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10/03/2006 | Region is irrelevant to the U.S

Carlos Alberto Montaner

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez threatens President Bush and insults Condoleezza Rice and nobody in Washington pays any attention.

 

Chávez meets with his ''brother,'' Evo Morales, or with his spiritual father, Fidel Castro, to plan the conquest of the planet or the galaxy beginning with Latin America (if they have enough Leninist fervor that day), and The New York Times publishes a four-line item on Page 48, next to a story about a guy who swears that he was kidnapped by Martians who forced him to drink whiskey all weekend long.

The truth is that nobody pays attention to Chávez. Why? The answer came from political scientist George Friedman in a recent column: because Chávez, Castro and Morales -- despite the folksy, verbal pyrotechnics they like to flash -- are irrelevant.

True, Chávez sells 16 percent of the crude oil imported by the United States, but -- his bark notwithstanding -- he has no better customers for his merchandise than the Americans. In turn, the United States sees an oil-producing country with which it can do business, regardless of the hostility and the verbal abuse emanating from the man who rules and manages it.

After all, what the United States wants from Venezuela is not the courtesy of its politicians but the fuel it can buy there.

Friedman goes beyond Venezuela in his cold analysis of the relations between the U.S. and South America, however. Seen from Washington's perspective, the whole region is irrelevant, he writes, except for the immigration problem, which is a matter that affects principally its links with Mexico.

Objectively speaking, all Washington sees south of the Rio Grande is a bunch of backward countries that sell raw materials or farm products but have an ever-decreasing share of international trade and are practically nonexistent in the scientific, academic, military and financial fields. They -- we -- count for little in the big questions being debated worldwide.

Friedman's column, written for U.S. consumption, is not an isolated opinion. A recent column by Marcos Aguinis, one of the most brilliant Latin American writers, said more or less the same in connection with the successful book Cuentos Chinos (Chinese Tales), by Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer.

As Oppenheimer pointed out, while China and India -- countries that account for more than one-third of the world's population, have strong links with the developed world and are bursting at the seams with engineers and scientists -- gained increasing importance as manufacturers of complex products with great added value, Latin America gradually fell behind the central nuclei of civilization, basically the United States-Canada, Europe and Japan.

Greatly concerned, Aguinis recalled another tragic region of the planet where something similar occurred on a scale even more dramatic: Africa. Africa is also irrelevant and is taken into account only when some catastrophe or extraordinary massacre is reflected in newspaper headlines.

I might even add another interesting case of decivilization: Turkey. From being one of the world's mightiest empires in the 16th and 17th centuries and perhaps the first Mediterranean power, Turkey after World War II became merely a poor and disoriented nation without the slightest specific weight in world affairs.

If these analyses are right, as I sadly suspect they are, their most important inference is that wise Latin Americans realize it is senseless to sit around and wait for the international community to pull their chestnuts out of the fire

No foreign power will fight fiercely to rescue from failure those who persist on taking the wrong road. If most Latin Americans insist on walking away from the standards of behavior of the First World and waste their time and resources on the costly neopopulist pipe dreams proposed by Chávez and the rest of the madmen running loose in the region, no powerful nation will make much of an effort to steer them in the right direction.

During the Cold War, when the game was zero-sum and every country that moved into the Soviet sphere meant a loss for the West, the Americans conceived the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps to counteract Moscow's influence. But those incentives to stimulate international solidarity no longer exist. Prevailing in the world today is the absolute freedom to leap into the abyss.

Miami Herald (Estados Unidos)

 


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