- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela

The United States has been the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere since the early days of colonization in the New World, and its Latin neighbors could do little about it.

President Monroe, in his message to Congress on Dec. 2, 1823, cemented relations between the “two Americas” by declaring that the Western Hemisphere was an “American” hemisphere and out of bounds to further European colonization.

But now an ominous change is emerging. The two Americas are going different directions, tacitly telling the world that anyone from China to Iran is welcome where only the Yanquis once dared tread.

For many years, Latin America was filled with nationalism and resentment against the titan of the North, but without a dislike of the “Americanos.”

Today, it is different: The Latin left looks at the U.S. administration’s policies — from the war in Iraq to rejection of the International Criminal Court — as despicable. The begrudging respect is waning.

“Internationally, the idea of a Latin American bloc against imperialism has grown enormously with the politics of [President] Bush. He made it very easy for us,” said Teodoro Petkoff, a Venezuelan journalist and political analyst.

Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, wrote in Foreign Affairs early this year: “Anti-Americanism has surged in every country in Latin America. People in the region, rich and poor, resent the Bush administration’s aggressive unilateralism and condemn Washington’s disregard for international institutions and norms.”

He noted that relations between the United States and Latin America were at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

Luis Sanchez, editor of the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, said Latin Americans became disillusioned with Washington’s push during the 1990s for democracy linked to free trade as the answer to poverty and stagnation.

“It is a cultural problem,” he said. “People saw ‘democracy’ not as a vehicle for change, but as a solution.”

Now, Latin Americans blame the United States for leading them to believe in political phantasms, he said.

Macroeconomic development means nothing if not accompanied by educational, social and economic development on the personal, or microeconomic, level. Not recognizing this mistake, governments on the far left are pushing for a Latin American bloc.

This is particularly dramatic in Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is spreading the idea for a Latin American structure to stand up against the U.S.-led North American Free Trade Agreement and Central American versions of it.

Mr. Chavez’s enormous pools of oil wealth are sustaining Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba. The Venezuelan president is opening banks and subsidiaries of his oil company on the communist island.

He also is positing himself as a world leader from Iran to China and across the Americas. Venezuela is welcoming Iranian projects in the country after Mr. Chavez developed a “friendship” with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

China also is taking an activist role. President Hu Jintao has made two trips and spent 16 days in Latin America during the past two years, bringing contracts and payments and buying up oil and mineral wealth to challenge the American assumption of eternal sovereign influence.

Cuba increasingly relies on China as a counterweight to the United States. Havana’s trade volume with Beijing was $830 million last year and $890 million in the first six months of this year as China buys nickel, cobalt and biotechnology.

“China’s interest in Latin America? That’s where the commodities are,” said Susan Kaufman Purdell, director of the University of Miami’s Center for Hemispheric Policy.

“Trade has been growing about 9 percent for the last two decades. China, with 4.4 percent of the world’s [gross national product], is consuming 74 percent of its oil, 34 percent of its coal and 40 percent of its cement. China is on an economic tear,” she said at a Hudson Institute conference in Washington.

“China is stepping into the shoes of the Soviets,” Robert Leiken of the Nixon Center said at the conference, “but very carefully and slowly, we are seeing a populist, leftist, authoritarian alliance.”

When Mr. Castro dies, there is no assurance that his brother and handpicked successor, Raul, will adopt the Chinese model and its free-market component.

In Venezuela, where the Chinese promised to build 20,000 homes and a railroad, only 40 houses have been built and no railroad has been started.

A Miami Herald-University of Miami-Zogby poll showed that respondents slightly favored economic integration with Europe over the United States, by 26 percent to 23 percent. Most of the rest preferred more integration with other Latin American countries or economic independence.

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