Latin America is doing rather well at the moment (with two major exceptions).
Under nominally left-wing governments, Argentina has managed to reverse its economic woes way ahead of expectations, with 7% growth in 2003; Brazil stagnated last year but is on track for strong growth in 2004; and Chile is booming.
Peru is going through a jobless recovery, which our illustrious leaders tell us is a good thing – and is relatively guerilla-free.
Moving onto the exceptions: Venezuela has been over-covered, but in short – a socialist-ish leader took power; forces (approved of, but possibly not backed, by the US) tried to oust him; and as a result he became far more dictatorial, nationalist and statist. No wonder Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro get on so well…
In Bolivia, a popular revolt has ousted a pro-American leader whose only focus was on coca eradication (a policy which benefits the US, but not the locals), to replace him with a weak centrist. Loony Indian populists now loom in the background, threatening truly stupid economic moves.
The more adept reader may be able to spot a pattern. Since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, the US has demanded that it be the only global power to influence Latin America. The Roosevelt Corollary to this doctrine adds that America can use military force in Latin America whenever it likes (in case you were wondering, the relevant Roosevelt is Theo the bad one, not Frank the good one).
Famous applications of the doctrine include the attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro by sanctions and military invasion, driving Mr Castro to seek support from the USSR and causing the missile crisis that nearly ended the world, and the CIA-backed overthrow of elected Chilean socialist Salvador Allende, replacing him with loveable rogue Augusto Pinochet.
In short, if anything goes well in Latin America, the US intervenes to screw it up. If anything goes badly, the US intervenes to make it worse. The governments currently in power realise this, hence their reluctance to get too close to the US. And so senior figures in the current administration are worried that Latin America might actually be doing well on its own for a change.
To try and counter this terrible state of affairs, the US is publicly slating the new generation of left-leaning leaders for daring to do things like go to Cuba. It may also have backed the coup attempt against Chavez, although it’ll be 30 years before we get to confirm that.
For Latin America’s sake, let’s hope that the US leaves the new generation of leaders alone – rather than either overthrowing them for daring to be leftwing, or provoking them into populist nationalism. If it does, then the continent’s chances are brighter than in a long while. If not, then it’ll be back to business as usual.
Now, why do I get the impression Latin America is hoping for a Dean victory this year?