Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Effective South-South Diplomacy against Authoritarians

This piece originally appeared in the Latin American Herald Tribune on April 19.

Numerous Latin Americans have developed a bizarre love-hate relationship with the United States, most of them populists who tend to blame the American government for all that is wrong with their lives, even if these faults are the product of their own mistakes. As a result, the United States has become an easy excuse for bad government, repression, and restrictions on freedom of expression and association in recent years.

In some cases, actions taken by the United States that are intended to sanction repressive regimes actually have the opposite effect — for example, the American embargo on Cuba. Similarly, the confrontational rhetoric exchanged between former President Bush and President Chavez allowed the latter international leverage to persecute civil society activists and curtail fundamental freedoms.

The United States’ reciprocal response to the expulsion of American ambassadors to Bolivia, Venezuela, and most recently, Ecuador, has unfairly provided populist authoritarian leaders valuable political capital. It is all too easy to just blame the United States. It is also too easy to keep old memories of the cold war alive for “ideological” reasons.

And, it is not just the authoritarians who blame the United States. Extremists in the opposition, those who have campaigned for the United States to more actively involve itself in Latin American regime change á la military intervention, also s blame the US for being too soft. The United States just can’t win. It is true that the United States doesn’t have a good policy toward the Western Hemisphere, but that is part of another history.

Last week I wrote of two Latin Americas: one, comprised of countries with effective policies that balance the utility of free markets with the necessity of social justice, and another, consisting of countries stuck in the past that leave their citizens poor and ignorant in order to control them.

The first has experienced tremendous advances in terms of equality, evidenced by countries like Brazil, where more than 20 million people have moved from poverty to the middle class thanks to an effective social program that has motivated parents to bring their kids to school and ensure they receive medical services. In these countries, presidents from the right and left have brought political stability, democratic governance, and economic development, and have done so with a social face.

We can include countries like Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Panama on this list. It looks like El Salvador—despite its problems with violence and economic limitations—is also headed in this direction. On the other hand, there is Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador, all of which are going backward.

The success of the first set of countries did not involve blaming America. Instead, these countries found their own way. Latin Americans must work as citizens of their countries and region to solve their own differences, reduce the inequality between them, and eliminate social exclusion by effectively balancing market forces and social justice. There is no magical solution that will come from the north. The people must do this work themselves.

In terms of how to deal with elected authoritarians, those who persecute opposition and violate democratic values human rights, the best solution is effective South-South diplomacy — for governments like Brazil, who have been successful, to positively engage countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua on issues of human rights and democracy.

We need governments that have carved out democratic paths to assist in exporting democracy to this “other” America so that it too can share in the prosperity. Democratic countries in Latin America have tremendous potential when it comes to sharing democratic stories and lessons with their more authoritarian neighbors, and it is exactly this, as well as holding the feet of leaders in this other Latin America to the fire.

Civil society organizations in countries like Brazil, Chile and Uruguay should working in conjunction with civil society groups in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. These groups should share experience , an effective tool building healthier opposition politics and stronger civil society. In addition to civil society development, democratic governments in Latin America should align their foreign policy with their expressed domestic commitment to democracy and human rights. Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Panama, among others, have been consolidating their democracies internally and have thus increased the opportunities for their civil societies to advance democracy and human rights in other countries.

However, despite enormous potential for cooperation of civil society groups across borders, we too often witness a lack of solidarity between civil society organizations, most importantly between civil society organizations in countries with authoritarian regimes and those with consolidating democracies. Not only this, but some democratic countries have seemingly loaned support to the repressive countries.

It is important that newly emergent democracies do not forget their global commitment to democracy in the tranquility that has corresponded with their political and economic success. Further action is required to promote an awareness of the status of democracy in countries outside one’s own — to more actively engage civil society organizations and diplomats to further democracy across borders, to consolidate democracy in Latin America as a whole rather than leaving the continent to be divided in two, one democratic and successful and the other not.

The voting record of Brazil at the UN Human Rights Council and its support of authoritarians in Venezuela, Iran and Cuba should bring shame on a country that has managed to achieve such a vibrant democracy and fervent respect for human rights in such a short period of time.

Effective diplomacy is possible. For example, look at how the Czech Republic has engaged Cuba, allowing Cuban civil society leaders to use computers in its embassy to blog free from the Castro regime’s usual controls and leading efforts to strengthen and inter-link civil society groups. Czech and Cuban civil society groups have worked with each other on numerous projects.

Democratic countries in Latin America are not without similar examples. For example, look at the effective role Conectas, a small civil society organization in Brazil, has had in promoting responsible diplomacy in the south. There are positive examples of South-South diplomacy. We just need more of them, and we need them to be consistent.

