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11/03/2011 | Qaddafi and Latin America

Luis Fleischman

The positions that different Latin American countries have taken towards Colonel Qaddafi and the crisis in Libya present some interesting connections worth exploring.


It is not surprising that Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua have supported Qaddafi's regime despite the severe crisis of legitimacy it is now facing. The reason for such support is obvious: Colonel Qaddafi is a ruthless dictator who has controlled Libyan society through coercion and fear. He has sustained his regime based on a socialist and anti-imperialist ideology, while seeking to extend his revolution to the rest of the region.

Influenced by the ideas of Pan-Arabism and former Egyptian leader, Jamal Abdel Nasser, Qaddafi tried to create a pan-African revolutionary government and supported subversion in Arab and African countries as well as international terrorism. Qaddafi trained terrorists in Libya including Latin American guerillas such as the Argentinean Montoneros and the Colombian M-19 and maintained strong relations with Carlos the jackal, a Venezuelan international terrorist that worked for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (one of the first terrorist organizations funded by Qaddafi).

Qaddafi has failed in every single project he tried to carry out. He failed to generate legitimacy through socialism; he failed to unite the region under his leadership and he even failed militarily against Chad. What Qaddafi tried to do in his country and region is what Chavez and Castro have tried to do in theirs. Despite Qaddafi's failure and cruelty, Chavez, Castro and Ortega have remained supportive of the Libyan dictator and there is a reason for that.

The three Latin American leaders share with Qaddafi the desire to perpetuate themselves in power and pursue endeavors despite their foretold failure. These Latin American leaders, by supporting the Libyian dictator, are clearly showing their strong will to stay in power and to pursue their projects in spite of historical evidence of failure. This should send a clear message to their populations that neither Castro, Chavez or Ortega intend to give up power and that democracy in Venezuela and Nicaragua is a façade that will never enable change of governments. Like Qaddafi, these leaders are determined to rule without legitimacy, and are willing to repress opponents, regardless of the consequences. Their support for Qaddafi is equivalent to support for themselves


On the other hand, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru strongly condemned the Qaddafi regime. Peru was the first one in Latin America to break diplomatic relations with Libya. Chile's attitude is not surprising given the stand they have taken since their transition to democracy in 1990 and their collective rejection of despotism.

Brazil constitutes the best surprise of all. Not only has Brazil strongly condemned the Libyan dictator but has also used its place in the United Nations Security Council to introduce and vocally support sanctions against the North African country. President Dilma Rouseff was the chief of staff to her predecessor, Lula da Silva. Lula's foreign policy was characterized by protecting brutal dictatorships, such as Iran, while using the excuse that a foreign outcry over a country's treatment of its citizens constitutes interference in their sovereignty.  

Undoubtedly, had Lula been in power he would have opposed sanctions against Libya because he would have viewed them not only as interference but also as an American-Western agenda. Furthermore, under Lula, Brazil has maintained strong economic relations with Libya. Brazilian construction companies have been a large part of the construction projects in the Libya. Since 2003, Brazil's economic presence grew astronomically and contracts increased particularly in the last few years.   Libya has invested, by some accounts, more than $120bn in infrastructure projects. Petrobras, Brazil's state controlled oil company established exploration operations in Libya in 2005. Likewise, Brazilian exports to Libya increased three times between 2003 and 2009. 

Lula purposely developed economic ties with Qaddafi. In July, 2009 Lula visited Libya and took with him 90 business representatives from Brazil. On that trip Lula called Qaddafi a ‘brother' and ‘friend'.

Rouseff, a former prisoner of the Brazilian dictatorship of the 1960's and 70's, broke the scheme set by Lula and placed Brazil in a different light.  Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, also a former guerilla imprisoned by the military regime and a strong supporter of Brazil's leadership in the region, followed suit by condemning Qaddafi's actions against his own population.


So far Argentina has remained silent in relation to events in Libya. President Cristina Kirchner visited Libya in November, 2008 in what was defined as a business trip. During that visit Ms. Kirchner stated that she and Qaddafi have been political activists since they were very young. Likewise, both "shared strong convictions" and "questioned the status-quo that always avoids change and transformation".  This remark is as delirious as the whole phenomenon called "kirchnersim" but it is not coincidental. The Kirchner government has pursued a human rights agenda by reviving the trials against the inquisitors of the dirty war that took place in Argentina between 1976 and 1983.  Yet, the fact that Qaddafi has ran a murderous regime for the last 42 years means nothing to President Kirchner and the obsequent intellectual apparatus that supports her and views her and her late husband as the most progressive presidents Argentina ever had.  

However, for Kirchner, Qaddafi is a progressive in that he built his country on the principles of socialism and was an enemy of the U.S. In other words, Kirchner's mindset is similar to Lula's: if the perpetrator is on the right side of the ideological spectrum, violation of human rights and destruction of democracy is tolerable.  The fact that Qaddafi has made people disappear through his wicked secret service and continues to do so even with more fury as dissidence increases means little to Kirchner and her associates.

What we learn from this is that Argentina is morally neutral. Furthermore, it is neither a strong nor a reliable country. Kirchner's Argentina continues to have a close association with Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.  In the future, it will be hard to count on Argentina as a partner of the West when significant events take place.


President Evo Morales of Bolivia is another interesting case. Qaddafi began to build strong relations with Bolivia in 2008. Morales, a  staunch follower of Hugo Chavez, visited Qaddafi in Libya in 2008 and received, along with President Ortega of Nicaragua, a human rights award. It is not surprising that President Morales so far has remained silent on events taking place in Libya.

The same applies to President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, another Chavez ally.


Reactions towards events in Libya may lead us to some interesting but nonetheless partial conclusions. Could Rouseff's Brazil be a positive force against the nefarious influences of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua in the region and a partner of the West in the international arena? Brazil could certainly be a valuable partner since it is today one of the largest economies in the world and an active international political player. However, this will need to be tested in the near future. One of the tests for Brazil will be its position towards Iran, a country embraced by former president Lula da Silva. Lula became an enabler of Iran's nuclear program and an apologist for Iran's repression of its dissidents. Likewise, Lula's foreign policy and international approach has been aimed at reducing U.S power. Brazil's alliances with authoritarian countries such as China and Iran were part of its support for a so-called "multi-polar world" which for Lula was a euphemism for reducing U.S influence in the world.

Roussef's moral stand in the Libyan crisis provides us with some hope for positive change, but the future still remains to be seen.

The attitudes of Bolivia's Morales and Correas' Ecuador are difficult to interpret with certainty. However, these countries' neutrality contrary to Argentina could be interpreted as a sign that they are less inclined to be Chavez's poodle dogs. In the past, Morales nationalized foreign companies hours after meeting with Hugo Chavez. Correa, with strong encouragement of Chavez, has provided shelter to and established relations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Lately, Bolivia and Ecuador have faced dissidence and rebellions against their policies. Both lack Chavez's ability to exercise full control of their country. At times they have both found that following Chavez's prescriptions and style has not been a blessing.

We are still far away from seeing an improvement in the situation in Latin America which could be considered highly dangerous. The continent faces increasing despotism, anarchism, loss of state authority, presence of local and foreign terrorism and dangerous foreign influences. All this constitutes a threat to regional and U.S. national security. This is why it is important to be aware of events and shifts in the region and adopt a dynamic, flexible and serious U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America.

Center for Security Policy (Estados Unidos)


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