America’s preoccupation with the crises du jour – the rising terrorist menace to the liberation of Iraq, the Iranian regime’s determination to acquire the means to act on its genocidal threats against Israel and the United States and, most recently, North Korea’s nuclear coming-out party – has left Washington ill-prepared to deal with one of tomorrow’s major security challenges: the rise of the radical anti-American left in Latin America.
The emergence of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez as the oil-rich heir to Fidel Castro’s revolutionary ambitions has translated into a mortal threat to liberal democracy, freedom and economic opportunity in much of the hemisphere. With Chávez’s money and Castro’s coaching, the two have adapted the longstanding Cuban revolutionary program of violent overthrow of elected governments to meet present circumstances. Today, virulent leftists are seeking, and frequently succeeding at, obtaining power through the ballot box – then using it to destroy their government’s constitutional processes and any checks on that power.
The United States government has paid scant attention as Bolivia and Argentina have moved squarely into the Chávez-Castro orbit. A similar disastrous outcome was narrowly averted in Peru but may well be in the offing at this writing in Ecuador.
The region’s largest country, Brazil, is in the hands of a long-time Castro ally, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Despite his differences with Chávez and generally moderate approach to economic policy, Lula can be expected to make renewed common cause with the leftist agenda if he is reelected on October 29.
Particularly appalling, the region’s Axis of Evil is poised, all other things being equal, to return Nicaragua – the country Ronald Reagan did so much to help free from the Sandinistas’ communist rule – to the tender mercies of their long-time authoritarian comandante, Daniel Ortega.
Washington’s inattention may also encourage the most strategically important reversal sustained to date by the Chavez-Castro axis to be substantially undone. Despite its concerted and well-heeled efforts to ensure the election as president of Mexico of an ideological soul-mate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the results of a remarkably clean election gave the victory to a pro-American conservative, Felipe Calderón. There is, as a result, an unprecedented opportunity for constructive relations between the U.S. and Mexican governments.
Unfortunately, this opportunity – with all it portends for economic prosperity, sensible immigration policies and a common front against the hemisphere’s radical Left – could be squandered if Mr. Calderón yields to pressure to make the same mistake as his predecessor, Vicente Fox. That will be the effect if the new president of Mexico restores to office Mr. Fox’s first Foreign Minister, Jorge Castañeda.
As a new analysis by Fredo Arias-King just released by the Center for Security Policy (available at http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/PDF/Castaneda.pdf) makes clear, Castañeda and his team (including such figures as Mexico’s former consul in New York, Arturo Sarukhan, Castaneda’s controversial half-brother Andres Rozental and Ricardo Pascoe, former Mexican ambassador to Cuba) are themselves radical leftists who did grave harm to U.S.-Mexico relations the last time around – and will surely do so again if given the chance.
For example, they were instrumental in withdrawing Mexico from the decades-old mutual defense pact known as the Treaty of Rio, a decision announced ironically just days before the 9/11 attacks in 2001. They seemed determined to find occasions to work at cross-purposes with the United States – notably, in connection with our effort to hold Saddam Hussein accountable to various Security Council resolutions.
Most troubling, however, was the Castañeda cabal’s efforts to convert the initially pro-U.S. Fox and his government into friends of the hard left throughout Latin America.
Castañeda personally engineered closer ties to the Castro apparatus in Cuba, encouraged the narco-terrorist FARC in Colombia and strove to rehabilitate Danny Ortega and his Sandinista Party in Nicaragua. It is not hard to assign responsibility for these initiatives since they were abandoned immediately after Castañeda left the foreign ministry.
As a result not only of their ideological bent but their incompetence, Castañeda and his team blew the opportunity afforded when the newly inaugurated George Bush assigned top priority to what he called a "special relationship" with Mexico and traveled there as his symbolic first trip abroad. Mexico dropped in the priority list for Washington, even before 9/11, and has never recovered since.
The possibility that the likes of Jorge Castañeda might return to power is especially dangerous for both Mexico and the United States at a moment when Ortega may triumph over a divided democratic-right in Nicaragua and the Chávez-Castro axis is making inroads in so many other places. Under Castañeda or his cabal, it is unimaginable that the Mexican government would play the constructive role it might otherwise perform in the post-Castro transition in Cuba.
It would be a tragedy if, at this critical juncture – and despite the preferences a majority of Mexicans expressed at the ballot box, Felipe Calderón were to squander the chance for Mexico to serve as a bulwark against the combined dangers of Chavismo and Fidelismo and to enjoy a strong, constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States. It is in the interests of both of our countries that President Calderón’s vision of a freedom-loving and -supporting Mexico be represented at the Foreign Ministry, not that of Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro and Jorge Castañeda.