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Oct 13th, 2008

U.S. Influence Wanes in Latin America

As Washington’s focus shifted to Middle East, other countries moved in

Demonstrators write “Out Yankees” on a wall outside the U.S. Palmerola military base in Honduras during a protest against American military presence in Latin America on Monday, Oct. 6, 2008. (Photo credit: Edgard Garrido / Reuters file)

Oct. 11, 2008

QUITO, Ecuador — In a matter of weeks, a Russian naval squadron will arrive in the waters off Latin America for the first time since the Cold War. It is already getting a warm welcome from some in a region where the influence of the United States is in decline. …

The United States remains the strongest outside power in Latin America by most measures, including trade, military cooperation and the sheer size of its embassies. Yet U.S. clout in what it once considered its backyard has sunk to perhaps the lowest point in decades. As Washington turned its attention to the Middle East, Latin America swung to the left and other powers moved in.

The United States’ financial crisis is not helping. Latin American countries forced by Washington to swallow painful austerity measures in the 1980s and 1990s are aghast at the U.S. failure to police its own markets. …

Latin America’s more than 550 million people now “have every reason to view the U.S. as a banana republic,” says analyst Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. “U.S. lectures to Latin Americans about excess greed and lack of accountability have long rung hollow, but today they sound even more ridiculous.”

From 2002 through 2007, the U.S. image eroded in all six Latin American countries polled by the Pew organization, especially in Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia. (The others were Brazil, Peru and Mexico.) People surveyed in 18 Latin American countries rated President Bush among the least popular leaders in 2007, along with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and just ahead of basement-bound Fidel Castro of Cuba, according to the Latinobarometro group of Chile.

In three years of presidential elections ending last year, Latin Americans chose mostly leftist leaders, and only Colombia and El Salvador elected unalloyed pro-U.S. chief executives. In May, the prestigious U.S. Council on Foreign Relations declared the era of U.S. hegemony in the Americas over. And in September, Bolivia and Venezuela both expelled their U.S. ambassadors, accusing them of meddling.

Other countries muscling in

Along with the loss in political standing has come a decline in economic power. U.S. direct investment in Latin America slid from 30 percent to 20 percent of the total from 1998 to 2007, according to the U.N. Economic Commission on Latin American and the Caribbean.

The U.S. still does $560 billion in trade with Latin America, but in the meantime other countries are muscling in. China’s trade with Latin America jumped from $10 billion in 2000 to $102.6 billion last year. In May, a state-owned Chinese company agreed to buy a Peruvian copper mine for $2.1 billion. …

Last month, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered to help Chavez develop nuclear power. … Bolivia also is looking to deepen ties with Russia and Iran.

Although the Islamic republic’s ambassador has yet to arrive in South America’s poorest country, its top diplomat there announced Friday that Iran will open two low-cost public health clinics. …

Diminished U.S. profile

Costa Rica’s president, Oscar Arias, says Venezuela offers Latin America about four or five times as much money as the United States. Costa Rica has become the 19th member of Petrocaribe, through which Chavez sells Caribbean and Central American nations cut-rate oil at very low interest.

The diminished profile of the U.S. in Latin America comes after a history of welcomed influence dating back to President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy of the 1930s, which emphasized cooperation and trade over military intervention. …


11/25/09 Update

Iran’s Leader Makes Inroads in Latin America

Image: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nicolas Maduro
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, front left, and Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, front right, are seen after Ahmadinejad’s arrival in Caracas on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2009. Ahmadinejad is on a two-day official visit to Venezuela. (Photo credit: Ariana Cubillos / AP)

Nov. 25, 2009

CARACAS, Venezuela — Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sought to expand Tehran’s influence in Latin America and deepen his alliance with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez on Wednesday in a visit that offered him a platform to defend his country’s nuclear program. …

Chavez and Ahmadinejad were to meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss cooperation in energy, investments, trade and other areas. It was the final leg of the Iranian leader’s three-country goodwill tour of Latin America, after stops in Brazil and Bolivia.

Chavez’s enthusiastic embrace of Iran, which shares his hostility toward the U.S. and Israel, has made Venezuela a gateway for the Iranian government to make diplomatic inroads in Latin America.

Iran has helped Venezuela set up factories that assemble cars, tractors and bicycles, and Iranian businesses have sent crews to build public housing under contracts with Venezuela.

Both Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales have offered support for Iran’s nuclear program, saying it is peaceful and not aimed at developing nuclear weapons as the U.S. and European nations fear.

‘Dangerous alliance’

Venezuela’s opposition accused Chavez of developing a “dangerous alliance” by growing close to Ahmadinejad, citing concerns about the nuclear program and the Iranian president’s record on women’s rights, crackdowns on dissent and his denials of the Holocaust. …

In Bolivia, Morales and Ahmadinejad signed a joint declaration supporting “the right of all nations to the use and development of nuclear energy for peaceful means” — a stance shared by Chavez, who has talked of starting a nuclear energy program. …

Cushion against sanctions

Ahmadinejad has sought to court allies who agree with Iran in defending its nuclear program.

His visit to Latin America — especially the first stop in politically moderate Brazil — appeared designed to provide a new measure of international legitimacy as his nation refuses to back down on the nuclear issue.

It is Ahmadinejad’s fourth visit to Venezuela, and Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro says the countries have signed about 270 cooperation agreements in areas ranging from energy to scientific projects.

Venezuela and Iran, both major oil exporters and OPEC members, sealed an agreement in September during Chavez’s last visit to Tehran for Venezuela to export 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day to Iran. That would give Iran a cushion if the West carries out threats of fuel sanctions over its nuclear program.

Chavez’s close ties with Iran have drawn alarm in Washington and Israel as officials warn Iran could use the relationship to support weapons programs or terrorism.

U.S. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said in a February Senate briefing that Venezuela “is serving as a bridge to help Iran build relations with other Latin American countries.”



Iran Interfering in U.S.-Iraq Security Pact, General Says

In a mostly Shiite district of Baghdad, schoolgirls pass the twisted wreckage of a car bomb. Sectarian violence has ebbed in the capital, but attacks still occur.
In a mostly Shiite district of Baghdad, schoolgirls pass the twisted wreckage of a car bomb. (Photo credit: Hadi Mizban / Associated Press)

By Ernesto Londoño
The Washington Post
October 13, 2008

BAGHDAD — The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said Sunday that American intelligence reports suggest Iran has attempted to bribe Iraqi lawmakers in an effort to derail a bilateral agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq after the end of this year. …

Many Iraqi lawmakers and government officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, spent time in exile in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s rule. They tend to value Iraq’s close relationship with its largest neighbor, which is also a key trading partner. …

3 Responses to “U.S. Power Dims in Latin America”
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