Wednesday, January 05, 2011

WikiLeaks and Latin America: New Revelations, Same Policies

In one respect, media coverage of the WikiLeaks release of classified American cables has resembled American diplomacy itself: lots of attention paid to conflict zones (Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gulf) and economic competitors (Europe, China), but not a whole lot of interest in less restive, less threatening locales. Latin America, for example.

The lack of interest, however, doesn’t reflect a lack of material. El País– one of the five newspapers with whom WikiLeaks shared the cables – has released diplomatic cables involving at least 10 Latin American countries. Some of these documents reveal interesting orders, such as Secretary Clinton’s request of a psychological profile of Argentina’s current president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, including her “leadership dynamics and analytic assessments.” Some experts believe the State Department wanted to sharpen its understanding of Kirchner’s influence in Latin America. A later cable makes clear the importance of the U.S.-Argentina relationship, describing Argentina’s attempts to improve relations between the U.S. and Bolivia, which steadily eroded during the Bush era.

In an attempt to tighten its control over Latin American affairs, one cable revealed that the United States led efforts to isolate Venezuela’s President Chávez. (Chávez was described in one dispatch as an “insane person who is turning the richest country in Latin America into another Zimbabwe.”) One cable described the Bush administration’s dissatisfaction with Spain’s sale of several aircraft and ships to Venezuela, which stirred controversy among several Spanish legislators. Another cable reveals that the U.S. also tried to deter Russia from supplying military accessories to Venezuela, claiming a potential “risk of diversion of Man-Portable Air Defense Systems [MANPADS] from Venezuela to the FARC [Colombia’s Marxist armed group].” The Americans failed in this effort, and the supplies were shipped.

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