Sunday, July 20, 2008

There Is No Coordinated "Lula-Calderon-Uribe Troika"

While it's an interesting idea, I don't buy this idea of a "Uribe-Lula-Calderon" troika countering Chavez at all, for several reasons. Firstly, as I've stated repeatedly, Lula has been willing to negotiate with many non-traditional (i.e. non-European, non-U.S.) partners. Simply because he has been working with Uribe on some issues (including strengthening military ties via a binational military base on the Colombia-Brazil border) does not mean he's out to undermine Chavez's influence. Indeed, while I'm just making a rough guess here based on news in Brazil over the last couple of years, Lula has cooperated with Chavez far more than Uribe, and certainly far more than with Calderon. Lula's first job is to build up Brazil's strengths in the hemisphere and the globe. If that means entering economic, political, social, or economic agreements (open or tacit) with Chavez, he'll do it; if it means entering such agreements with Uribe or Calderon instead, he'll do that too. He (and Uribe and Calderon) are working first and foremost to steer their respective countries in the directions they deem are the best, and I just really find it hard to believe there could be any "anti-Chavez" axis emerging between the three of them, explicitly or tacitly; each is going to look after the interests of his own country, and to assume some "alliance" of any sort between the three to bring down Chavez is rather far-reaching.

Secondly, I think Tannock really overstates Uribe's importance both presently and in a broader historical context. Yes, the FARC has been reduced through deaths (natural and violent) and embarrassments (accidentally turning over high-profile hostages to the Colombian army, who you mistakenly think are your own troops; using a boy that it turns out you don't even realize is no longer in your possession in hostage negotiations), and Uribe's efforts have played no small part in this. This to a large extent explains his high approval ratings (which, according to some, hit 91% in the wake of the Ingrid Betancourt rescue). However, basing your entire perspective of Uribe's popularity and historical importance based on these recent developments is premature and wrong-headed. There is still the fact that Uribe's close friends and allies are closely tied to paramilitary groups. While this does not make him immediately guilty by association, he has done virtually nothing to make a strong case that he is not to some extent tied to paramilitary groups, either; indeed, in a rather Bush-like way, he has dug in further, simultaneously denying his knowledge and/or involvement while dodging the question. Even if Uribe is never directly tied to the paramilitaries, he has done virtually nothing to combat their power, either, and this will be a lasting stain on his record, too.

But there is an even more fundamental problem with the argument that Uribe's influence is extending throughout the America's at Chavez's expense based on the recent victories over the FARC. As popular as Uribe's successes have made him in Colombia, it is radically faulty to assume that his recent successes have left the rest of South America falling under his sway and abandoning Chavez. Simply put, the ideologies and beliefs of other leaders and populations in South America don't fall in line with Uribe's ideology and locus on the political spectrum. Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Ecuador are all run by popularly-elected leftist leaders. Uribe is the only rightist leader on the entire continent, and outside of Colombia, many Latin Americans from multiple nations loathe him as much for his ideological stance as for his close ties to the United States, which they view as an anachronistic and damaging model of economic reliance on the U.S. that hearkens back to the 20th century and that these other countries are successfully leaving behind. Simply put, in some ways, Uribe is a "stain" to the rest of Latin America for his cooperation with the U.S. and right-wing positions. To presume that his recent successes have put him at the forefront of international leadership and cooperation as the lone rightist leader on a continent of leftist countries is tautological.

I think the final major problem with this article is the insistence that Calderon is part of this "troika," yet Tannock does absolutely nothing to really establish how and why Calderon is a major player in undermining Chavez's influence in the hemisphere aside from the fact that Mexico has "geostrategic" influence. Specifically, Tannock makes a Uribe-Calderon connection simply because both presidents are trying to deal with the drug trade and repress it; the fact that the two "wars on drugs" share very few similiarities and are in two completely different political, historical, and even geographic contexts seems to be of little importance to Tannock. And the assumption that Calderon and Lula are similar because they are both trying to renegotiate and strengthen their ties to Cuba is ridiculous; to reiterate what I pointed out above, Calderon, like Lula, is simply trying to do what he sees is economically and politically best for his country. To sit out negotiations and dialogues with Cuba while other hemispheric powers were improving relations with Cuba would be stupid, alienating Mexico even further. Calderon isn't doing this because of some new "troika"; he's doing it because it's the smart thing to do.

In short, I just don't buy this whole notion of a "Uribe-Calderon-Lula" troika. Lula is far more tied to Chavez than to Calderon or Uribe (without being dependent on Chavez), and there is absolutely no evidence that these three men are trying to collaboratively and collectively undermine Chavez's influence.

As a final point somewhat unrelated to the above, I also really take umbrage with Tannock's contention "that Latin America was going through one of its regular bouts of leftwing destabilization, given the rise of Bolivian President Evo Morales, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, and their ringleader, Chavez." Firstly, leftism is not an inherently "destabilizing" force, and when leftist leaders in Latin America have witnessed "destabilization," it has been because of foreign powers' (particularly the U.S.) undue influence and open subversion of national sovereignty, be it in Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, or Nicaragua in the 1980s. There's nothing naturally "destabilizing" about left-wing leadership. And the suggestion that the rise of left-wing leaders in Latin America appeared to be little more than a "bout" is totally ignorant of recent history, when country after country in South America witnessed its economy devastated by neoliberal policies instituted by rightist presidents, leading to a backlash that perfectly coincided with Bush's insistence on focusing only on Iraq and the Middle East, leaving Latin American leftists and leaders with an unprecedented ability to establish themselves and chart new, non-dependency-based economic and political courses for their countries. To suggest that the continent-wide victories of leftists in Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador, is a "flash in the pan" is absurd; if anything, at least right now, it would seem that it's Uribe's administration that is the outlier.

In short, Tannock is right that Chavez's influence in the hemisphere may be declining, but not for any of the reasons he then tries (very unsuccessfully) to outline.