PARIS -- What happened to America's obsession with Latin America? During the Cold War, it was pretty much all we ever heard about on the foreign policy front. These days, it's doubtful that U.S. leadership would spit on Latin America if it were on fire.
It's hard to believe that at one time America was willing to sell weapons to Iran in order to fund efforts to fight leftist ideology in Latin America, as happened with the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s. How things have changed. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. has turned its focus to the Middle East, frequently complaining about Iran's militarism. Latin America, meanwhile, has been all but forgotten.
But is that really such a bad thing?
Last month, the New York Times reported that members of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration met with some rebellious Venezuelan military officers to discuss a potential coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Before the Times story broke, the only one talking about the possibility of a coup in Venezuela was Maduro himself, who used the prospect of a U.S.-backed revolt as a rallying cry against foreign interference in Venezuelan affairs.
It's one of the few cards Maduro had left to play as the bill came due for decades of failed socialist policies. But now Maduro's fever dream about a coup appears to have some basis in reality, and the meddlers in the Trump administration have counterproductively added some no-slip to his grip on power. Way to go, guys.
Why bother trying to save socialism from itself? Many leftists like to say socialism has never actually failed because true socialism has never been attempted anywhere before. Name a country where socialist policies failed, and the leftist will inevitably claim that the country you've cited doesn't count because America mucked around there and interfered with the attempt to establish socialist utopia. By reportedly discussing the possibility of yet another U.S.-backed military coup in South America decades after such things went out of vogue, the Trump administration has given these leftists the opportunity to add a similar footnote to the inevitable socialist failure in Venezuela.
There is no better argument for letting Latin American countries sort things out for themselves than last weekend's results in the first round of the Brazilian presidential election.
Rampant corruption had brought approval ratings for Brazil's leadership down to single digits. The left-leaning Workers' Party was once fueled by the charisma of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who now sits in prison after being convicted of corruption.
Hard-right challenger Jair Bolsonaro emerged from the chaos, shooting off his mouth about the good ol' days of Brazil's 20-year military dictatorship during the Cold War. At a rally last month he was stabbed in the back -- literally, not politically -- reportedly resulting in a 40 percent blood loss.
It was Bolsonaro's economic stance that helped him gain the support of Protestant voters. (An estimated 22 percent of Brazilians are Protestant.) Instead of campaigning on the socialist "Kumbaya" message that typically sells in Brazil, Bolsonaro appealed to Protestants with pro-capitalism talk of hard work, free-markets, limited government and self-sufficiency.
There is a 1985 United Press International story in the CIA's archives about Roman Catholic bishops claiming that the CIA had infiltrated Protestant religious sects in Brazil to "further the interests of the U.S." and "undercut the progressive Catholic Church" at a time when 90 percent of Brazilians identified themselves as Catholic and the Soviet Union's KGB viewed Catholicism as a Marxist ideological vehicle.
When Bolsonaro was healthy enough to participate in the campaign again after the stabbing, he skipped a debate in favor of a 25-minute interview that aired on a television station owned by one of the leaders of Brazil's growing evangelical movement.
Bolsonaro's messaging has proven extremely powerful in a country that often becomes fascinated with charismatic figures. He now heads into the final round of voting on Oct. 28 after receiving 46 percent of Sunday's first-round vote. Bolsonaro will face a Workers' Party rival, former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, who finished with 29 percent of the vote
Should Bolsonaro become the next Brazilian president -- and he heads into the final round of voting as a heavy favorite -- it won't be attributable to any kind of global populist trend launched by Trump. A Bolsonaro win would be largely attributable to a capitalist message that resonated with religious groups once linked to the CIA during the Cold War.
Many seeds of capitalism -- in Latin America and elsewhere -- were planted long ago. Sometimes it's just a matter of having a little patience and faith instead of running around the world constantly kicking down doors.