In what seems like an annual ritual, Nation readers are subjected to a feature story like Greg Grandin's "Muscling Latin America" [Feb. 8], which presents a simplistic caricature far removed from the complicated realities of the region. The most ridiculous assertion tries to connect long-planned transportation and energy infrastructure projects in Central America that can only benefit the inhabitants of the isthmus to a conspiracy hatched in the Pentagon to "enlarge the radius of Plan Colombia to create a unified, supranational counterinsurgent infrastructure."
I particularly take issue with the "scandal" Grandin claims US Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Valenzuela caused in Argentina in December. I happened to be there during his visit and read of it in a wide range of newspapers. In a media roundtable, Valenzuela pointed out that there is a lack of juridical security in Argentina and hence very little foreign investment. He contrasted this with the 1990s, when Argentina was the recipient of large inflows of US investment capital. (This does not imply approval of the widespread corruption that also characterized the decade.)
Any outcry this reference to the 1990s caused was manufactured by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to enhance her popularity among knee-jerk nationalists because her poll ratings have sunk below 20 percent. As for his supposed meeting with "extreme right-wing politicians," Valenzuela met with all those the polls indicate have the best chance to win the 2011 presidential election, including Vice President Julio Cobos.
THOMAS ANDREW O'KEEFE
Thomas Andrew O'Keefe heads the Mercosur Consulting Group, a company that advocates for exactly the kind of "energy infrastructure projects" he says benefit Central America, including ones that would lock the region in as a low-cost biofuel supplier to the United States. I don't believe these projects are hatched in the Pentagon; many of them are dreamt up by consultants like O'Keefe. O'Keefe has called CAFTA an "ideal" model for the rest of Latin America (for a more sober assessment of CAFTA's social and environmental costs, and an alternative economic diplomacy, see Kevin Gallagher's excellent research at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts).
Turning to Argentina, it is unclear what O'Keefe means by a "wide range" of newspapers, since the three largest, La Nación, Clarín and Ambito Financiero, are Fox-like in their uniformity. The less conservative Página/12 was very critical of Valenzuela's remarks, as any independent observer should be: rather than representing "security," the 1990s were the most corrupt years in Argentine history, leading to massive impoverishment and ballooning external debt. O'Keefe also misrepresents the significance of Valenzuela's meeting with Cobos. In 2008 Cobos broke with President Fernández in her effort to raise taxes on soy exports, which provoked a strong rural backlash financed by Argentina's formidable agro-industry (an analogy would be Joe Biden siding with tea partyers and insurers over healthcare reform). Valenzuela's meeting with Cobos and other questionable politicians–and ignoring moderate opposition leaders like Hermes Binner, the socialist governor of Santa Fe department–sends a message that Washington will continue to block regional efforts to diversify economically and distribute resources more equitably.
Update: human rights activists in Honduras have recently reported up to fifteen new executions; a grave in Colombia containing the remains of perhaps 2,000 people was uncovered in a region where, according to a Colombian lawyer, "a multitude of social leaders, campesinos and community human rights defenders" have "disappeared without a trace"; Human Rights Watch has issued a damning report, Paramilitaries' Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia; and when asked if the Colombian free trade agreement would pass Congress this year, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, "Absolutely."