My view of South-South Effective Diplomacy requires responsible governments to facilitate the sharing of best practices among civil society organizations, youth groups and other social, political and economic actors, support the construction of civil society networks, educate civil society leaders on the use of new tools and technologies, promote democratic solidarity across the continent, and promote awareness of what has been accomplished in much of the continent.

Countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador should not be left behind. Instead, they should have their eyes opened to the successes experienced in other countries so that they too may build such democratic foundations.

North-South diplomacy has its place, but South-South diplomacy also has an important role to play. The United States is not all-powerful, and it is time for democrats in the region to come to together to strengthen regional and sub-regional bodies, to adopt country-to-country initiatives, to level the playing field between authoritarians and democratic forces in the countries left behind.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Latin Americas

This piece originally appeared in the Latin American Herald Tribune on April 6.

This year the realities of a divided Latin America are being placed in stark contrast as two very different countries with very divergent political models go to the polls. In Peru, positive progress has been made in shedding its repressive and violent past and moving along a path to stable democracy and economic growth; meanwhile, in Nicaragua, ghosts of a similarly miserable political past continue to haunt the halls of power.

First is the case of Peru. It is easy for us to forget that 20 years ago the violent guerrilla group called the Shining Path killed hundreds of people in a merciless insurgent war. The ensuing chaos caused financial instability that led to Peru defaulting on its debt, with an inflation rising to 397% in 1990.

While the world has moved on, Peruvian politicians have not forgotten. Deciding to combine effective social security programs with policies that promote private investment and innovation, Peru has successfully balanced free market forces, regulation, and social policy to build a healthy mixed economy consistent with the rule of law and democracy.

They have chosen as their recipe successful countries such as Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Panama. They have abandoned the tired arguments of “left” and “right” and focused instead on pragmatic solutions which create opportunities for investment, employment, and innovation while generating social policies that reduce inequality and poverty.

Importantly, fostering such success inevitably means respecting the rules of the democratic game.

The Peruvian economy has experienced nine years of positive growth. According to the IMF it is expected to grow more than any other Latin American county in the next five years.

A stable democracy for the past ten years, Peru has set in place a system that assures an effective transition of power void of ideological excesses and anchored upon its respect for the rule of law. Peru’s improvement will continue unless Peruvians decided to look back and elect the ghost of the past represented by Ollanta Humala, Hugo Chavez protégée.

Peru’s story is paralleled in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. In those countries, presidents from both the left and the right opted to pursue market-oriented policies with a “social face,” transcending old ideological divides while providing a re-definition of democracy and economic policymaking.

All of them had the opportunity to use repression or take advantage of populist sentiments to change the laws and the constitution; however they have chosen instead to follow the rules of the democratic game.

As a result, their countries have and continue to progress unlike the regimes of Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela, Evo Morales’ Bolivia, Rafael Correa’s Ecuador, Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua, and the Castro brothers’ Cuba.

These countries instead have fallen victim to autocrats who have manipulated institutions and violated democratic principles to the point of turning their countries in failed states.

An opposite case of Peruvian election this year will be Nicaragua’s election. This country has decided instead to follow down the path of Venezuela and Ecuador. These countries trumpet ideological values cemented with populist platforms paid for by un-transparent governments dependent upon extractive industries.

Instead of freedom and wellbeing, the pages of the newspapers in Nicaragua are rife with terrible news of corruption, murder, and evidence of state failure. This is the other Latin America, the one that, as Oscar Arias says, “marches resolutely into the past, to the ideological trenches that separated us during the cold war”.

What we have are two Latin Americas, one looking with hope to the future and the other immersed in defensive ideological excuses to disguise failed policies, ineffective governments, corrupt elites and sanguinary leaders.

Perhaps equally concerning, the policies generated by the populist leftists are not only destructive for their own countries — they are also dangerous for peace and security in other countries as well.

From Morales’ encouragement of drug production in Bolivia to the increase in trafficking in Venezuela with the complicity of Chavez’ inner circle; to terrorist groups and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “jointly” investing in the region, this ‘other’ Latin America is no longer only a threat to its own people, but to the entire Western Hemisphere.

It is time for the United States to encourage and support a Latin America that looks to the future — to help democracy activists counter regressive policies and begin to steer the ‘other’ Latin America in the direction of those countries that have enjoyed success stories in recent years.

Upcoming elections in Nicaragua provide a chance to do just this as the United States will have new opportunities to support those civil society and democratic leaders who have been struggling for free and fair elections that will offer something more than Ortega’s eternal presidency.

The United States should also realize the need to counter autocracy in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba.

All Latin American countries must be allowed the opportunity to share in a common, region-wide story of success, and now is the time for the United States at long last to offer help along the way.

The Rise (and Fall?) of Ridiculous Leaders

This piece originally appeared in the Latin American Herald Tribune on March 22.

“The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur here still.” Who can forget these infamous words by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York referring to US President Bush.

