Dave Weigel has an interesting column over at Reason, arguing that the Hugo Chavez’s efforts to move Latin America to the left have been much less successful than they appear at first blush. But what to make of this conclusion?
The Venezuelan president is trying his hand at interventionism. He’s doing what James Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt, and Henry Kissinger tried in Latin America for decades. Their efforts created some democracies, a lot of unfree states, and a basically bottomless well of anti-American sentiment. If four years of boosting Chavez’s poll numbers haven’t taught us that, Chavez’s own bumbling attempts at king-making really should.
That’s an awfully facile way of looking at the history of US policy in Latin America. The purpose of the Monroe Doctrine was to keep the European powers out of our backyard where they could threaten American security. The purpose of the Roosevelt Corollary was to prevent Latin American countries from inviting intervention from across the Atlantic. The purpose of Nixon-Ford Latin American policy was to counterbalance the Soviets. Judged on their own terms, these policies were for the most part successful. Neither Monroe nor TR nor Kissinger were primarily concerned with either the nature of Latin American regimes or with US popularity in Latin America; even if one were to argue that they should have been, it doesn’t follow that the problem was interventionism per se. Besides, Latin America is doing a lot better, regime-wise, than regions where European colonialism ran unchecked by US intervention; with the exception of Cuba and Haiti, every country in the Western Hemisphere is ranked “Free” or “Partly Free” by Freedom House. That’s a big reason why anti-Yanquiism, while still playing a role in Latin American politics, has become relatively benign over time — something to keep in mind during the political evolution of the Middle East, by the way.