WASHINGTONWhat the official U.S. documents divulged so far by WikiLeaks reveal concerning Latin America is actually somewhat comforting. It turns out that Washington along with many center-left governments in the region and Spains ruling socialists were not naive in expressing their concerns about the nature of authoritarian populism in the Western Hemisphere.
The most important information pertains to the widespread penetration of the Venezuelan state by the Cuban intelligence services. The Cubans have greater access to Hugo Chavez than even Venezuelan agents and carte blanche to act against domestic critics. They also constitute the bulk of the military security detail guarding the autocrat. According to cable 51158 dated in January 2006, Cuban agents provide Chavez with intelligence reporting unvetted by Venezuelan officers. Cable 246071 dated this year indicates that the Directorate of Military Intelligence and the Bolivarian Intelligence Service are controlled by the Cuban Intelligence Service operating in Venezuela.
For years, Venezuelan critics have denounced the neo-imperialist state within a state that Cuban intelligence has been allowed to establish in Chavezs anti-imperialist Bolivarian republic. Yet nobody seemed to pay much notice outside Venezuela. It now looks, to judge by a trove of cables exchanged between U.S. diplomats and the State Department, as if Washington and several Latin American governments were fully aware of the details. What matters here is not that they knew but that there was widespread alarm and a diplomatic effort to prevent the joint effort by Chavez and the Castro brothers to spread their revolution to other parts of the continent.
It is also surprising that, according to cables sent by the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentine officials were concerned about the danger should the Kirchnersformer President Nestor and current President Cristinajoin the revolutionary camp. The comments offered to foreign diplomats by departing Argentine officials who criticized the couple depict the forces in Argentine society working against such an outcome. According to cable 235941, Sergio Massa, former chief of staff to Nestor Kirchner, stated that Argentina would not abide the Kirchners attempts to consolidate power. He called his former boss a psycopath.
Even more significant is the opinion relayed in 2008 to a top U.S. diplomat by Bernardino Leon, secretary-general of the Spanish presidency, regarding the threat to foreign investment posed by Cristina Kirchner, whose corruption and populism he decries, and Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose unpopularity he overestimates. The Spanish government was perceived at the time as maintaining cozy relations with Chavez, to whom it had sold weapons; Argentina, where nonetheless Spanish investors were routinely subjected to blackmail; and Bolivia, whose self-styled indigenous leader was the object of adulation.
Even Latin Americas bien-pensant left seemed horrified with the orgy of populism taking place in Argentina. Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who governed as a pragmatist at home but accommodated revolutionaries abroad to an extent her center-left predecessors never did, is quoted in cable 243823 dated in Santiago as expressing deep mistrust of Cristina Kirchner and echoing rumors about her instability (presumably emotional).
All this implies that the policy of working with Latin American governments in order to isolate the bad apples diplomaticallyas opposed to playing into their hands by declaring open political war on themwas more consistent than the bland statements from hemispheric foreign ministries suggested at the time. To some extent, this is a vindication of Tom Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs during the George W. Bush administration, who pushed Washington to pursue a more quiet, isolationist diplomacy toward the troublemakers in the regionas opposed to the old-style, reflex-driven attitudes that have generally strengthened anti-Americanism. It would also appear, to judge by the tidbits of information that have so far circulated, that Brazils ties with Iran were not taken as blithely by the region as once thought.
This is quite reassuring. But it also highlights the inability of the region to make effective use of the valuable information and the insightful perceptions many of these foreign ministries, including those under left-wing governments, have developed regarding the threat of authoritarian populism. The failure of the Organization of American States to defend the rule of law in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua stands in marked contrast with the acute awareness of the danger those regimes pose to the future of liberal democracy and economic prosperity of the region.