Cliff May

Costa Rican politics is a tad unusual: In February, elections were held. The two more left-wing parties did not win enough voters to qualify for the runoff which is scheduled for April 6. The presidential candidates will be Johnny Araya Monge of the ruling National Liberation Party, and Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera of the center-left Citizen’s Action Party.

Ticans are on the edge of their seats awaiting the outcome. Well, actually, they aren’t. After reading the polls, Sr. Araya concluded he hasn’t a gelato’s chance in a tropical rain forest. So, last month he announced that he would not waste any time, energy or money campaigning. Though his name will remain on the ballot, his opponent can confidently order rum for the victory celebration.

I’ve met no one here who does not grimace when I ask about Cuba and Venezuela. They understand – as too many in Hollywood, Berkeley and Manhattan do not -- that Castro’s revolution entrenched poverty and increased oppression. And they are acutely aware of the damage the late Hugo Chavez did to Venezuela.

For more than two months now, Venezuelans have taken to the streets in protest – with at least 39 people killed so far. The White House has barely reacted. In congressional testimony last week, Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, concluded that the Obama administration “has systematically disengaged from Latin America.”

At the same time, three “significant strategic actors” have been advancing in the region. Care to guess who those might be? Right the first time: Russia, Iran and China -- that dodgy alliance (axis?) of ambitious, anti-American autocracies.

Russia is planning to open new military bases in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, which Berman sees as part of its drive to expand “its military activities in the Western Hemisphere, to include long-range missions by its combat aircraft.” To what end? To defend Russian speakers in Guatamala?

Iran, according to intrepid Argentine state prosecutor Alberto Nisman, maintains a “continent-wide network of intelligence bases and logistical support centers spanning no fewer than eight countries.” Nisman is certain that these bases and centers helped facilitate the terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1984 – and that they remain operational today. Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, is entrenched in the so-called "Triple Frontier" where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet.

Berman says Iran also is working with several Latin American countries to obtain uranium and other “strategic minerals” useful for making nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

As for China, its interests in the region appear to be primarily economic at the moment. But China has become a contributor to Argentina's nuclear program.

What’s happening here is not just significant, it’s historic: As Berman reminded Congress, in 1823 President James Monroe warned foreign powers against intervention in Latin America “whose political independence America would henceforth preserve and protect. That statement, which came to be known as the ‘Monroe Doctrine,’ became a lasting guidepost for U.S. policy toward the Americas.”

Lasting, that is, till last fall when Secretary of State John Kerry “announced with great fanfare that the ‘era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.’”

Did it occur to no one at the State Department that Iran, Russia and China would interpret that not merely as the Obama administration once again apologizing for past U.S. behavior, but also as a bugle blowing U.S. retreat and signaling that Latin America is now up for grabs?

If Mr. Kerry doesn’t comprehend the danger that poses, he needs to spend more time south of the border. Even a week on a sun-washed Costa Rican beach can be edifying.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.