Column: Not wise to neglect own backyard

South America, the United States’ “backyard,” has become a festering wound that continues to be neglected by the Bush administration. As the only global superpower, the U.S. cannot afford to have a myopic foreign policy. The prevailing crisis may be in North Korea and Iraq, but if serious attention is not paid to South America, political extremists will usurp democracy and subjugate millions of people.

The Bush administration has given scant attention to the political turmoil enveloping Venezuela. This is surprising, considering Venezuela supplies the U.S. with 14 percent of its oil imports. Even more surprising was the administration’s tacit support of the attempted coup of President Hugo Chavez, a democratically-elected official. A nationwide strike, now in its seventh week, has paralyzed the Venezuelan economy, causing thousands to lose their jobs and take to the streets of major cities in protest.

Chavez, a former paratrooper, still commands the loyalty of the armed forces. However, an increasing number of high-profile officers have joined the opposition in calling for Chavez’s resignation. If a civil war erupts between Chavez and the opposition, democracy will be one of its first casualties. Bush has yet to make a passionate call for negotiation between the two sides, deciding to defer responsibility to people who actually care, like former President Jimmy Carter. Without the backing of the Bush administration however, Carter’s earnest efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution will be in vain.

If the Bush administration wants to see what a civil war in Venezuela would look like, they need not look far. For the past 40 years, Colombia has been fighting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a paramilitary financed almost exclusively by the sale of heroin. The United States has given Colombia helicopters and sent military advisers to the region. But it has not made this aid contingent on democratic government, which has eroded as a result of the war. Colombia has made significant inroads against the rebels, but at the expense of democracy. Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s new president, has limited the freedoms of Colombians under the auspices of security. Even if Colombia defeats the rebels, Colombians will continue to be terrorized by the authoritative government that will arise from the ashes of war.

Argentina’s financial crisis has caused one of the world’s largest economies to tailspin into a sea of recession. Argentineans wait in endless lines just to withdraw money from their diminished savings, reminiscent of the bank lines in America during the Great Depression. Political unrest has caused five presidents to resign in succession, while financial calamities have caused many middle class families to go hungry. Although Bush inherited this problem from the Clinton administration, he has done nothing to resolve the crisis or to mitigate its effects. Argentina is a nascent democracy, and the recession may cause the emergence of a despotic regime, like the military junta that controlled Argentina until 1983.

Since the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has assumed the responsibility of safeguarding the well being of those who live in the Western Hemisphere. Should events in South America continue to be ignored, the United States will be the world’s “firefighter,” putting fires out in its own backyard. Chekhov’s axiom still holds true, “a spark neglected burns the house entire.”

-The writer, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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