Popularity contest

April 04, 2006

Bush administration officials will be closely watching presidential elections Sunday in Peru, where the frontrunner is a populist, left-leaning candidate who has aligned himself with the equally leftist presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela, both harsh critics of the U.S. and of American foreign policy in Latin America.

With his unapologetic condemnation of Washington's "imperialist exploitation," Ollanta Humala, a former army officer, has made clear that he too has adopted the anti-American rhetoric of Bolivia's newly elected president Evo Morales and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who U.S. officials believe had an influential hand in both Peru's and Bolivia's presidential campaigns and is a serious threat to regional stability.

Clearly, the U.S. policy of publicly ignoring Mr. Chavez while privately trying to discredit him through diplomatic channels is not working. Mr. Chavez remains popular and grows more bellicose by the day. He is currently establishing a civilian national guard program of 2 million reservists to prepare for a possible U.S. invasion. Administration officials dismiss the invasion allegations as paranoia and a way for Mr. Chavez to distract his people while he is steadily eroding their constitutional rights. Still, the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela was obliged to give assurances recently that the planned deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Caribbean for naval exercises was not part of an invasion plan.

With a leftward swing of new leadership under way in the region and more elections to come, the U.S. is rightly concerned that Mr. Chavez will try to consolidate his political influence. Recent presidential elections in Chile, Uruguay and Brazil have also put leftists in power, although moderate ones. And in Mexico, a left-leaning candidate is the leading contender in July's presidential elections.

While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has wisely reached out to some of the new leaders, Washington can better blunt Mr. Chavez's moves by dealing with him directly. Mr. Chavez likes to portray Venezuela and its neighbors as victims of self-serving U.S. foreign policy: Washington should be careful not to give him any ammunition.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.