The results of elections held in the past few weeks in Brazil and the United States will surely affect Latin America as a region, and an upcoming runoff in Ecuador, presidential voting in Argentina and a probable referendum in Venezuela are likely to accelerate trends. Panama will surely be affected.
At the moment the United States sees Panama mainly as a staging area for Plan Colombia. A new American ambassador who comes to us via the Southern Command and the US Embassy in Bogota is but one indicator of this. A top Nicaraguan government official's allegation that US diplomat Oliver Garza approved the complicated weapons transaction which on paper had an arsenal of assault rifles moving via Israeli arms merchants from Nicaraguan to Panamanian police, but in reality sent those AK-47s to the AUC death squads with Colombian government assistance, is another sign of the role that Panama has been assigned in US foreign policy.
Though it is a small online publication with a dissident point of view that thus gets sneeringly dismissed by political and corporate media establishments, the Narco News is one of the most reliable sources of information about political turmoil in Latin America. The Narco News recently reported that a US Marine Corps unit has been given orders for a coordinated offensive in southern Colombia, with the Colombian Army sweeping through FARC strongholds and Marines operating out of Peru sending in assassination squads to kill FARC leaders.
A leftist government in Brazil complicates any American plans to overthrow Hugo Chávez in Venezuela or escalate Plan Colombia into a high-intensity war. Brazil is poor, but it's a big country and its armed forces on the Colombian or Venezuelan border can make a difference. And thus Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Insight magazine (the same publication that announced that China runs the Panama Canal), recently featured an article by US Representative Henry Hyde, alleging that Brazilian President-elect Lula da Silva is a terrorist who's trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
Now we might say that an article by a man who rose to prominence as an anti-abortion moralist, who played a key role in turning US political discourse into a discussion of fellatio between two consenting adults and then cried foul when his own extramarital affair was publicized, published in a magazine owned by a guy who says that God sent him to this world to correct Jesus Christ's mistake, is eminently ignorable. However, the recent US elections, though mainly the result of poor Democratic leadership on the one hand and hard work by President Bush and GOP activists on the other, have shifted the power balance in Washington just enough so that such trashy propaganda takes on exaggerated political significance.
Meanwhile, it seems that an anti-establishment former military officer is about to trounce the billionaire in Ecuador's presidential runoff, and that may mean the Americans getting kicked out of the air base in Manta. With the loss of one more Plan Colombia staging area, Panama's importance to the plan would by default take a higher profile.
In South America's southern cone, Argentina is very unstable. However, it does seem to be a safe bet that no candidate who pledges to adopt the economic policies that the US government demands will have a chance in the presidential voting early next year.
What we are seeing is a sweeping regional rejection of policies that the United States and international financial institutions have imposed upon Latin America. There are exceptions, but the trend is clear.
The effort to remove Chávez in Venezuela thus becomes a key battle in US attempts to arrest this movement. Chávez, who so often comes across like a Saturday morning TV cartoon bad guy, may not be able to withstand the pressure. However, his replacement with a pliable lackey from Venezuela's discredited traditional elite is also a political long shot.
The unfortunate thing for Panama is that in these perilous and tumultuous times, when the terms of an hemispheric economic integration deal are being negotiated and Latin America has a good chance to assert its dignity and economic interests, we have an incompetent government. All around us we see signs of danger and opportunity for this nation, but our political leaders are too busy lining their own pockets and those of their relatives to notice.
Bear in mind
No one ever understood disaster until it came.
God made man, and then he said "I can do better than that" and made women.
Adela Rogers St. Johns
There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
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