A rare win for George W. Bush
For the Appeal
Although political victories have been few and far between for our lame duck president in recent weeks and months, he did win a battle in an unlikely place earlier this month: Venezuela. Let me explain.
According to the influential British news magazine, The Economist, Venezuelan dictator wannabe Hugo Chavez framed his recent constitutional reform referendum as a choice between himself and the American president. Chavez told Venezuelan voters that a vote against his referendum was “a vote for George W. Bush,” branded by Chavez as “the Devil,” echoing the Moveon.org Bush-haters. The referendum was defeated by a narrow margin earlier this month.
“In nine years in power it has been Mr. Chavez’s signal achievement to turn Venezuela into the only place on the planet … where the American president could win a popular vote,” The Economist opined. Ouch! I don’t think it’s that simple, however, because Chavez will certainly be back with another referendum that will permit him to remain in power forever, thereby achieving the cherished dictator-for-life status of his role model and best friend, Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Next time, Chavez will make sure that the right people count the votes.
“In recognizing defeat, (Chavez) has burnished his democratic credentials,” The British magazine continued. “These were tarnished earlier this year when he began to implement ’21st century socialism’ Ð which to many looks merely like a diluted version of 20th century Cuban or Soviet varieties.” The Economist cited the “recklessly expansionary economic policies” of Chavez’s so-called “Bolivarian” revolution and noted that ordinary Venezuelans can’t afford to buy milk, although oil is selling for more than $90 per barrel. So much for Chavez’s Socialist paradise.
Although Chavez and his Bolivian clone, Evo Morales, represent groups that have previously been excluded from power in Latin America, The Economist asserts that “their mistake lies in clinging to an old-fashioned socialism involving the centralization of political power and state control of the economy. Most Venezuelans – and most Latin Americans – have no enthusiasm for this.” As someone who lived and worked in Latin America for nearly 20 years (seven of them in Venezuela), I agree with that assessment.
Political elites abused the masses for far too long in Latin America but when left-wing populists ousted them in national elections, the winners weren’t prepared to deal with real world economic and political problems. Too many of them, including Chavez and Morales, turned to failed Socialist economic models.
Other left-wing presidents, like Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner (recently succeeded by his wife Cristina), Brazil’s “Lula” da Silva and Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, have had some degree of success by adopting more moderate, market-oriented economic models.
One notable South American success story is Colombia, where moderately conservative President Alvaro Uribe is riding a 70 percent popularity wave by reducing crime and growing the country’s economy through market reforms. Since taking office five years ago, the Uribe government has reduced murders by 40 percent, kidnappings by 76 percent and terrorist attacks more than 60 percent by disbanding right-wing paramilitary groups and conducting aggressive military campaigns against left-wing guerrillas and violent drug cartels.
Despite Uribe’s remarkable achievements, congressional Democrats are blocking a much-needed free trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia. Last June, House Democrats announced that they were postponing a vote on the agreement until Bogota showed “concrete evidence of sustained results” in reducing violence against organized labor. To put things in perspective, 30 Colombian labor leaders have been murdered so far this year; in 2002, nearly 200 of them were murdered. I’d call that “sustained results.”
During a recent visit to Medellin, the former drug capital of Colombia, Rep. Gregory Meeks, a liberal Democrat from New York City, said decreasing violence in that city is “nothing short of a miracle.” Although U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who led that official delegation to Colombia, believes the trade agreement would boost U.S. investment in a thriving economy, create more favorable business conditions and allow Colombian farmers to buy more American agricultural machinery, House Democrats continue to block the trade legislation.
“Meeks … reckons that supporting the trade deal is a no-brainer,” wrote Duncan Currie in the conservative Weekly Standard, “even if it means handing a political victory to a lame duck president (Bush).” Well, there you have it. Everything that happens in Colombia and Venezuela revolves around President Bush. In my opinion, that’s a helluva way to run foreign policy in Latin America, or anywhere else. Merry Christmas!
• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.