American taxpayers are bankrolling a Latin American leader who’s clearly no friend
Feeding the hand that bites them
American taxpayers are bankrolling a Latin American leader who’s clearly no friend
Four years ago, The Economist ran a cover story on the winner of the Brazilian election, the socialist leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It was an event of great hemispherical significance. Hence the headline: “The Meaning Of Lula.”
The following week, a Canadian reader, Asif Niazi, wrote to the magazine: “Sir, ‘The meaning of Lula’ in Urdu is penis.”
No doubt. It would not surprise me to learn that the meaning of Chávez in Arabic is penis. An awful lot of geopolitics gets lost in translation, especially when you’re not keeping up. Since 9/11, Latin America has dropped off the radar, but you don’t have to know the lingo to figure out it clearly doesn’t mean what it did five years ago at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. In April 20011 spent a pleasant weekend on the Grand-Allée inhaling the heady perfume of SQ tear gas and dodging lumps of concrete lobbed over the security fence by the anti-glob mob. The fence itself was covered in protest bras hung there by antiBush feminist groups. “VIVA” said the left cup. “CASTRO” said the right. (Cup-wise, I mean stage left.) On another, “MA MERE” (left) “IS NOT FOR SALE” (right). 48D, if you’re wondering how they got four words on. That’s one big earth mother. I’m not much for manning the barricades and urging revolution, but it’s not without its appeal when you’re stuck inside the perimeter making chit-chat with the deputy trade minister of Costa Rica.
That was the point: hemispheric normality. As the Bush administration liked to note, the Americas were now a shining sea of democracy, save for the aging and irrelevant Fidel, who was the only head of government not invited to the summit. But, other than that, no more generalissimos in the presidential palace; they were republics, but no longer bananas. When George W. Bush arrived, he was greeted by Jean Chrétien. “Bienvenue. That means welcome,” said the prime minister, being a bit of a lula. But what did Bush care? He was looking south: that was the future, and they were his big amigos.
Then Sept. 11 happened. And the amigos weren’t quite so friendly, or at any rate helpful, and Bush found himself holed up with the usual pasty white blokes like Tony Blair and John Howard, back in the Anglosphere with not an enchilada in sight. And everyone was so busy boning up on sharia and Wahhabis and Kurds and Pashtuns that very few of us noticed that Latin America was slipping back to its old ways.
Frank Gaffney’s new book War Footing is subtitled 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World, and includes, as one might expect, suggestions for the home front, the Middle East, the transnational agencies. But it’s some of the other chapters that give you pause when it comes to the bigger picture—for example, he urges Washington to “counteract the re-emergence of totalitarianism in Latin America.” That doesn’t sound like the fellows Condi and Colin were cooing over in Quebec. But, as Gaffney writes, “Many Latin American countries are imploding rather than developing. The region’s most influential leaders are thugs. It is a magnet for Islamist terrorists and a breeding ground for hostile political movements... The key leader is [Hugo] Chávez, the billionaire dictator of Venezuela who has declared a Latino jihad against the United States.”
Even Castro’s bounced back. Did you see that story in Forbes about the world’s richest rulers? Lot of familiar names on there: Saudi King Abdullah, the sultan of Brunei, Prince Albert of Monaco...but Fidel came in seventh, pipping our own dear Queen. How’d he get so rich? It can’t all be Canadian tourist dollars, can it? Well, no. Castro is Chávez’s revolutionary mentor and the new kid on the block’s been happy to pump cash infusions into the old boy’s impoverished basket case. “Venezuela,” writes Gaffney, “has more energy resources than Iraq and supplies one-fifth of the oil sold in America.” In 1999, when Chávez came to power, oil was under ten bucks a barrel. Now it’s pushing US$70. And, just like the Saudis, Chávez is using his windfall in all kinds of malign ways, not merely propping up the elderly Cuban dictator but funding wouldbe “Chávismo” movements in Peru, Bolivia, El Salvador, Paraguay, Ecuador.
