Yesterday, Wednesday July 11, Dr. Thomas Fingar (Wiki-bio), Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence testified before the House Armed Services Committee on global security assessments. In his testimony, Mr. Fingar, briefly referred to the events in Latin America.
Here is the entire excerpt (pgs. 14 to 16) from this testimony on Latin America. You can find his entire testimony here.
Gradual consolidation of democracy has remained the prevailing tendency in Latin America, despite the challenge to democratic tenets in a few countries. Moderate leftists who promote macroeconomic stability, poverty alleviation, and the consolidation of democratic institutions continue to fare well, as do able conservative leaders. Indeed, the overall health of Latin American democracy is reflected in the results of a survey by a reputable Latin America polling survey: fifty-eight percent of the respondents said that democracy is the best system of government. This number is up five percentage points, compared to results from the same poll in 2005.
At the same time, individuals who are critical of free market economics and have friendly relations with Venezuela’s President Chavez won the presidency late last year in two of Latin America’s poorest countries, Ecuador and Nicaragua—both after Evo Morales’ victory in Bolivia in December 2005. The strong showing of presidential candidates with leftist populist views in several other countries during the elections of 2006 speaks to the growing impatience of national electorates with corruption—real and perceived—and the failure of incumbent governments to improve the living standards of large elements of the population. Public dissatisfaction with the way democracy is working is especially troubling in the Andes. Democracy is most at risk in Venezuela and Bolivia. In both countries, the elected presidents, Chavez and Morales, are taking advantage of their popularity to undercut the opposition and eliminate checks on their authority. In Venezuela, Chavez reacted to his sweeping victory last December by increasing efforts to deepen his self-described Bolivarian Revolution while maintaining the struggle against US “imperialism.” He revoked the broadcasting license of a leading opposition television station, on 28 May, and has nationalized the country’s main telecommunications enterprise and largest private electric power company. He has forced US and other foreign petroleum companies to enter into joint ventures with the Venezuelan national petroleum company or face nationalization. Negotiations on compensation and the autonomy remaining to the companies that have chosen to stay in Venezuela are pending. Chavez is among the most stridently anti-American leaders anywhere in the world and will continue to try to undercut US influence in Venezuela, the rest of Latin America, and elsewhere internationally. He is attempting to establish relationships with nations such as Iran, China, and Russia that will lessen his country’s longstanding economic ties to the US. Chavez’s effort to politicize the Venezuelan Armed Forces and to create a large and well-armed military reserve force are signs that he is breaking with the trend in the region toward more professional and apolitical militaries. He has purchased modern military equipment from Russia, including 24 SU-30 multi-role fighters, which can perform air-to-air, strike, and anti-ship roles, and is moving toward upgrading other force projection capabilities. These weapons purchases increasingly worry his neighbors and could fuel defense spending by his neighbors.
Cuba remains Venezuela’s closest ally. Fidel Castro’s protracted convalescence leaves the day-to-day governing responsibilities to his brother Raul. Key drivers in influencing events in post-Fidel Cuba will be elite cohesion in the absence of Cuba’s iconic leader and Raul Castro’s ability to manage what we assume to be high public expectations for improved living conditions. This year may mark the end of Fidel Castro’s domination of Cuba; but significant, positive political change is unlikely immediately. Although Raul Castro has solidified his own position as successor, it is too soon to tell what policy course he will take once Fidel has left the scene. In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon’s public security initiatives, early efforts to address poverty, and quick handling of political controversies have been highly popular and have put to rest attempts to question the legitimacy of his presidency. His government is taking steps to address problems that affect both Mexican and US security concerns, including drug smuggling, human trafficking, and associated violence.