September 7, 2012 07:21

It is important to spread the idea that tyrannies will inevitably lead to enslavement of people even if they are now showing some largesse and claim to speak for the poor. A tyranny will end up hurting the poor and the hungry as it has come to pass in Cuba …


By Luis Fleischman at Center for Security Policy


As anti-American feelings are being cultivated in large parts of Latin America, not much attention is being paid to the potential consequences that this may eventually have.

Propaganda is easy to dismiss as non-sense. But propaganda can unfortunately work. It is sometimes easy for those who are better informed to disregard propaganda as being the work of fanatics whose discourse is so ridiculous that nobody in his right mind would take it seriously.  Yet, the effects of propaganda are manifold. Often information that distorts reality can have harmful repercussions.

This is because when something is repeated so many times, there is always the risk that such lies might perpetuate themselves. Since many governments in the region are left-wing regardless of whether they are extreme or moderate, anti-American prejudice is omnipresent. Many on the left believe in the theory of dependency, a notion that views economic development among advanced countries as being made possible by the exploitation of raw materials in the Third World. As the theory goes it is a zero sum game where Third World countries, including those in Latin America, have always been the losers.

There is also resentment over past American actions, particularly during the Cold War, where the U.S. supported right wing anti-communist dictatorships that often ended up violating human rights.

These widespread anti-American feelings have real consequences.  For example, Chavez’s love for Iran has not been limited to him and his allies in the ALBA group. Former Brazilian President Luis Inazio “Lula” Da Silva, considered to be a moderate, took the lead in trying to reach a compromise on Iran’s nuclear program that would have released the latter from any commitment to stop the program. Lula also received Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Brazil. Another so-called moderate leader, Uruguayan president Jose Mujica spoke about the special relations with Iran because Iran purchases Uruguayan rice. However, it was not merely a relation of convenience. A delegation from the Uruguayan Congress visited Iran with its president leading the visit.

Indeed, Iran has turned into a symbol of expressing anti-American feelings and repudiation of historical American influence throughout the continent. Mujica, himself, echoing Chavez called the current period a “second independence”. The government of Argentina, the third largest country in the region, has also an anti-imperialist discourse that even if it is not as blunt as the one conveyed by the Venezuelan leader, is still there. Argentinean president, Cristina Kirchner in the last conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Community of States (CELAC), referred to the problem of drug trafficking as follows: “the cause of the world’s problems has to do with those countries that have veto power in the international community and impose the rules by force”. With regard to drug trafficking she said that the “dead people are Latin Americans but the money is collected by somebody else”. President Kirchner suggested that money is being laundered in first World banks and thus she concluded that even drug trafficking benefits the First world.

This is a clear display of a political war or a war of ideas. What is worse, these ideas also influence those who are more moderate in their thinking.

In the case of anti-American propaganda there are also a set of circumstances that make the situation worse. There is a general perception of American decline as new powers emerge in the world competition. China is a case in point. China, as a relatively new player in the region, is seen by many in Latin America as a rising power with an economy that may soon overtake that of the United States. For those on the extreme left, China is a much more desirable trading partner because it is seen as being in competition with the U.S.  In spite of one’s political leanings, China is viewed favorably as a major purchaser of Latin American goods and as such having significantly contributed to the region’s growth.

The prospect of an “American defeat” has raised the euphoria of those like Chavez who want to see “the empire” collapse. But this has also been the source of rejoicing for less radical elements  in Latin America, including Lula whose tenure ended in 2010 and who with a smile on his face pointed out that the “recession is affecting the White American and European people”.

The influence that Chavez and his allies are having in regional forums such as the Organization of American States General Assembly (OAS), the Summit of the Americas, CELAC, and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), has had the effect of increasing tolerance towards anti-American and anti-democratic ideas.

The reaction of the U.S. Government is to keep a low profile in regional forums and downplay the expansion of negative forces in the region. We are seeing American diplomats praising Latin American leaders in hyperbole, generals downplaying security threats and the presence of Iran and the president of the United States, himself, declaring that there is no security challenge coming from the South. The U.S. has been successfully forced to take a back seat in order not to aggravate this menace and even denying that there is such a menace.

But the United States does not get any reward for taking a back seat. The American attitude is perceived as a sign of weakness and therefore, anti-American hostility grows worse.

Weakness generates a morbid pleasure on the other side. It is always weakness that invites more violence because it makes it easier for the perpetrator to carry it out.