“There must be a United Nations inquiry into the assassination of John F. Kennedy” said Libya’s Dictator Muammar Gaddafi at the same forum only three years later. He went on to demand 7.7 trillion dollars in reparations for Africa, and opined that he would be happy if President Barack Obama stayed president of the United States for life.

In 2010 it was Iranian dictator Mahmood Ahjadinejad’s turn as he revived September 11 conspiracy theories and announced that Iran – the world’s most significant sponsor of terrorism – would be holding a global conference in Tehran on how to combat terrorism.

Those three friends share the same megalomania and the same approach to power.

The eccentricities of these ridiculous leaders are well known. Muammar Gaddafi travels with a voluptuous blond nurse, is afraid of heights and tall buildings, and sleeps in a roving convoy that drives through the desert protected by only women bodyguards.

Hugo Chavez appeared on a stage wearing a huge Mexican “sombrero” and sang “rancheras” for a full hour in a misguided attempt to apologize to the Mexican people for a slight from his famously undisciplined tongue. “Condi Rice seems to be obsessed with me,” he once told a crowd of 700,000 people in downtown Caracas. “Maybe I should propose marriage to her, maybe that would fix things” he said to the jeering mob, “no, let another make a sacrifice for the country; ask me anything else, but don’t ask me that.” One day a communist revolutionary the next day a self proclaimed savior of the poor and latter a democrat persecuted by the “evil empire”.

In a recent conference on climate change Bolivia’s President Evo Morales confidently stated that eating genetically modified chicken makes people gay, and bald. He appeared in front of his own parliament promoting the use of coca and admitting that he used coca leaves and paste.

In a recent kerfuffle with his police, Ecuador’s President Correa waded through a mob of hundreds of armed, angry officers to stand framed in a window and yelled, “…if you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him,” and ripped open his shirt with a flourish to reveal his bare chest. “I prefer to be dead sooner than lose my life,” he shouted self-importantly to the armed crowd.

Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, violated his stepdaughter.

Birds of a feather, as they say. It’s no surprise at all that Chavez, Ortega, Castro, and Morales have all been the recipients of the highly coveted Muammar Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. This important trophy, with its corresponding $250,000 award, is given to “international personalities, bodies or organizations that have distinctively contributed to rendering an outstanding human service and has achieved great actions in defending human rights, protecting the causes of freedom and supporting peace everywhere in the world.”

It is a shame for the Western Hemisphere that the automatic and stronger supporters of the Gaddafi’s bloody tyranny are these three stooges.

The risible antics of these barmy leaders could be passed off as fodder for Saturday Night Live -- maybe a spoof featuring Tina Fey -- if these men weren’t at the same time so dangerous. As I write this, Libya’s Gaddafi is using weaponry of war against his own people in a desperate attempt to retain power.

Mahmood Ahmadinejad, after torturing and murdering thousands of Iranians after the fraudulent election of 2009 could be only months away from a nuclear weapon to call his very own.

Hugo Chavez has held onto power for twelve years, converting his tropical Caribbean paradise into a safe haven for drug dealers, terrorists and criminals while sitting back as they murdered 150,000 Venezuelans in senseless acts of turf warfare. He turned a progressive oil country (with undoubted social and economical disparities) into a banana republic. He talked about his revolution but instead of a “jasmine” one he has been implementing a banana revolution in Venezuela and exporting his authoritarianism to Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries.

So far, Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua – all Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) member countries – are the only countries willing to defend Gaddafi’s carnage. Not even Iran, who can barely contain its pleasure at a competitor’s demise; or Russia who must fear losing an important arms client, are coming to the defense of the Butcher of Tripoli.

I had hoped that after the slaughter of the twentieth century an exhausted world would be unwilling to watch again – this time in High Definition – the plight of countless millions demanding that we come to their aid.

Apparently, I was wrong.

While the international community debated whether or not Libya should lose its seat in the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Gaddafi regrouped and hired African mercenaries who are attempting to retake areas lost to the rebels.

While the United Nations Security Council votes to open an investigation by the International Criminal Court into war crimes – Gaddafi’s military continues to commit them. In the Western Hemisphere, not a single word from the Organization of American States in support for democracy in Libya and the end of the criminal massacre at the hands of Gaddafi and not a single critic from the heads of the countries in the region or the ones responsible for the Western Hemisphere’s policies in the Department of State or the National Security Council.

It is time for the timidity of the Obama Administration to cease. They sat on the sideline while Ahmadinejad tortured thousands. They say nothing while Chavez harbors terrorists, persecutes civil society, closes down TV stations, supports drug traffic and sells gasoline and uranium to Iran in violation of international sanctions.

President Obama famously said from Cairo University, “I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.” It is time for the Obama Administration to stand up for those beliefs, and help free the world from its ridiculous, dangerous leaders.