April 28, 2007


Brazil's leader begins diplomatic offensive
: Analysts say Lula, on visits to Chile and Argentina, hopes to offset the growing influence of Venezuela's oil-providing Chavez. (Patrick J. McDonnell, April 27, 2007, LA Times)

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrived in Argentina on Thursday night as part of a diplomatic offensive aimed at reasserting Brazil's regional leadership role against a mounting challenge by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Though Lula has denied any effort to undermine Chavez's petro-diplomacy, South American analysts see the Brazilian president responding to his Venezuelan counterpart's oil-funded strategy to become a regional power broker — a role Lula believes should rightly be his because his nation is Latin America's largest and most populous.

"Brazil is returning step by step to the political initiative," said Julio Burdman, a political analyst here. "That includes balancing the aspirations of Chavez to lead the region." [...]

Lula touched down in the Argentine capital after a visit in Santiago with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, another leader with close ties to Washington who is wary of Chavez's growing sway.

While in Chile, the Brazilian president said he agreed with the assessment of popular former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos that chavismo, as the Venezuelan leader's charismatic vision of socialism is sometimes called, was illusory.

"Neither do I believe in the existence of chavismo," Lula told reporters in Chile. "I believe in the existence of a South American conscience."

The Brazilian president has been a strong proponent of South American integration, a vaguely defined goal that most leaders on the continent endorse in theory. But Lula has departed from Chavez's anti-U.S. vision of integration, failing to embrace, for instance, the Venezuelan's plan for a "Bank of the South," a kind of alternative to U.S.-dominated lending agencies such as the World Bank.

The Bush administration, alarmed by the emergence of a pro-Chavez, anti-Washington alliance in Latin America, has warmly embraced Lula as a moderate leftist who is a role model for the region. President Bush's visit last month to Brazil, and Lula's subsequent trip to Washington, solidified the perception in South America that the Brazilian president — just embarking on a second four-year term — was keen to assume a broader profile and offset Chavez's larger-than-life image.

"Brazil has long had a position of leadership, but in recent years it has lost that momentum," noted Rafael Villa, a political analyst in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "Now, through diplomatic action, it is trying to recover the initiative."

The Return of the Idiot: Throughout the 20th century, Latin America’s populist leaders waved Marxist banners, railed against foreign imperialists, and promised to deliver their people from poverty. One after another, their ideologically driven policies proved to be sluggish and shortsighted. Their failures led to a temporary retreat of the strongman. But now, a new generation of self-styled revolutionaries is trying to revive the misguided methods of their predecessors. (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, May/June 2007, Foreign Policy)

Ten years ago, Colombian writer Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner, and I wrote Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot, a book criticizing opinion and political leaders who clung to ill-conceived political myths despite evidence to the contrary. The “Idiot” species, we suggested, bore responsibility for Latin America’s underdevelopment. Its beliefs—revolution, economic nationalism, hatred of the United States, faith in the government as an agent of social justice, a passion for strongman rule over the rule of law—derived, in our opinion, from an inferiority complex. In the late 1990s, it seemed as if the Idiot were finally retreating. But the retreat was short lived. Today, the species is back in force in the form of populist heads of state who are reenacting the failed policies of the past, opinion leaders from around the world who are lending new credence to them, and supporters who are giving new life to ideas that seemed extinct.

Because of the inexorable passing of time, today’s young Latin American Idiots prefer Shakira’s pop ballads to Pérez Prado’s mambos and no longer sing leftist anthems like “The Internationale” or “Until Always Comandante.” But they are still descendants of rural migrants, middle class, and deeply resentful of the frivolous lives of the wealthy displayed in the glossy magazines they discreetly leaf through on street corners. State-run universities provide them with a class-based view of society that argues that wealth is something that needs to be retaken from those who have stolen it. For these young Idiots, Latin America’s condition is the result of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism, followed by U.S. imperialism. These basic beliefs provide a safety valve for their grievances against a society that offers scant opportunity for social mobility. Freud might say they have deficient egos that are unable to mediate between their instincts and their idea of morality. Instead, they suppress the notion that predation and vindictiveness are wrong and rationalize their aggressiveness with elementary notions of Marxism.

Latin American Idiots have traditionally identified themselves with caudillos, those larger-than-life authoritarian figures who have dominated the region’s politics, ranting against foreign influence and republican institutions. Two leaders in particular inspire today’s Idiot: President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President Evo Morales of Bolivia. Chávez is seen as the perfect successor to Cuba’s Fidel Castro (whom the Idiot also admires): He came to power through the ballot box, which exonerates him from the need to justify armed struggle, and he has abundant oil, which means he can put his money where his mouth is when it comes to championing social causes. The Idiot also credits Chávez with the most progressive policy of all—putting the military, that paradigm of oligarchic rule, to work on social programs.

For his part, Bolivia’s Evo Morales has indigenista appeal. In the eyes of the Idiot, the former coca farmer is the reincarnation of Túpac Katari, an 18th-century Aymara rebel who, before his execution by Spanish colonial authorities, vowed, “I shall return and I shall be millions.” They believe Morales when he professes to speak for the indigenous masses, from southern Mexico to the Andes, who seek redress of the exploitation inflicted on them by 300 years of colonial rule and 200 more of oligarchic republican rule.

The Idiot’s worldview, in turn, finds an echo among distinguished intellectuals in Europe and the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 28, 2007 12:00 AM

I wonder what the reverend Jackson thinks of his buddy now?

Posted by: Dave W at April 28, 2007 8:49 AM