Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Romney and Paternalism in Latin America

Here is an articulation of Mitt Romney's positions on Latin America. It is clearly written by someone who knows nothing about the region, and is cloyingly paternalistic. This paragraph is a perfect illustration:

Latin American nations like Colombia and Brazil, which have achieved a fragile political stability, look to the United States for essential leadership and public support in the face of these internal and external threats.

The author seems not to understand that the Colombian president has thawed relations with Venezuela and is not looking to the United States for anything. And what's up with the assertion that Brazil is fragile and needs the U.S.? Good grief.

It occurred to me, though, that paternalism underlies virtually all criticisms of Barack Obama's Latin America policy. Latin American leaders "look to" the United States and are rudderless if the U.S. government does not give them guidance. There is a "threat" emanating from Venezuela and only the United States can provide the civilizing power necessary for goodness and light to once again shine.

This is all a crock, of course, but it plays well in the U.S. media. The myth of American exceptionalism requires that other nations be framed as weaker and less able than we are. I can imagine Brazilian and Colombian leaders simply shaking their heads in disbelief about how they are portrayed.


Justin Delacour 9:30 AM  

It sounds to me like the old, time-tested Republican strategy of casting Democrats as not sufficiently "firm" or "tough" with "our" enemies. And this tends to achieve certain objectives, if not others. Sometimes the strategy strikes an electoral chord (as in the case of the early Cold War, when Republicans attacked Democrats for "losing China," or in the case Reagan's attacks on Carter regarding the Iranian hostage crisis). But I think the more important effect is that Democratic presidents end up usually having to go out of their way to prove that they are "tough" with "our" enemies. This essentially guarantees that there can be no meaningful dialogue between a U.S. president and governments like those of Chavez, Correa or Morales, much less with an old Cold War bugbear like Daniel Ortega. It's hard for me to see anything positive in this, but, for the Republicans, it's all upside.

Nolan,  7:56 PM  

I agree, it seems the narrative Romney is trying to construct is that Obama is appeasing Chavez & co. (by being slightly less confrontational I guess, despite not really reversing any positions in the region)

Romney actually seems more interested in Latin America than Obama, but also doesn't seem to know anything about the region - he brings up "increased trade" with Latin America every chance he gets, which is interesting because the only way to increase trade with the region right now would be to remove hostile regimes in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina. What other free trade agreements could possibly be signed in the current political climate? With MERCOSUR, especially now that Venezuela is a member?

Justin Delacour 12:03 AM  

My sense is that you can't really take anything Romney says seriously, as it's mostly just whatever opportunistic blabber he can think of to try to get himself elected. If he thinks he can reel in some Hispanic voters with some more blabber about Latin American trade, that'll be the blabber of the day. After the election, though, the only thing likely to change in the event that Romney were to win is that Romney would take a harder rhetorical line on the drug war and against Latin American left, for no useful purpose other than to try to sound tough to the American people. Nothing substantive is likely to change, however.

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