence is spreading everywhere and China is investing long-term. All play into Hugo Chavez's "radical brand of populism."
Speaking to the group, Gustavo de Aristegui, one of Spain's finest professional diplomats, saw Latin America facing a "fascist struggle ... the will to create a single party with a monopoly of political violence on the streets ... new populist caudillos who can gain power through the polls, then change the constitution so they can take over completely."
New terms kept emerging in the discussion: obsessions of an anti-system alliance of movements ... Stalinist indigenousness ... victimization and claims for revenge for imperialism, especially against the U.S. ... a fashionable new revival of the figure of Che Guevara .. the emergence of urban guerrilla organizations, whose members may come to grossly outnumber the police ... and, finally, the growing link between radical Islam and the far left Latin progressive.
"Islamism" -- in Latin America? None at the meeting indicated that they found it odd any more. Iran, for instance, now has direct flights to Caracas, Venezuela, and radical Islam is finding common ground with the Latin left in one hatred they have in common: America.
Certainly the numbers of leaders placing themselves in the Chavez camp are new. They should awaken a country like ours, which has tended to ignore Latin America since the Kennedy years, that potentially difficult, or even dangerous, things are happening right on our doorstep and that, above all, the old descriptions no longer apply.