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Bush's Southern Strategy

June 09, 2005

As the Organization of American States gathered in Fort Lauderdale this week, President Bush took a break from his focus on democratizing the Mideast to fly to Florida on Monday to insist that the group become more aggressive about monitoring, and defending, democracy in its 34-member nations.

The sense of urgency expressed by Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in their speeches is warranted. Even as the OAS met, Bolivia's fragile democracy was being overrun by mob rule. Bolivia is only the latest domino in an alarming trend -- four democratically elected leaders in Latin America have been run out of office in the last four years. Trouble is, the president's laconic engagement in hemispheric affairs has not conveyed the same sense of urgency. Given regional suspicions that all Washington cares about is undermining Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Fidel Castro in Cuba, it was unfortunate that the administration did not bother to line up support in advance for its motion to hold governments more accountable to the OAS 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Predictably, the worthy U.S. proposal, which called for the OAS to monitor nations' democratic freedoms with the aid of nongovernmental civic groups and to develop means of acting against regimes that violate them, was watered down in the name of respecting "self-determination." It's a shame that Brazil and other important countries in the region are willing to let their wariness of U.S. intentions get in the way of strengthening regional democracy. Both the clumsiness of U.S. diplomacy and the political immaturity of many leftist leaders in Latin America, starting with Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, are to blame.

When Bush first took office, it seemed possible the U.S. could work closely with such nations as Mexico and Chile to create a more effective process for defending democratic freedoms in the region, along the lines of what the Council of Europe has accomplished. But that window of opportunity, lamentably, seems to have closed for now.

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