Latin America’s Future is Already Here: Un Homenaje to Senator Dodd Upon his Retirement

Within days, Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) will be leaving the Senate for the last time after decades of distinguished service on the Hill. His departure will leave a vacancy of immense proportions that will be difficult to fill. This was because he was the most bona fide Latin American expert to have frequented Congress this century. Senators Edward Kennedy and Claiborne Pell were also worthy contestants for this title, while Senators Patrick Leahy and Richard Lugar also remain genuinely credible as Latin Americanists. A few weeks ago, Senator Dodd delivered a compelling lecture regarding the future of the region to a college audience in his home state of Connecticut.

In his talk, which also was featured in The Huffington Post, Dodd focused on the brilliant Latin American future, listing its positive growth rate, its democratic advancement in recent months, and its solid economic development. Especially exhilarating were his optimistic comments on the region’s remarkable resiliency in the face of foreboding challenges brought on by the global economic downturn, the specters of political instability, and the multitude of natural disasters, like Haiti’s earthquake last January, its current cholera epidemic, and the hydra-headed presence of drugs and crime.

Despite a sincere attempt at even-handedness, Dodd was, however, on that occasion unable to address out the contradictions afflicting the core of the Democratic Party’s insufficiency when it comes to Latin America. This is a viewpoint which inspires the Washington theorem that what is good for the U.S should also be welcomed by the rest of the region.

In his speech, in which Dodd praised current U.S.-Latin American policy, there is, in reality, very little evidence to support such laudatory remarks. Dodd takes an in-depth reading of the region’s vital signs in his rapid tour of the hemisphere. Moreover, even Dodd’s assertion that Latin America is demonstrating particular vitality is debatable.

Regrettably, Dodd offers the same orthodox view on Cuba and Venezuela that so consistently can be obtained from such biased sources as the Washington Post. Unfortunately, Dodd’s lite analysis does a disservice to the often complex reality in these countries.

In the beginning of his lecture, Dodd was overly optimistic about Latin American prospects, emphasizing global trade, the growth in influence of the U.S.’ already burgeoning Latino population and international forums around the world which are filled with Latino delegates and representatives. The Senator’s failure to address major issues of lasting concern for the Latino population, such as drug-related issues and the enormous menace posed by out of control political corruption, was deeply disappointing.

Dodd also fails to properly address the role of Brazil in the region. For example, while Brazil’s regional leverage is deservedly welcomed in democratic circles, within the newly minted Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Brasilia’s leadership in that body is not as glossy as Dodd somewhat naively assumes. Up to now Brazil has demonstrated has played a guiding role in UNASUR that distinguishes itself from the role played by the United States in the Organization of American States (OAS). Dodd fails to address the fact that UNASUR is poised to render the OAS increasingly irrelevant.

Although there are still many elements that will need to fall into place for it to be realized. the Latin American dream of full and complete economic integration will most likely best be handled by UNASUR, not the OAS.

In spite of Dodd’s optimism, not all recent developments in Latin America have been positive. The region still boasts the least equitable distribution of wealth in the world; poverty and poor education resources still impede progress; corruption is stygian and unyielding; and crime and the lack of adequate jobs is tectonic. While theoretically Latin Americans may claim to value democracy, a United Nations Development Program-sponsored poll several years ago showed that local populations were ready to accept military rule instead, if it provided an acceptable standard of living and provided law and order. This demonstrates how Latin America’s continued devastating social problems represent a direct threat to democracy in the region. What the region was discovering was that democracy’s curative strengths were continuing to be diluted by Latin America’s gross income inequality. Therefore, the countervailing forces needed by society to bring about the sought after political stabilization were not able to effectively reign in these movements own their own due to a lack of political clout.

Newly institutionalized social movements now being witnessed throughout the hemisphere underline the great gulf between rich and poor and have led to stunning victories for the antipathetic cause of Washington’s new regional pariah nations, led by Venezuela and its ALBA-led group of left-leaning states. Even though Senator Dodd scarcely addressed the subject in his speech, ALBA has been intent on glorifying the Cuban revolution as well as Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. This revival of an old Latin American trend is at times described by its critics as undemocratic, but is a direct product of the social problems that have continued to plague the region.

Yet, for all of Chávez’ centralized power, the equally ill-reputed Venezuelan opposition has been able to, at times, split parliament with a surprising show strength. If this division sharpens, the political rift between a feral opposition and a rabid chavista could prove a lethal threat to Venezuela’s basic institutions. Furthermore, when it comes to democratic discourse, Latin America would do well to learn to live with day-to-day ideological frictions and strive for toleration and reconciliation by moving to temper its weapons and repair its confrontational political system.

