The president elect of the United States, Barack Obama, should pay attention to his backyard, Latin America. Although the region doesn’t seem important worldwide, movements are made which should alert the United States.
Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia are having ever tighter relations with Iran and China. (Look also at the Iranian English spoken Press TV). That doesn’t only strengthen the positions of these countries in Latin America. It also strengthens for example Iran’s position towards the United States. In developing countries the image of the bad gringo is very strong, however cliche it may sound. Many people, and especially the huge poor majority, feel that the United States have caused a lot of damage to the world. I believe there is not so much difference in this matter between the masses in countries like Egypt and countries like Bolivia or Colombia. And I think it doesn’t matter so much if people are right. What matters is what they feel. (I recommend reading Almost Human, written by the Dutch former middle east correspondent Joris Luyendijk).
It would be wrong to concentrate so much on the middle east, as mr. Obama’s predecessors did. I also believe that he should leave the ‘war on terrorism’ discourse of George W. Bush. What happens is that people identify more with the supposed terrorists than with the American government, which tries to keep up the image of bringing happy democracy to the whole world and which maintains friendship with undemocratic regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
It is both ways. In the middle east, already streets have been named after Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez, who supports the Palestines in their conflict with Israel. Demonstrators in the middle east praise him and carry his picture, while in his own country the opposition against him grows. But what counts here is that people on the streets in the middle east see him as the friend and the United States as the enemy.
I believe it is wrong to divide the world in right and wrong, I believe it is time for a much more subtle and intelligent approach. I also realize that mr. Obama’s task isn’t going to be easy and I am the last one to defend for example Iran’s regime. In other words, I don’t envy him and I wish him a lot of wisdom.
An important thing would be to go and talk with Chávez, Bolivia’s president Evo Morales and Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa. And improve the relations with Latin American’s most moderate leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. He has the power to calm his more radical colleagues. Which is necessary, because Chávez is already looking for trouble with Obama as well, according to Venezuela’s daily El Nacional.
And then there is Colombia, but I will dedicate an apart post to that issue.
I also want to add a column by the Colombian writer Oscar Collazos, whom I respect very much. He thinks Obama should recognize the mistakes the United States made in the past with Latin America, in its hurry to fight communism. The column was published by Colombia’s daily El Tiempo. Click here.
Tags: Bolivia, Chávez, China, Colombia, communism, democracy, Ecuador, El Nacional, El Tiempo, Evo Morales, George W. Bush, gringo, Iran, Israel, Joris Luyendijk, La Razón, Latin America, Lula, middle east, Obama, Oscar Collazos, Palestines, Rafael Correa, United States, Venezuela, war on terrorism