• Richard Murff

Not So Foreign Policy


Where are we taking this democracy, guys?

Trump’s Wall concept had sticking power not because it made practical sense but because it was a simple, concrete idea conveniently expressed in a single syllable. You’d be shocked how far things like that will get you. We are comfortable with walls, they keep roofs from crushing us and stop our neighbors from wandering into the living room and changing the channel. “No human is illegal” – offered by the opposition is also a simple and emotionally comfortable concept. Its downside is that you are left the nagging feeling that your perfectly legal neighbor might just wander over and force you to watch Love Island marathons.


Then there is murmur from the radical middle about “comprehensive immigration reform” which a) has entirely too many syllables to be catchy and b) what does it even mean? “Abolish ICE” is as pointless as “build the wall”, but at least you know where you stand.


I only bring this up because now that we’ve proven through repeated trials led by the UK, the USSR and US that you can’t drop a modern, centralized government into a tribal central Asian backwater, we might want to turn our attention closer to home. Seemingly all of Latin America is in a rapid retreat from both democracy and the free market that have cut poverty rates in half as well as closed the equality gaps throughout much of the region.


Riots are rocking Colombia, the Venezuelan worker’s paradise has led the country back into the stone-age, Bolivia and Nicaragua’s hard left populists left have entrenched corrupt elites and the expense of national stability. Peru’s newly just-barely-elected president Pedro Castillo – whose political patrons include remnants of Shining Path marxist terror group that killed some 70,000 Peruvians between 1980 and 1992 – looks set to do the same. Fortunately, Peru’s mostly centrist congress has a taste (and the votes for) impeachment, which might slow the man down a bit.


Meanwhile in Brazil and mini-states like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala the hard-right populists are entrenching corrupt elites at the expense of national stability. Proving once and for all, that the opposite of a bad idea can also be an equally bad idea.

With one exception, involving heaps of fresh caught lobster, my travel in Latin America hasn’t been the sandy beach little paper umbrella sort. Mine has been the lively “civil unrest” and grim “abject poverty” sort. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this would bring the problems out in stark relief, but you’d be wrong. You used to be able to tell the right wing from the left by their fashion choices: the left dressed like designer peasants and the right like GI Joe dolls. Thanks to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez the left will now hand out military uniforms to their parakeets and Brazil’s hard right president looks like the CFO of a Toledo engineering firm.


Lord knows we need to steer clear of regime change, but unless we want to face an immigration crisis on the same scale as Europe, with its regrettable Nationalistic backlashes, we’d better give the problem some thought.


Unlike Afghanistan or much of the Arab world, Latin America has had democracies. Most of them still, theoretically, are. Stable democracies, we should know by now, can’t be built, but have to grow in their own soil. Unfortunately, when the ballot box proves useless, people vote with their feet. Less grandly, they’ll walk to where the food and the opportunity lie. A wall isn’t going to stop them. Eliminating US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also seems ill-advised if we’re going to live in the real world.


The government may have been corrupt as hell, but the people have grown to expect some degree of freedom and stability. Democracy isn’t doomed at the ballot box so much as by its electioneering. For a democracy to flourish requires opposing camps to possess the ability to at least acknowledge the others point of view on how things ought to be run. Once the opposition becomes an enemy of the state (or “the people” it puts democracy on the ropes. The knock-out blow isn’t certain, but it isn’t far behind either.


We are just going to have to have an actual discussion the about immigration situation. The solution to which, is not going to fit on a bumper sticker.