(photo credit: AP)
Four years ago, The Economist ran a cover story on the winner of the Brazilian election, the socialist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. It was an event of great hemispherical significance. Hence the headline: "The Meaning Of Lula."
The following week, a Canadian reader, Asif Niazi, wrote to the magazine: "Sir, The meaning of Lulaâ€š in Urdu, is penis."
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No doubt. It would not surprise me to learn that the meaning of Chavez, as in Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, in Arabic is similarly situated. An awful lot of geopolitics gets lost in translation, especially when you're not keeping up.
Since 9/11, Latin America has dropped off the radar, but you don't have to know the lingo to figure out it clearly doesn't mean what it did five years ago at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City.
In April 2001 I spent a pleasant weekend on the Grand Allee inhaling the heady perfume of Surete du Quebec tear gas and dodging lumps of concrete lobbed over the security fence by the anti-glob mob. The fence itself was covered in protest bras hung there by anti-Bush feminist groups.
"VIVA" said the left cup. "CASTRO" said the right. On another, "MA MERE" (left) "IS NOT FOR SALE" (right). 48D, if you're wondering how they got four words on. I'm not much for manning the barricades and urging revolution, but it's not without its appeal when you're stuck inside the perimeter making chit-chat with the deputy trade minister of Costa Rica.
That was the point: hemispheric normality. As the Bush administration liked to note, the Americas were now a shining sea of democracy, save for the aging and irrelevant Fidel, who was the only head of government not invited to the summit. But, other than that, no more generalissimos in the presidential palace; they were republics, but no longer bananas.
When Mr. Bush arrived, he was greeted by Canada's Jean Chretien. "Bienvenue. That means welcome," said the prime minister, being a bit of a lula. But what did Bush care? He was looking south: That was the future, and they were his big amigos.
THEN SEPTEMBER 11 happened. And the amigos weren't quite so friendly, or at any rate helpful, and Mr. Bush found himself holed up with the usual pasty white blokes like Tony Blair and John Howard, back in the Anglosphere with not an enchilada in sight. And everyone was so busy boning up on Shari'a and Wahhabis and Kurds and Pushtuns that very few of us noticed that Latin America was slipping back to its old ways.
Frank Gaffney's new book War Footing
is sub-titled Ten Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World
and includes, as one might expect, suggestions for the home front, the Middle East, the transnational agencies. But it's some of the other chapters that give you pause when it comes to the bigger picture - for example, he urges Washington to "Counteract the reemergence of totalitarianism in Latin America."
That doesn't sound like the fellows Condi and Colin were cooing over in Quebec. Yet, as Gaffney writes, "Many Latin American countries are imploding rather than developing. The region's most influential leaders are thugs. It is a magnet for Islamist terrorists and a breeding ground for hostile political movements. The key leader is Chavez, the billionaire dictator of Venezuela, who has declared a Latino jihad against the United States."
Chavez's revolutionary mentor is Fidel Castro and the new kid on the block has been happy to pump cash infusions into the old boy's impoverished basket-case. "Venezuela," writes Gaffney, "has more energy resources than Iraq and supplies one-fifth of the oil sold in America."
In 1999, when Chavez came to power, oil was under 10 bucks a barrel. Now it's pushing $70. And, just like the Saudis, Chavez is using his windfall in all kinds of malign ways, not merely propping up the elderly Cuban dictator but funding would-be "Chavismo" movements in Peru, Bolivia, El Salvador, Paraguay, Ecuador.
And Chavismo fans are found way beyond the hemisphere. Senor Chavez was in London last week as a guest of the mayor, Ken Livingstone. The Venezuelan President said Bush was a "madman" who should be "strapped down," and Blair was an "ally of Hitler" who should "go to hell."
WHAT ELSE does a Euroleftie need to know before rolling out the red carpet? Last year, the British MP George Galloway was in Syria to see Baby Assad and gave a pep talk to Araby's only remaining Ba'athist regime:
"What your lives would be if from the Atlantic to the Gulf we had one Arab union - all this land, 300 million people, all this oil and gas and water, occupied by a people who speak the same language, follow the same religions, listen to the same Umm Kulthum. The Arabs would be a superpower in the world... Hundreds of thousands are ready to fight the Americans in the Middle East, and in Latin America there is revolution everywhere. Fidel Castro is feeling young again. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile are all electing left-wing governments which are challenging American domination. And in Venezuela, the hero Hugo Chavez has stood against them over and over and over again."
At first glance, an Islamo-Chavismo alliance sounds like the bus-and-truck version of the Hitler-Stalin pact. But it's foolish to underestimate the damage it could do. As Gaffney points out, American taxpayers are in the onerous position of funding both sides in this war. The price of oil is $50 per barrel higher than it was on 9/11.
"Looking at it another way," writes Gaffney, "Saudi Arabia - which currently exports about 10 mbd - receives an extra half billion dollars every day." Where does it go? It goes to Saudi Arabia's real principal export: ideology - the radical imams and madrassahs the Saudis fund in almost every corner of the world.
What to do? Gaffney proposes Americans switch over to FFVs (flexible fuel vehicles). He's right. The telegram has been replaced by the e-mail and the Victrola has yielded to the CD player, but aside from losing the rumble seat and adding a few cup-holders, the automobile is essentially unchanged from a century ago.
AFTER 9/11, Bush told the world: You're either with us or with the terrorists. But an America that for no reason other than its lack of will continues to finance its enemies' ideology has clearly checked the "both of the above" box.
It's hardly surprising, then, that the other players are concluding that, if forced to make a choice, they're with the terrorists.
Muslim populations in the Caucasus and western China pose some long-term issues for Moscow and Beijing but, in the meantime, both figure the jihad's America's problem and it's in their interest to keep it that way. Hence, Russo-Chinese support for every troublemaker on the planet, from Iran's kooky president to Chavismo in America's backyard.
The meaning of Chavez in just about any language is "opportunity."
The writer is the North America correspondent for the