Had Senator Dodd chosen to wield his rhetorical sword against such worthy fouled targets as Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, and Mexico, he could have delivered a far more effective message. Instead, he cowardly refused to take political risks by regurgitating the party line. In Honduras, even after supposedly fair elections were held to wipe the slate clean from that country’s patently illegal military coup that installed Micheletti’s de facto government, ongoing harassment against crusading investigative journalists, including a number of recent murders, has continued unabated. In Venezuela, violence still presents a threat to that country’s political institutions, with both the government and political opposition contributing to the widening crisis. Meanwhile, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has consistently attempted to circumvent constitutional term limits in order to ensure the viability of his questionable re-election bid. Mexico and Colombia still witness unspeakable acts of daily brutality due to the internecine battling between heavily armed drug cartels and public security forces.

In his speech, Senator Dodd blithely attacked the Cuban regime, in a way that did little to advance the debate the island’s political and economic future Disappointingly he failed to address the transformative changes now affecting the island and nor emphasized the necessity of creating new attitudes and more creative policy in U.S. policy toward La Havana. Indeed, it seems that the reforms now being pursued by Raúl Castro on the island are specifically meant to pave the way to revolutionize Cuba’s daily political and economic daily realities. The U.S. needs to reciprocate by moving towards greater engagement with Cuba, which will ultimately bring on for true reforms. Ideological sabre-rattling by both sides will never produce a serious solution to the U.S.-Cuba stand-off. Although the current Cuban leadership has demonstrated a surprising predilection for pragmatism when it comes to the new round of harsh economic challenges Cuba faces.

After decades of stagnation, civil strife, and deplorable violence, the rest of the hemisphere is now the right path. Without a doubt, Latin America has not seen an end to all of its social, political and economic challenges. While regional demagogues’ ideologies and fads will come and go, Latin America’s natural resiliency is its enduring and most important quality.

Dodd deserves to be praised for being among the first to recognize and fête this fact. With Dodd in command, U.S. Latin Americanists do have some reason to be optimistic for the region’s future. Moreover, while electoral democracy it is, at the very least, an important starting point. Once regional demagogues are viewed as fallible by their local constituencies, the creation of democratic space and meaningful participation become possible. It is through these transformations, that the struggle for social justice and economic progress can be fought and won if the commitment to achieve such victories is firm. Senator Dodd saw the U.S-Latin America relationship as being a dynamic one, subject to change. Dodd’s contribution to the evolution of the inter-American relationship was important not only for the U.S., but the hemisphere as a whole, and, because of this, he will be sorely missed.

Eloy Fisher is a COHA Research Fellow and a PhD student at The New School for Social Research in New York City. Prior to his involvement with the New School, he was a diplomatic attaché to the United Nations and a contributing journalist to El Panamá América newspaper.

13 thoughts on “Latin America’s Future is Already Here: Un Homenaje to Senator Dodd Upon his Retirement

  • December 21, 2010 at 11:08 am
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    Chavez"s rubber stamp Assembly has just given Chavez total dictatorial powers. ALBA has been a trojan horse for him(Chavez) to interfere in the internal affairs of other Latin American countries. Here in Nicaragua, Chavez has provided over a billion dollars directly to Daniel Ortega to continue his march to a Cuban style dictatorship. The corruption that Chavez has practiced in Venezuela over the past ten years is nothing short of breathtaking- exploding crime, devaluation of the bolivar, loss of personal freedoms, and the destruction of the countries economy. In 2009, Venezuela had 3 billion dollars of foreign investment taken OUT of the country. And you call this "stunning victories?" Their is nothing the U.S. has done- or could do- to hurt the people of Venezuela that would approach the damage that this Castro wannabe has already done. Continuing to turn a blind eye to this buffoons march to Socialism 21 shows a complete bias, or a total lack of understanding of what is happening in Venezuela.

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  • December 21, 2010 at 4:52 pm
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    You know, for american senior official is easy to comment on our countries from their own perspective and political ideas. But very often they are not infocus of the true reality in Latin America. You see, the economic sistem imposed by World Bank and IMF since the 90’s make our couintries more poor than before, because nationa income concentrate much more than before in a few hands. See México: 28 groups controle almost the 80% of the economy…Colombia, now that they sign a commercial traty with the US, the situation of campesinos will be more dificult that the mexican ones, becous mexicans has the US border closer. Then a lot of them will be enroled by tha narco cartels to work for them in cocaine production that has to sell to the North markets, reinforcing problems all along the way to the US.

