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Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
In Latin America, support for Castro greater than Bush
Guest commentary

By Roger E. Hernandez

You know something is wrong when you get praised for being a friend of the world's longest-ruling dictator and attacked for being a friend of the world's leading democracy.

That's the way it is among some political segments in Latin America. Some leaders there support Fidel Castro to burnish their nationalistic bona fides, but hesitate to seem too friendly with George W. Bush for fear of being called imperialist lackeys.

Castro's Cuba was the only nation not represented at last month's Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, to which only democratically elected leaders were invited. Yet in the Latin American media much of the coverage before, during and after the meetings was dominated by hand-wringing over who cozied up to Bush and who cozied up to the absent dictator.

Take, for instance, the spectacle of Argentina's left-leaning President Néstor Kirchner, who, angered by U.S. criticism of his nation's increasingly friendly ties with Cuba, promised to "win by a knockout" when he met face to face with Bush.

As it turned out, no punches were thrown at the uneventful meeting. But the pugilistic threat served Kirchner's domestic agenda. Two years ago Castro accused Kirchner's predecessor, Fernando de la Rúa, of "licking the boots of the Yankees" after Argentina voted for a United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution condemning Cuba's human-rights record. Kirchner wanted to show that when it comes to the Yankees, he's up for fisticuffs, not bootlicking.

Closer to home, the Mexican press ripped into President Vicente Fox. One cartoon showed Bush sitting atop a prostrate Fox; in another, the Mexican president offers to carry the American president's suitcase. One columnist called Fox "colonized," and Fox had to defend himself in story after story from charges of being -- there goes that word again -- a "lackey."

A cursory examination shows the "lackey" charges to be unfounded. After all, even under heavy U.S. pressure, Mexico refused to support the war in the Security Council. And then there's Bush's proposal to legalize the status of millions of illegal immigrants, which from a Mexican perspective can be seen as a triumph of Fox's foreign policy.

Still, vitriol against Latin presidents who seem overly friendly with the United States is likely to grow along with the move to the left in some of the leading regional powers, personified by Kirchner, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

All three share a frantic need to show they are independent of the United States, even if it means impoverishing their own people with restrictive economic policies and supporting the worst violator of human rights in the hemisphere.

It all stems from the Latin American left's infantile nationalism, born of weakness. What kind of sovereignty can possibly come from policies based on nothing more than the opposite of what the United States would like? Isn't that also a form of dependence on the dreaded Yankees?

Cuban-born Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

(c) 2004 King Features Syndicate

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