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American Grand Strategy for Latin America in the Age of Resentment

Authored by Dr. Gabriel Marcella. | September 2007

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The fear that extra-hemispheric powers would strategically deny Latin America as a friend of the United States has animated American statesmen since the 19th century. Such fear certainly pervaded the Cold war competition. Today the challenge to the security and well-being of Latin America is neither ideological, nor military, nor external. Strategic denial is more likely to come about from a highly combustible blend of poverty, crime, despair, corruption, resentment, and antidemocratic sentiments that promise a vague 21st century socialism under new authoritarian clothing. The sentiments are sinking deep roots in the sociopolitical landscape, and they are profoundly anti-American.

This witch?s brew is presently best understood in the case of the Andean countries, particularly Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. They, along with Peru, are experiencing a crisis of democratic legitimacy, authority, and governance. The crisis in the Andean countries applies to much of Latin America.

The problem is compounded by the prevalence of weak state systems that are incapable of providing security, justice, and the benefits of democratic governance to the maximum number of people. The roots of the weak state syndrome are to be found in the persisting dualism of the formal state populated by the ?haves? and the informal state populated by the ?have nots.? The two states are socio-spatially separated from each other. The 40 percent of the population that inhabits the informal state must be productively integrated into the formal state and into the global economy, or Latin America will continue to face crises of authority, governance, and legitimacy.

The United States is the only power that can move Latin America in the right direction. Good things usually happen when the United States fully directs its attention toward Latin America. Accordingly, a new American grand strategy for Latin America is imperative. It must address simultaneously two challenges: strengthening the effectiveness of the democratic state, and enhancing the security and dignity of the socially excluded. Such strategy requires vision and new ways of thinking about holistic security. The unpleasant alternative for the hemispheric community will be poor security partners sitting atop a cauldron of accumulating resentment.