One might have thought that the main foreign policy implications of Tuesday’s results were limited to treaties and ambassadors, but Jackson Diehl is here to tell us that irrelevant, fading Latin American left-populism has just suffered a major blow:
Rubio, the son of refugees from Cuba, promised in his moving victory speech never to forget the exile community he comes from. That probably means that any pro-Castro measure is going to need 60 votes to pass the U.S. Senate.
More importantly, the House Foreign Affairs Committee under Republican rule is likely to be chaired by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a champion of Cuban human rights who was born in Havana. The outgoing chairman, Democrat Howard Berman, decided in September to put off a vote on the bill lifting the travel ban. Under Ros-Lehtinen’s leadership, it will almost certainly be buried for good.
The bad news for the Latin left doesn’t end there. Ros-Lehtinen has been an outspoken critic of Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez and allies like Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
So our ridiculous, outdated Cuba policy has just won a new lease on life, and we will have a House Foreign Affairs chair who is unduly attentive to some of the least important countries on the planet. Obviously, Diehl thinks is good news, but other than perpetuating a failed embargo out of fifty-year-old spite and complaining about the conduct of unimportant governments what will any of this accomplish? It would be one thing if Diehl were merely observing that there are now more vehement anti-Castro members of Congress than there used to be, but strangely he seems to think that it matters and that it is a good thing:
The much-celebrated surge of the Latin left has been dimming for some time. The new political balance in Washington will ensure that the United States does not recharge it.
Diehl focuses on Chavez and Castro in his post because they are a) dramatic failures and b) growing weaker daily, but that is why it makes no sense to think of an ease on the U.S. travel ban as a “recharge” for the Castro regime. American tourists in Cuba might bring a much-needed infusion of cash for the moment, but the more that America opens up Cuba to trade and travel the sooner that regime will vanish. Dictatorships can usually hang on to power in impoverished countries much more easily than they can in prospering ones. Castro’s most ferocious opponents here in the U.S. keep doing what they can to help keep Cuba poor and Castro in power. Castro’s government is not important, except to the Cuban people, and if it is wobbling this would be as good a time as any to undermine it with an infusion of tourists and investors.
What Diehl doesn’t seem to appreciate is that the “much-celebrated surge of the Latin left” (who has been celebrating it aside from a few actors?) has partly been a long backlash against U.S. influence and interference in the region. It has also resulted from the empowerment of the lower classes, which was going to happen regardless of what the U.S. did and isn’t going to disappear because Marco Rubio is in the Senate. It is no accident that U.S.-backed neoliberal reform governments have given way to left-populist or center-left replacements in almost every country in South America, since these new governments came to power as a repudiation of neoliberalism in whole or in part. If House Republicans want to try to push through the Colombian free trade agreement, they may unwittingly empower the political forces in Colombia that they think they are combating.