Foreign subversion in Bolivia
Hugo Chavez is now filling the role that Fidel Castro used to play in the Cold War, making American presidents paranoid about what he is or isn't doing to stir up trouble elsewhere in Latin America. After accusing the United States of planning to invade his country during his visit to the United Nations last week, he was interviewed by Lally Weymouth for the Washington Post. Chavez's responses were typically inconsistent, calling the U.S. government (under the Bush administration) a "terrorist organization," but also saying that he could work with Bush. He was unabashed in his support for leftist revolutionary movements throughout Latin America, especially El Salvador, Nicargua, and Bolivia. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly obvious that his involvement in Bolivia goes far beyond moral support; his petro-dollars are being used to systematically undermine the government in La Paz. As a result, there is now a very real chance that the upcoming election in December will be won by the leftist leader of the coca growers, Evo Morales, whose "Movement Toward Socialism" played a leading role in forcing two elected presidents to resign in the last three years. It is an extremely tense situation, and some wonder whether the election will be held at all. On Friday the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that legislative seats must be apportioned according to the 2001 census, favoring the fast-growing province of Santa Cruz, to the detriment of Morales, whose support is centered in the highlands. Bolivia-born blogger Miguel Centellas got the BBC to correct their story, which wrongly implied the court's ruling was arbitrary and motivated by hostility to Morales. For some deeper background on the veritable communist conspiracy (!) in Bolivia, see American Thinker. (via Instapundit)
So, what can the United States do about Chavezian subversion? In today's Washington Post, Jackson Diehl contrasts the high profile of Chavez with the quiet pleadings of Peru's Toledo and Colombia's Uribe, the other two Latin American presidents to speak at the United Nations. He concludes:
But they also have a point: The Bush administration would have a lot more impact if it behaved as if the United States, rather than Venezuela, was the hemisphere's economic leader.
Ouch. Diehl has a point as far as the lack of active U.S. engagement in the region, but no one should be under the illusion that we can spend our way out of the security threat via foreign aid. That's usually a very inefficient and corruption-prone tool of development, in any case. Chavez illustrates perfectly why much of Latin America is trapped in deep poverty: Illiberal economic policies and institutions that stifle entrepreneurial wealth creation. More generally, the fact that a regime like his could emerge in a country that has such bounteous natural resources says a lot about the limits of the classical liberal approach to political economy in the Third World. Dependency theorists used to argue that trade between wealthy industrialized countries and poor material-exporting countries tended to reinforce existing inequalities in real income levels, but this fell out of favor after Asian countries figured out how to achieve development via the (selective) use of capitalist tools. It ought to tell us something that nearly all oil-exporting countries in the world today have corrupt governments, with persistent widespread poverty, and their societies are mired in deep hatred and resentment. No World Bank program is going to change that pathology. What's worse, as long as the U.S. government is constrained by domestic electoral realities (cheap gasoline!) to maintain trade relations with such quasi-rogue regimes, the dangerous status quo is likely to continue.
Anti-trade protest in Colombia
Speaking of the limits of the classical liberal political economy in the Third World, there was a large protest against the proposed free trade agreement with Andean countries in Colombia on Thursday. See CNN.com. What's ironic about this proposed pact is that the Andean Group countries were once among the most determined to pursue regional economic integration without major trade ties to the United States. The governments of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia are under heavy domestic pressure to deliver quick economic results, making these talks very crucial.
Drug money in Mexican churches
President Fox harshly criticized Bishop Ramon Godinez said the Catholic Church is not responsible for checking to see where the money they receive in offerings comes from. As in Colombia and other countries plagued by drug traffic, some churches received large amounts of narco-dollars from traffickers who seek legitimacy and social acceptance. Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that accepting dirty money fosters a climate of violence and lawlessness, but it remains to be seen whether local churches in poor Latin American countries can be persuaded to shun drug money. See CNN.com.