To make up for this weakness no military action is needed. It is a matter of communication and projecting a resolute attitude.

We have not properly countered this misinformation coming from Latin America.

The U.S. government has this capacity to communicate to an international audience but is not using it very effectively. Currently, the Voice of America is used to broadcast news not to try to influence hearts and minds. This situation is different than the one that existed prior to 1999 before the United States Information Agency (USIA) was disbanded. (Since then the Voice of America was made part of the State Department).

This is why those who understand the power of ideas need to speak out.

It should not only be up to the U.S. Government to engage in this war of ideas but the work of thinkers, think-tanks , scholars and journalists who understand the negative message that is incubating in Latin America.

It is important to spread the idea that tyrannies will inevitably lead to enslavement of people even if they are now showing some largesse and claim to speak for the poor. A tyranny will end up hurting the poor and the hungry as it has come to pass in Cuba where the initial emigration of the rich was quickly followed by the emigration of the poor due to the oppressive conditions that existed and continue to exist.

It is important to point out that the militias and para-military groups being created by regimes such as the Venezuelan regime are aimed at establishing full political and existential control of the population and not for the purpose of defending the poor. It is necessary to say that this revolution, as in most revolutionary socialist countries, will end up being a Satanic, patrimonial sort of regime where a few people will have the monopoly over economic and state resources and govern at the expense of civil society.  Some observers are already comparing the Ortega regime in Nicaragua with the decades long rule of the Somoza family.

It is also absolutely imperative to remind people that attacks against the judiciary are going to harm justice, in general. Likewise, attacks against the press will undermine the freedom of everyone, rich and poor alike.

It is also crucial to explain why the United States is a force for good.

Average Latin Americans including some non-leftists are not aware of the role the United States has played as an armed and economically powerful democracy. China may be a major buyer of Latin American goods but are we willing to live in societies dominated by oppressive elites as people live in China?

It must be made clear that if the power of America declines in the world, the alternative is not going to be another big democracy. When Great Britain ceased to be an empire and its power declined, the United States emerged as the new power. However, the United States was the continuation of Great Britain in so far as it was a mighty democracy.

Now there is no democratic alternative to the United States.  No big power will speak for freedom, with the exception of the European Union. If China or Russia gains strong international power, the status of freedom and human rights will diminish as well. Who will carry out a moral policy as the U.S. and its European allies did during the Bosnian and the Libyan crisis?

China and Russia have been staunch supporters of the tyranny of Bashar Al Assad in Syria. China is suspicious of democracy and democratic movements because its leadership fears the rise of a democratic movement in its territory. Therefore, it will tend to support tyranny.   It is no wonder that Hugo Chavez feels close and has encouraged relations with both China and Russia

We at the Menges Hemispheric Security Project have spoken in Spanish media outlets, including those in Venezuela, explaining the tyrannical nature of the Chavez regime, the role of the United States as a force for good and why it is important for the United States to participate in the war of ideas.

Left-wing governments and some people in Latin America are drunk with a sense of economic success. However, the continuation of future economic growth is as uncertain as the continuation of democracy.

In Latin America, the war of ideas is no less intense than the war within the Arab and Muslim world between the radicals and the moderates. We are taking the latter seriously, as it should be. However, we are taking the former lightly as it should not be.


Luis  Fleischman serves as an academic advisor on Latin American affairs and hemispheric security to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Washington DC-based Center for Security Policy. Luis also serves in the Security Task Force of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami.

Fleischman holds a Ph.D. and a M.A degree in Sociology from the New School for Social Research in New York, and has a B.A. degree in Political Science and Labor Studies from Tel Aviv University. He has published journalistic and academic articles and written policy papers on a variety of topics, including the theoretical aspects of civil society and state, Latin American affairs, the Middle East and terrorism. He is currently writing a book on Contemporary Latin America and regional security and he is the co-chair of the Spain and Latin America task force of the group Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He is currently owrking on a book that deals with national and regional secuirty challenges in Latin America.

Fleischman is also an adjunct professor of Sociology and Political Science at the Florida Atlantic University Honors College and FAU Life Long Learning Society since 2005 where he has taught courses on history and sociology of Democracy, the Middle East, Political Sociology, American Conservative Thought, the Politics and Sociology of Rogue States, and Latin America.

Help Make A Difference By Sharing These Articles On Facebook, Twitter And Elsewhere:

Interested In Further Reading? Click Here