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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sticks, stones and letter-bombs

In Caracas, a dozen journalists are attacked by pro-Chavez thugs. In La Paz, two letter-bombs explode in downtown offices, injuring a dozen people, two critically, including the wife of a pro-Evo "sector social" leader. In Tegucigalpa, pro-Zelaya activists carry out running battles with anti-Zelaya people. In southern Chile, a small but violent indigenous group carries out attacks on national police units situated in the region to control pro-autonomy groups. In Rio, whole neighborhoods are under a state-of-seige. Across the Americas, violence simmers just below the surface in many societies and regions. In some cases, those carrying out attacks are promoting radical social or political changes that threaten the status quo. Some are tied to the government. Some are opposed. In other cases, those promoting violence are defending the status quo because their interests are threatened. It's an age-old story that has been the same for centuries. Meanwhile, U.S. foreign policy in the region appears contradictory and stalled. The nomination of President Obama's top LatAm foreign policy advisor, Arturo Valenzuela, sits in the Senate awaiting confirmation after being held up in the Foreign Relations Committee. His predecessor and current assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs, Tom Shannon, who has been nominated to be ambassador to Brazil -- a critical post in the coming years -- also has not been confirmed. It's time for the Senate to move things along so the Obama Administration can begin to fashion a new, substantive strategy for dealing with the complexities of Latin America. Hugo, Evo, Daniel, Michele, Nestor, Lugo, Lula. They have competing and contradictory stories, but the countries of the region all are looking to America to see what policies we will fashion for the future, if any. Even if we do nothing, levels of violence are likely to continue to grow. Age-old problems will continue to fester. Longtime adversaries will gain further momentum, and potential friends and allies will swing in the wind. There is too much to do, for the United States and for Latin America, to allow that to happen. The underlying premise holds true: the United States can be a force for good in the world.

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