Friday, August 19, 2005

Like Old Times: U.S. Warns Latin Americans Against Leftists

Protesters try to get the message across the Rumsfeld in Paraguay.

New York Times - News Analysis

LIMA, Peru, Aug. 18-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's visit this week to South America had the throwback feel of a mission during the cold war, when American officials saw their main job as bolstering the hemisphere's governments against leftist insurgencies and Communist infiltration.

During stops in Paraguay and Peru, Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides warned of what they consider to be troublemaking by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Washington's old cold war foe, Fidel Castro.
As in the cold war, bending the region to Washington's way of thinking is proving difficult.

On Thursday, before heading back to Washington, Mr. Rumsfeld met with President Alejandro Toledo of Peru, who is in the final year of a five-year term and grappling with a cabinet shake-up, the latest in a series of blows to his government. (and has an 8% approval rating at the moment)

The American officials said they had some concern that the continuing strife made Peru vulnerable to destabilization by other countries or drug traffickers. Mr. Toledo's new defense minister, Marciano Rengifo, also attended the meeting.

Mr. Rumsfeld's goal in Peru and in Paraguay earlier was to stitch together support for isolating Mr. Chávez, who has become bitterly anti-Washington since the United States tacitly supported a coup that briefly ousted him in 2002. But in some ways the visit has served as a reminder of how resistant Latin America is to pressure from Washington.

The two American officials traveling with Mr. Rumsfeld said Mr. Chávez, sometimes with Cuban help, was quietly backing leftist movements in Bolivia and elsewhere in the region. The officials asked not to be identified because they were in the midst of discussions with governments in the region.
The governments of many of the biggest countries in the area are left-leaning themselves and see little benefit to confronting Venezuela, a major oil producer, or Cuba. Some are as skeptical of Washington's warnings about Mr. Chávez fomenting unrest as they were about its admonitions a year ago that Islamic militants were a serious threat.

"A guy who seemed like a comic figure a year ago is turning into a real strategic menace, but we can't respond to this alone," said a senior Defense Department official traveling with Mr. Rumsfeld.


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