Bush and Latin America 3: Promises, Promises


Junior’s trip to Latin America has taken a much different path than expected, at least by me. For one thing, the armored bubble in which he usually travels protected from any and all contact with the hoi-polloi has been replaced by personal appearances in “shanty neighborhoods” where he came face-to-face with actual poor people for what appears from his reaction to be the first time in his life.

For President Bush, the six-day voyage through Latin America that ended Wednesday proved to be unlike any of his previous foreign trips. It was one in which he tried ever so haltingly to escape the palaces and diplomatic salons long enough to see how people live and to emphasize that it matters to him.

The inspiration for the unusual itinerary was more about the vagaries of geopolitics than newfound curiosity, but the trip exposed the president to sights and sounds that he rarely encounters overseas. The rhetoric of security and terrorism that usually flavors his visits was replaced with discussion of “the human condition” and how to lift millions of neighbors out of deep, enduring poverty.

“We’re allies in the cause of social justice,” he told the Guatemalans. “The plight of the poor” has drawn U.S. concern, he explained in Uruguay. “We’re all members of God’s family,” he said in Brazil. “And when one of us hurts, we also hurt.”

Uh-huh. Pity he’s never been able to summon up the same empathy for the poor in his own country. But then, we don’t have a massive left-wing movement led by a Hugo Chavez.

Michael Parenti pointed out in the early 90’s that with the collapse of the Soviet Union – the only country in the world that offered competition to US hegemony – conservatives stopped seeing any reason for America to bother with “winning the hearts and minds” of people in other countries. “Capitalism with a human face”, a concept much ballyhooed by the post-war Right in the 50’s and 60’s, vanished after the fall. “There was no longer any competing system to which they might turn,” Parenti explained. His analysis is borne out, at least in part, by Bush’s trip.

The unspoken message was that he cares just as much as Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and that the United States offers an alternative to the anti-American leftism that has gained ground in Latin America.

It would seem that the American Right needs a threat from the left before it will openly consider the possibility that poor people might be human, or at least something other than a lazy, greedy mob of animals chomping at the bit as they wait for a chance to revolt and take the money and possessions of the rich away from them.

Not that Bush is offering much other than rhetoric to those peasants who have so moved him.

Bush had more symbolism than substance to offer. He announced a few modest initiatives to help with housing, education and health care and boasted of increasing direct aid to Latin America during his presidency, but did not mention that he just sent Congress a budget actually cutting that aid next year. Beyond an ethanol agreement with Brazil, which was more ambitious than specific, there were no concrete outcomes of his talks.

And unfortunately for Junior, that lack of substance did not go unnoticed.

[C]ommentators in the region have said that message may be too little, too late. Latin Americans have already been abandoned by Bush, they reason, and he is on his way out soon enough.

***

“With the succession of political errors committed by the U.S. government,” such as the invasion of Iraq, “it is almost impossible that this same government would have been capable of reaping fruits in this visit that was seen as a crude maneuver to contain the influence of Chavismo,” wrote Eugenio Anguiano, a columnist at El Universal, one of Mexico’s largest newspapers.

Bush was met at every stop by protests that often degenerated into violent clashes with riot police. Chávez, too, shadowed him for most of the trip, at one point staging a massive demonstration just across the river in Buenos Aires when Bush arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay. “Get Out Bush the Murderer,” read graffiti painted on a wall across Plaza Independencia from the president’s hotel in Montevideo.

Oops.

PR used to be this president’s only real skill, but PR works best when the target audience is either blind or ignorant or apathetic. It hardly works at all with people who understand the vast difference between what you say and what you do and aren’t distracted by soothing words and pretty pictures. The US public has just lately begun to see through Rove’s illusion into the festering, pus-filled sores beneath the Armani suits and tasseled loafers of the Bush Administration, but in South America it’s been obvious for years. Endless photo ops and rafts of empty promises don’t mean much to a region that has been oppressed for a hundred years in order to further US corporate interests.

Chavez, da Silva, and the left-wing movement in Latin America that they represent aren’t, as the purblind American Right would have it, the result of Castro’s influence. They’re all there – including Fidel – because for over a century the US propped up authoritarian and dictatorial govts all over Latin America who helped US corporations maintain their control over the region’s population and natural resources. Murderous death squads trained by the US military, coups stage-managed by the CIA, torture and brutal interrogation techniques taught in the US-sponsored-and-paid-for School for the Americas – that’s our history in Central and South America, and all so United Fruit could corner the Banana Market.

The surprise isn’t that they hate us. The surprise is that they don’t hate us a lot more than they do.

But if they don’t hate us as much as they should, they’re not being taken in by us, either. Even if President Junior’s eyes have genuinely been opened, once he gets back to Washington and into the loving arms of his neocon handlers, any revelation he might have had is going to be forgotten and they know it. Nothing he promises now can mean much when back home he’s already cut the paltry aid slated for their countries.

Meanwhile, with all the subtlety of the junior-high playground, Bush refuses even to utter the name “Hugo Chavez”. Petty?

Yah, well, what’d you expect?

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2 responses to “Bush and Latin America 3: Promises, Promises

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