As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered earthquake relief supplies to Chile early last week, a Spanish judge was indicting Venezuela's rabidly anti-American president, Hugo Chavez, on charges of helping two terrorist groups to plan political assassinations.
Those two juxtaposed events illustrate a welcome trend toward political moderation in Latin America with many countries moving away from Chavez and his allies, including Cuba's Castro brothers, and toward a more pragmatic relationship with the United States. Other than Fidel and Raul Castro, his mentors, Chavez is left with only two hard-core allies: presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Nicaragua's old Sandinista, Daniel Ortega.
This trend toward moderation was evident in two recent elections, first in Costa Rica, where centrist Laura Chinchilla replaced left-leaning President Oscar Arias, who failed to negotiate a deal between ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, a Chavez ally, and his duly elected and much more moderate successor, Porfirio Lobo.
The second notable election was in Chile, where conservative businessman Sebastian Pinera will be sworn in this week to succeed center-left President Michelle Bachelet.
In her visit to Santiago last Tuesday, Secretary Clinton promised Bachelet that the U.S. will help Chile to recover from last weekend's devastating earthquake, just as we did for impoverished Haiti last month. Despite political differences, Latin Americans know where to turn when disaster strikes.
So while the U.S. was generating goodwill in Latin America, Venezuelan dictator wannabe Chavez was indicted on serious charges involving support for terrorist organizations. In a recent University of Miami speech on interamerican relations, longtime Latin America watcher Susan Kaufman Purcell accused authoritarian presidents like Chavez of using "the democratic rules of the game to destroy democracy." By contrast, she added, most Latin leaders, regardless of their politics, rely on democratic institutions to accomplish their economic and political goals.
Those goals usually include economic recovery and an all-out assault on crime and corruption, led by the conservative presidents of Colombia and Mexico, Alvaro Uribe and Felipe Calderon, respectively. Both of them are putting their lives on the line to confront powerful drug cartels and we should be helping them in every way possible. That's why our Congress should stop dithering and approve Plan Colombia to provide Uribe with the financial assistance he needs to defeat the cartels.
Personally, I think U.S.-Latin America relations are much healthier than the mainstream media would have you believe and I congratulate Secretary of State Clinton for making it clear that we're willing to work with leaders across an ample political spectrum, thereby isolating the region's few remaining anti-American demagogues.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, lived and worked in Latin America for more than 20 years during his U.S. Foreign Service career.