- - Thursday, July 21, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

American foreign policy must not take its eye off Latin America. The sheer economic growth of these emerging markets, with their vast resources and human capital, has caught the attention of the largest markets in the world.

Similarly, America’s vital interests have been threatened by the growing intervention in our hemisphere by some of our most dreaded adversaries, namely Islamic fundamentalists and Marxist regimes. We have already seen that those that seek to harm our interests are allied with drug operators and weapons smugglers, who present a clear and present danger to our way of life.

The use of oil reserves alone from the waters of Latin America could be used by these despots to threaten our own energy needs and cripple our economy. Unfolding before our eyes right now is an element of this volatile dynamic.

Alejandro Pena Esclusa, a principled, outspoken critic of Hugo Chavez, who was jailed on trumped-up charges by the Venezuelan dictator, was released from prison after a year of enduring the loss of his freedom.

The significance of this event has yet to be fully understood by the American media or the foreign-affairs policy experts. A trade mission from Alabama just returned from a series of high-level meetings with officials within Honduras, all of whom expressed appreciation for the tireless efforts to release Mr. Pena. This appreciation sprang from of years of intervention by Mr. Pena to combat dictatorial regimes in the region. Honduras has been a shining example of prolonged democratic rule as a result of efforts by leaders such as Mr. Pena.

Several years ago, during Redeem the Vote’s voter-registration outreach, Mr. Pena demonstrated interest in our organization and other conservative groups. Afterwards, he continued to keep in touch with Redeem the Vote to utilize its expertise and knowledge to help promote market capitalism, democracy and educational freedom, as well as to improve the standard of living of those in Latin America.

About a year ago, Mr. Pena was invited to Alabama on a good will speaking tour. He spoke at Auburn University, University of West Alabama, Auburn University of Montgomery, and the Latin American studies and political science departments at the University of Alabama.

Mr. Pena addressed the state Legislature and received a proclamation honoring his work promoting freedom across Latin America. He detailed firsthand the brutal realities of life under repressive regimes. Moreover, Mr. Pena persuasively advocated for the need for education and democratic reform in Latin America to make irrelevant the socialism and class-warfare views of Mr. Chavez and his ilk.

The next day, news outlets internationally reported that Mr. Pena’s protege, Alfonso Paz, had been imprisoned in Venezuela.

Shortly after Mr. Pena’s return, he continued to speak out against the travesty in Venezuela under Mr. Chavez, including narco-terrorism, violence, intimidation and alliance with Iranian jihadists, who had been traveling to Caracas, Venezuela, and working as guards and security agents. He spoke out against corruption and the exportation of terrorism from Caracas through alliances with Iran and other anti-U.S. forces.

Mr. Pena was subsequently arrested and placed in confinement after explosives were planted in his daughter’s room. Mr. Pena, along with other political prisoners, was denied basic human rights while imprisoned. Ironically, their plight even reached Mr. Chavez’s admirers, such as famed leftist academic Noam Chomsky, leading them to speak out against these abuses.

Mr. Pena’s release should be celebrated in our country and used to link up with those who champion freedom and support our interests in this hemisphere.

The Obama administration’s contradictory positions confuse our natural Latin American allies. On one hand, administration officials extol the virtues of increased exports to the region. On the other hand, our State Department sends contradictory and confusing messages to our natural trading partners in South America.

U.S. foreign policy must recognize this fact and oppose those who seek to create a false image of militarism in countries such as Honduras. We must continue to support business interests and political parties that support true democracy and American idealism. This is not only a moral imperative, but a national security necessity.

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