Friday, February 09, 2007

Feb 9/07 | On a Walletless Charm Offensive: Or "Don't Mess With My ATM"

"Oye pibe how many more billions do you think he is worth?"

PMBComment: Competent emissaries, good intentions and sensible rhetoric. The problem is that the Lulas and Kirchners of the region are not moderates at all, they are amoral "show me the money" opportunists, and they will continue to pimp for Hugo Chávez as long as the cash flow is there. They will turn on him the very minute (or second) the cash dries up and not one minute (or second) earlier. The U.S. will try everything to charm them, but the fact is that Bush & Co. had their wallets picked in Iraq and there is not much but platonic love on the table. So Argentines, Brazilians and others might very well take the cheap love but continue to treasure and shelter their Caribbean ATM Machine.

A good policy alternative would be to increase the "shame you" cost of milking Venezuela's poor (or turning a blind eye to the wanton destruction of its democracy) by releasing together with the likes of Spain, Colombia and Mexico, information of how drugs, and the laundering of its proceeds, have augmented the phenomenal mismanaged oil boom that emboldens Chavez domestically and keeps him so "popular and democratic" in the region and beyond.

For example, it would be nice for Ms. Bachelet, Chile's bland President, to arrive in Caracas on her planned (can you believe it?) April visit and be welcomed not only by officials that are joyfully bringing down democracy, but also by those who provide cover and Diplomatic Passports for "displaced" Colombian drug lords. Maybe just the thought of such encounters will help define, once and for all, her elusive political stance vis-à-vis the military dictatorship that has bought the consciences, or scared the living daylights, of so many purportedly democratic leaders in Latin America. PMB

Associated Press

U.S. tries to win over Latin America's moderate left

By Kevin Gray 20 minutes ago

Worried about the growing influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the Bush administration is trying to make friends with more moderate leftist leaders in Latin America, where anti-U.S. sentiment runs high.

UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns met Argentine President Nestor Kirchner on Friday and touted trade opportunities following a three-day visit to Brazil.

"We tend to focus on ... our friends in the region, and not focus too much on President Chavez," Burns said during a speech in Buenos Aires on Friday.

It is the latest in a string of high-level visits to Latin America, and President George W. Bush will go on a five-nation tour of the region next month.

The attention appears to signal that Washington is adjusting to political changes in a region where 12 elections last year saw a broad range of leftists come to power, including some who openly challenged U.S. policies.

"They're attempting to make up for a long stretch of neglect and Chavez has a lot do with that," said Michael Shifter, a Latin America analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue.

Polls show Bush is widely unpopular in the region, hurt by the Iraq war and his economic and trade policies.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Kirchner, have not always seen eye-to-eye with Bush and have repeatedly challenged U.S. trade policies on free trade.

But Burns said the two men are influential leaders that the United States wants to work with.

"I think both Argentina and Brazil are prepared to meet us half way and they'll be dealing with an American government that truly wants to listen and wants to get their ideas and advice," he told reporters earlier this week.

The U.S. has regional allies in Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay while Chavez, along with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Bolivia's Evo Morales, are fierce critics of Washington.

Brazil, Argentina and Chile sit between the pro-U.S. and staunchly anti-U.S. blocs.

In another sign of changing tactics, Washington also appears to be courting Morales, a close ally of Chavez who like the Venezuelan leader frequently decries U.S. "imperialism."

"The U.S. is trying to be a good friend to Bolivia," Burns said on Friday.

Bush will travel to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico on his March 8-14 Latin America tour.

But analysts say he may struggle to boost his administration's influence in Latin America given that he is now in the final two years of his presidency.

"There's not a lot they can do to restore trust and good will," Shifter said. "But they can maybe minimize the damage and close the big gap between what Washington cares about and what Latin America cares about."

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