    Best regards

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  • December 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm
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    Though I haven't read Dodd's speech yet, I can say two things with certainty. First, he speaks excellent Spanish and I know because I've seen him use it. Second, he hasn't learned the most basic lesson in politics: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Spain has achieved far more in terms of getting prisoners out of Cuba than Washington has by blockading the island. Perhaps this is Dodd's idea of what he needs to do to try to be appointed US something-or-other in relation to Cuba or Latin American. People like these really don't understand that the road to Latin America leads through Havana. Thus Washington's approach toward Cuba is an indication, a touchstone or a measure, if you will, of how the US is relating to the rest of Latin America. The rest of the continent has learned that. Capitalism still is the system in the US and that's not about to change in the short term. But Washington's blockade of Cuba, which definitely harms Cuba seriously, also harms Washington's interests, and its clear that, for the moment, the dominant sections of US policy makers toward Cuba do not yet have the political will to change their Cuba policy.

    When will they ever learn?
    When will they ever learn?

    from:
    Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
    Words and music by Pete Seeger http://www.arlo.net/resources/lyrics/flowers-gone

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    • December 21, 2010 at 9:54 pm
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      How trere would you said such a thing about cuba , the usa give them over 500 billioms last year in june , before the 1 st fly to cuba on july 4th/09 , people dsnt know about congres on both sides keep this to them selfs so if you dont know what is going on please Sssssssssssssh

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  • December 22, 2010 at 3:15 am
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    The article's almost incoherent leaps in different directions makes it difficult reading. It may sound pedantic but it is important that articles be properly structured and written in good (obviously American!) English.
    All very best wishes to COHA
    Wendy

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    • December 22, 2010 at 10:15 am
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      Wendy, we take your admonitions seriously. Would you like to join the team at COHA and contribute to the editing process for us?

      Reply
  • December 22, 2010 at 9:54 am
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    Good bye and good riddance to a big fat blow hard. He and his arrogance will not be missed.

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  • December 22, 2010 at 11:15 am
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    Yesterday I posted a response to the above article. Was their a reason it was not printed?

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  • December 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm
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    Senator Dodd has a sharper ad more realistic idea about Latin America than you do.
    The so-caslled Socialism of the XXI Century has ben devastating for my own country, Ecuadior. Poverty has increased, and the economy is stagnant with no hope for recovery. Take a look at the regulations that want to promote turism: no visa needed, so thieves and narcocriminals have descended upon the country. On the other hand, a psssanger briging TWO suitcases is subject to an emargo by customs of one of his/her suitcases. And one can cite hundreds of other examples of the hundreds of new, stupid reguloations.

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    • December 24, 2010 at 9:17 am
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      Viva Socialismo, Adelaida. Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, N.Korea, Nicaragua- can the learned contributors on this site name one country on earth where socialism has given it"s people anything but oppression and economic collapse? The progressive left is working very hard to turn the U.S. into a Socialist Paradise. They will fail. As they have in every country where this model has been tried. Castro, Chavez, Ortega, are destroying their countries to build their own wealth and power, not to help El Pueblo.

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      • December 29, 2010 at 4:21 pm
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        Whilst I agree that the inability of certain figures on the left to criticise the likes of Cuba fundamentally undermines their standpoint, the same must go for your simplistic grouping of all left-leaning countries into a single category. To put Bolivia and N.Korea on the same platform so casually is simply misleading, and weakens your argument immediately.

        For instance, whether you agree with President Morales' economic platform or not, one must applaud the unprecedented nature of his legal recognition of Bolivia's indigenous community, who have for centuries been the victims of oppression and under-representation.

        I mean to point out that the situation in Latin America simply isn't as black and white as either a number of the left-wing contributors suggest, or as you persistently try to paint it.

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        • December 31, 2010 at 11:51 am
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          Chris I wrote a reply to your post 3 days ago, but it has not been posted. PC is tough to get around. I wonder if this response will be printed.

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  • December 30, 2010 at 10:22 am
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    Welcome aboard, Chris. A moderate with an even-handed and reasonable approach is a breath of fresh air on this site. In the 72 years i have been on this earth, i have learned that facts are not always simplistic or simple-minded. They are just facts. Winston Churchill once said " Democracy is certainly the worst form of government- except for all the rest." What i find that is simplistic is people that extol the virtues of Castro and Chavez while blaming all the worlds problems on the U.S. While i have had many disagreements with my government in the past, i am always free to state my opinion. Doing that in Cuba or Venezuela can ruin your day. Here in Nicaragua, where i have lived for 8 years, many people are already learning to keep their mouth shut. The billion dollars that Chavez has given to Daniel Ortega is being used to build a dictatorship like Cuba"s. I regularly write articles for the Nica Times that are not favorable to the Ortega-Murillo family, and i have been told that i should be "more moderate." Perhaps Daniel Ortega should try moderation. In the meantime, i will continue to voice my opinion. When the "Socialist" countries of the world allow the freedoms that U.S. citizens enjoy, maybe i will put down my pen.

    Reply

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