In his latest Wall Street Journal column Walter Russell Mead points to distressing developments not far from our shores:
The implosion of Venezuela’s leftist government is driving a regional crisis. As waves of refugees flee the socialist utopia, bad actors ranging from Vladimir Putin to Hezbollah are nosing around in the ruins of the Bolivarian republic. This weekend’s alleged assassination attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is a harbinger of more violence to come.
In better times, Venezuela’s oil wealth allowed it to lavish aid on its neighbors. Now that aid is drying up. Choices are narrowing for countries like Nicaragua, where near-civil-war conditions exist, and Cuba. Farther north in Guatemala, where some of the world’s highest homicide rates coincide with severe food shortages, asylum seekers stream toward the U.S. Washington can’t ignore so much instability so close to home.
The growing interest in the region by revisionist powers like China, Russia and Iran adds another dimension to American concerns. With China seeking political influence through strategic investments in Argentina and elsewhere, and Hezbollah cutting deals with Venezuelan drug lords and politicians, the U.S. has to think once again about geopolitical competition in the Western Hemisphere.
The only practical alternative to increased American activism in the region is stronger leadership from Latin American powers. But the prospects for this are bleak. Mexico’s new president appears determined to return to his country’s traditional foreign policy of committed non-interventionism, verbal sympathy for the left, and measured distance from the U.S. Brazil is paralyzed by the implosion of its political class in a series of corruption scandals and spiraling polarization.
Our centuries-long policy of ensuring that our neighbors remain weak has its costs. Prime among those is the risk of countries from outside the region exploiting that weakness to their own advantage.
Chinese mercantilist economic policies in particular have been disastrous to the developing countries of South and Central America.
How will we respond to the collapse of Venezuela? I mean other than our traditional policy of too little too late. I have never understood why we devote so much attention to currying favor with European and Asian countries that will never approve of us let alone be our friends, whose interests coincide with ours only very indirectly, and with which we have little in common rather than with the countries of Central and South America who are nearby, who are our natural vendors and customers, and which are, as we have learned, walking distance from the U. S. Rather than close and cordial relations with strong neighbors we have favored weak, suspicious neighbors whom we treat with patronization and disdain.
I guess we can take some solace in that our elites feel the same way about many if not most Americans.