Over the past few weeks I've been writing about potential terrorist threats along the porous border between the U.S. and Mexico. Today, I'm going to look further south to focus on an increasingly ominous connection between Communist Cuba and a major oil producer, Venezuela, which is governed by a left-wing, anti-American despot.
First, one additional note about U.S.-Mexico border security: A recent article in the respected Christian Science Monitor confirmed that illegal immigrants are overwhelming the U.S. Border Patrol in remote areas of southern Arizona.
The Monitor reported that "growing numbers of people of different nationalities are coming across the border, including from the Middle East, India and Afghanistan. The evidence of that comes in Islamic prayer rugs found in the desert dust (and) Arabic literature left by still-warm campfires ...." Think about that in the context of the War on Terrorism.
In my opinion, we should use all legal means to defend our borders against potential terrorists. Simply put, President Bush and Congress should get serious about border security by firmly and publicly rejecting Mexican President Vicente Fox's absurd "open borders" proposal, and Bush should drop his so-called "guest worker" plan, which would grant amnesty to millions of illegals and reward them for violating our laws.
Looking further south, two ideologically opposed publications - the liberal Washington Post and the conservative National Review - have called attention to what the Post described as "a threat to Latin democracy" and to the security of the Western Hemisphere.
"Another Latin democracy is on the verge of crumbling under pressure from leftist populism," the Post editorialized. "The trouble comes this time in Bolivia, where a democratic president and Congress face a paralyzing mix of strikes and road blockades by a radical movement opposed to foreign investment and free market capitalism."
The newspaper asserted that Bolivian populists are receiving "rhetorical, and possibly material, support" from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, "a self-styled 'Bolivarian' revolutionary." According to the Post, the uprising in Bolivia "is good news for Mr. Chavez, who along with Cuba's Fidel Castro dreams of a new bloc of Latin 'socialist' (i.e. undemocratic) regimes that will join with like-minded states such as Iran, Libya and China to oppose the United States." So while our attention is on the strife-torn Middle East and the Muslim world, and rightfully so, Castro and Chavez are stirring the revolutionary pot in Latin America.
Writing in National Review online last week, Amb. Otto J. Reich, who's in charge of Latin America policy at the National Security Council, charged that "a leftist-populist alliance is engulfing most of South America," posing a potential security threat to the United States. Reich wrote that "our most pressing specific challenge is neutralizing or defeating the Cuba-Venezuela axis" and argued that Washington must combat Castro's "evil genius" and Chavez's "unlimited money and recklessness" to roll back the anti-democratic tide in Latin America.
In recent years Chavez has mounted assaults on press freedom and the independent judiciary, and supported "socialist" movements throughout the hemisphere. Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl, who was the paper's chief Latin America correspondent, wrote that Venezuela's information minister has accused Diehl and other American journalists "of being part of a campaign to defame Venezuela (and Chavez) directed by the Bush administration and funded by the State Department."
"It's easy to laugh at such buffoonery," Diehl added, if you work in a capital (Washington) where such demagogues aren't taken seriously. "In Caracas, however, the minister's rantings ... are no longer funny" because journalists accused of defamation "can be jailed without due process and sentenced to up to 30 years."
As a former U.S. Embassy press attache' in Caracas, I can testify that this isn't the Venezuelan government's first attempt to muzzle the press. Years ago, the Communist-dominated Venezuelan Journalists Association proposed government licensing of all journalists, including foreign correspondents.
In meetings with Venezuelan officials, we defended the American correspondents on First Amendment grounds, which was a hard sell in a Third World with no history of press freedom. Although we won our battle, Venezuelan journalists faced increased governmental restrictions and official censorship.
Chavez has proposed a new law that subjects journalists to prison terms if they "disrespect" the president or his minions. Imagine how many American journalists would be in jail if we had such a law. Meanwhile, Diehl also noted that Venezuela's foul-mouthed president "has directed crude epithets at President Bush and even more vulgar sexual innuendo at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice." Nice!
Well, that's what's going on in Venezuela these days while our attention is elsewhere. As the Washington Post observed, "If there is a deeper U.S. policy to head off the breakdown of democracy in Latin America, there isn't much sign of it." Therefore, I urge U.S. policy-makers to heed Amb. Reich's timely warnings before it's too late.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat who lived and worked in Latin America for more than 15 years.