And Chávismo fans are found way beyond the hemisphere. Señor Chávez will be in London this week as a guest of the mayor, Ken Livingstone. The Venezuelan president said Bush was a “madman” who should be “strapped down” and Blair was an “ally of Hitler” who should “go to hell.” What else does a Euroleftie need to know before rolling out the red carpet? Last year, the British MP George Galloway was in Syria to see Baby Assad and gave a pep talk to Araby’s only remaining Baathist regime:
FINALLY A BOOK ABOUT...BIG ORGANICS Since 1990, notes business journalist Samuel Fromartz in Organic Inc. (Raincoast), sales of natural foods have grown by 20 per cent a year in the United States, as the processed-food likes of organic ketchup take their places on store shelves alongside traditional fruits and veggies. What began as a protest movement is now a big business, and it’s at a crossroads where its own success threatens the very ideals and practices that brought it there.
“What your lives would be if from the Atlantic to the Gulf we had one Arab unionall this land, 300 million people, all this oil and gas and water, occupied by a people who speak the same language, follow the same religions, listen to the same Umm Kulthum. The Arabs would be a superpower in the world.... Hundreds of thousands are ready to fight the Americans in the Middle East, and in Latin America there is revolution everywhere. Fidel Castro is feeling young again. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile are all electing leftwing governments which are challenging American domination. And in Venezuela, the hero Hugo Chávez has stood against them over and over and over again.”
At first glance, an Islamo-Chávismo alliance sounds like the bus-and-truck version of the Hitler-Stalin pact. But it’s foolish to underestimate the damage it could do. As Gaffney points out, American taxpayers are in the onerous position of funding both sides in this war. The price of oil is US$50 per barrel higher than it was on 9/11. “Looking at it another way,” writes Gaffney, “Saudi Arabia—which currently exports about 10 mbd— receives an extra half billion dollars every day.” Where does it go? It goes on Saudi Arabia’s real principal export: ideology—the radical imams and madrasas the Saudis fund in Pakistan, Central Asia, Africa, the Balkans, Indonesia, the tri-border region of Latin America, not to mention Oregon and Ontario. But, not content with funding the enemy in this great clash of civilizations, American taxpayers are also bankrolling various third parties, like Venezuela. And there’s nothing like increasing oil wealth to drive powerful despots down ever crazier paths (I’m thinking of Chávez and King Abdullah rather than Ralph Klein, but the general rule holds).
What to do? Gaffney proposes Americans boycott Citgo gas stations (owned by the Venezuelan government) and switch over to FFVs (flexible fuel vehicles). He’s right. The telegram has been replaced by the email and the Victrola has yielded to the CD player, but, aside from losing the rumble seat and adding a few cupholders, the automobile is essentially unchanged from a century ago. Yet as long as industry “reform” is intended to force Americans into smaller, less comfortable, less safe vehicles, it’s hard to see anyone taking it seriously. (As a world-class demography bore, by the way, I don’t think it’s coincidence that the only Western country with healthy birth rates is also the one that drives around in the biggest vehicles: the nanny state can’t mandate bulky child seats and then require a young family to drive around in a Fiat Uno.)
After 9/11, Bush told the world: you’re either with us or with the terrorists. But an America that for no reason other than its lack of will continues to finance its enemies’ ideology has clearly checked the “both of the above” box. It’s hardly surprising then that the other players are concluding that, if forced to make a choice, they’re with the terrorists. I get a surprising amount of mail from Americans who say, aw, we’re too big a bunch of pussies to kick Islamobutt but fortunately the Russkies and the ChiComs have got their own Muslim wackjobs and they won’t be as squeamish as us wimps when it comes to sorting them out once and for all. Dream on. Muslim populations in the Caucasus and western China pose some longterm issues for Moscow and Beijing but, in the meantime, both figure the jihad’s America’s problem and it’s in their interest to keep it that way. Hence, Russo-Chinese support for every troublemaker on the planet, from Iran’s kooky president to Chávismo in America’s backyard. The meaning of Chávez in just about any language is “opportunity.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.