Sunday, September 21, 2008

Larry Wilkerson's Righteous Rant

It's National Security, Stupid

Let's chalk up the losses of late in Latin America:

We're being tossed out of Venezuela.

We're being tossed out of Bolivia.

We're despised in Argentina.

Nicaragua looks favorably on Russia's move into Georgia.

Honduras and Guatemala hold their noses when they deal with us.

We're barely tolerated in Mexico and puzzled over in Brazil, the real looming giant of Sudamérica. In fact, the best leader in the Western Hemisphere, Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva, just ignores us most of the time because to him, I'm sure, we are indecipherably stupid.

The Chinese are going to drill for oil within 60 miles of the coast of Florida; Russia just landed Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers in Venezuela and contemplates building a space launch facility in Cuba; and an international consortium, led by Dubai Ports World, is studying plans to build one of the largest container processing facilities in the Western Hemisphere in Mariel, Cuba. Its throughput capacity will rival or surpass Los Angeles.

The U.S. record in Latin America is just short of an abysmal failure. (And one suspects that if the Cheney/Bush administration actually had a policy­other than neglect and drugs­the record would be worse.)

In January 2009, what should the new president do about this failure in our own backyard?

The very first action should be to lift the embargo on Cuba and treat that nation just as we do other nations with repressive to partly-repressive regimes that are showing signs of accommodating the needs of the 21st Century­countries from China and Vietnam to Albania and Georgia.

Establishing more or less normal relations with Cuba­after more than a century and a half of paternalistic-imperialistic behavior toward Havana­would be such a stunning signal to the rest of Latin America, that all manner of positive changes throughout the hemisphere might be possible in its shadow.

Once Latin American leaders, from Chavez to Lula, see that the U.S. is serious about Cuba, they will have to get serious about the U.S. Chavez, for example, will have a major plank of his anti-Americanism jerked right out from under him. Lula will have to consider that we may­may, I say­have just regained our composure and our senses.

And in Cuba, there will be a cautious and growing recognition that the future may be a lot brighter than had been thought, particularly now that three hurricanes have ravaged that island nation and it needs a lifting of the embargo, not a hand-out, to recover its footing.

Moreover, unlike almost any other foreign policy challenge now confronting the U.S.­Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, or the Israeli-Palestinian situation, for examples­an opening to Cuba will cost the economically-struggling U.S. not a single dollar. Not a single dollar.

The rewards of such an opening, however, are huge: a completely new outlook from our entire hemisphere, from Toronto to Buenos Aires; a sensible policy with an island nation 90 miles from Florida and with many blood-ties to the U.S.; and an opening through which, hopefully, can pour new, positive and productive bilateral and regional relations with nations in our own backyard.

Only a fool would resist.

-Lawrence Wilkerson