Financial Times

A hollow cone

A Latin America asimmer with tension between Venezuela and Colombia is nothing new. Nor, sadly, is the region’s recent display of creeping authoritarianism, caudillos, and a coup d’état. Hopes for a new dawn of democracy and development are slowly morphing into resignation at a return to the past.--Financial Times

4 de agosto de 2009

Bogotá has sparked the easily ignited wrath of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, by offering the US military Colombian replacements for Ecuador’s Manta base. Mr Chávez is threatening to cut trade relations. Similar threats have proved empty in the past, but Colombia is wise to take them seriously: Venezuela is its second largest export market, and Mr Chávez is not a leader to mind the cost to his own people of a trade war with a neighbour he despises.

But north Andean skirmishes are just a symptom of a deeper problem: Latin America’s inability to get out of the rut in which it has been stuck for too long, held back in its development by strongmen and internecine rivalries.

US influence in the region is nowadays limited to anti-narcotics efforts that at best soften the effects of its own futile “war on drugs”. Other policy areas are neglected because of US priorities elsewhere or self-inflicted impotence earned by past US conduct.

US neglect could have proved benign – more so, certainly, than the activism that propped up right-wing dictatorships from Chile to Guatemala. But Latin America’s opportunity to shape its own destiny will be stillborn until one of its constituent nations takes up the mantle of regional leadership.
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