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Saturday, Sep 20, 2014
Douglas MacKinnon Columns
COLUMN

Latin America is key to our national security

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For the most part, The Washington Post is a reliable supporter of President Obama and the Democratic Party in general. But earlier this week, the paper criticized the president while warning of the consequences of his administration’s dropping the ball with regard to U.S. foreign policy and fighting terrorism.

“For three years the United States stood aside as the Islamist extremists built up their strength inside Syria. Washington was surprised in June when they burst into Iraq, captured Mosul and threatened Baghdad and surprised again this month when they threatened Kurdistan. Now … they are training hundreds of foreign terrorists, including from Europe and the United States, who could easily slip back into their home countries with malign intent,” the Post said.

It can be argued there is no greater short-term foreign policy issue than the eradication of this perverse and growing threat. It is so dire that the left-of-center New York Daily News just slammed Obama on its front page for running off to play golf yet again after pausing to condemn the savage beheading of an American journalist.

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As Americans, we can only hope the growing criticism from the left about Obama’s lack of focus will force him into sustained action to enhance our national security.

Since Obama is our president for the next two and a half years, it would also help if he became more proactive with our neighbors and friends in the Western Hemisphere. Maybe now that the world is awakened to the emerging threat of the Islamic State, they will be dealt with. For the long-term, however, I would argue that nothing is more important to our national and economic security than our government-to-government relationships in Latin America.

For years, the nation in our own hemisphere that has consistently sought to undermine the United States the most has been Venezuela. Starting with the emergence of Marxist strongman Hugo Chavez in the late 1990s and continuing today under his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s “leaders” have cultivated relationships with our enemies while crushing liberty and hope within their own country.

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Until his passing last year, Chavez was arguably the most dangerous person in our hemisphere. Before being elected president, he had twice tried to overthrow the country and had killed hundreds of innocent people in the process. After becoming president, the killings continued with thousands being imprisoned. Chavez also established relationships with Hamas, Hezbollah and drug-trafficking operations while propping up socialist leaders and puppets in Central and South America.

This is a man who was hugged and lauded by actors Sean Penn, Danny Glover and singer Harry Belafonte.

I have a history with Chavez. Years ago when I was a freelance writer, he attacked me by name and called me a spy for the United States out to destroy him and his regime.

When Chavez was alive, Obama publicly stated that Venezuela was not a serious threat to our interests. During the recent violent crackdown of the opposition by Maduro, the administration was mostly silent.

To his great credit, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio spoke up. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Rubio said in part, “It is more important than ever for the American public and lawmakers to clearly understand the nature of the situation in Venezuela and its repercussions for American interests and the Western Hemisphere … it is vital that the U.S. government stand with those Venezuelans who have bravely called out the brutality and dishonesty of the Maduro government.”

Unfortunately, it is not just Venezuela we have to worry about. Be it Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina or Cuba, the People’s Republic of China and even Iran continue to make diplomatic and economic inroads into the hemisphere at the direct expense of our nation and corporations.

To be sure, dealing with the Islamic State must be on the front burner of our national security objectives. But for a number of increasingly important reasons, better relations with our friends and even adversaries in the hemisphere are vital to our long-term security.

Those streaming into our country across our border with Mexico are just a symptom of a disease it is in our power to cure. It’s time for our government to reintroduce itself to our neighbors.

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