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Latin America’s DC Boogeyman

By: Contributor - May 12, 2015, 7:15 am
Contra popular Latin America rhetoric, the United States has fostered progress for its citizens and countless immigrants.
Contrary to popular rhetoric in Latin America, the United States has brought progress to millions across the hemisphere. (Dolores Portales)

EspañolBy Lilian Lucena R.

Across Latin America, many governments stir up hatred towards the United States — witness Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s attempt to force schoolchildren to sign a petition against President Barack Obama — and casual derision of the gringo or Yanqui is commonplace.

Yet many forget that the much-maligned Monroe Doctrine was largely successful in its original purpose: preventing absolutist European monarchies from restoring their grip in Latin America.

Moreover, those areas where Washington has had a sustained economic, cultural, or even military presence — witness Panama, Chile, and Puerto Rico — have historically enjoyed strong democracies and striking economic progress. By contrast, those under the tutelage of the Soviet-backed communist stronghold, Cuba, have stagnated.

Yet despite the evidence that the United States has, on balance, provided beneficial leadership and material support to the nations of Latin America, the criticism continues. Why is this, and who benefits from it?

Choosing Ideas for Growth

Many choose to attribute the wealth of the United States to ongoing poverty of Latin America. Yet the economic boom of the North American power far predates the so-called era of US interventionism south of Florida. At the outset of the 20th century, the United States was already a strong and prosperous nation.

Populist leaders of the region would do well to consider why that was. From the outset, the United States decided to build a country for entrepreneurs, not a small and arbitrary elite. By enfranchising all its citizens and doing away with monarchies in deed as well as in word — unlike in Latin America, where Creole elites merely swapped the Spanish monarchs for home-grown caudillos — the United States arose as an economic powerhouse.

This rise was not without its challenges. Washington first had to protect itself from European imperialism, then the rise of totalitarian governments in Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly, not all US administrations were angels, and the White House was to blame for multiple abuses and disastrous wars. But we cannot fall into the absurd trap of seeing the United States as an enemy of Latin America, and blaming it for all our failures.

Rather, we should recognize its success and try to emulate the reasons for it: protecting citizens’ freedom from arbitrary state interference, and cementing institutions that defend fundamental rights. Washington’s success is the product of defending liberty and private property, thus implementing a model of economic and political maturity — not from interventionism.

The Real Cause of Our Woes

So who benefits from the relentless attempt to name and blame the United States? Who profits from encouraging the international politics of envy? We need look no further than the despotic, power-hungry leaders of Latin America. Those well-versed in communist doctrine know the political capital that comes from polarizing society with the rhetoric of “us versus them.”

Leaders such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez grasped this only too well, casting themselves as defenders of our sovereignty against “imperial” interference. Yet far from protection, their rise meant the dismantling of basic freedoms. Cuba is now mired in poverty, and the suffering of Venezuela’s people increases daily.

The fictional boogeyman in the Oval Office is the perfect excuse to perpetrate all kinds of abuses. It justifies expropriations (because you can’t trust foreign firms), cracking down on dissidents (because they’re fifth-column traitors), arbitrary abuses of power (because we have your best interests as heart), and crony capitalism (because only the ruling elite know the needs of the people).

The true cause of Latin America’s woes is an internal one. We should begin by looking where a small elite use the apparatus of the state to declare themselves superior to others, and strip away the rights of the individual. The enemy is the messiah who restricts your freedom “for your own good.”

We don’t have to look thousands of miles north to the District of Columbia to pinpoint the problem. Our true enemy is closer than we think.

Lilian Lucena R. is a law student at the Central University of Venezuela and a local coordinator with Students for Liberty. Follow her: @LilianLucenaR

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Laurie Blair.