EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the April 11, 2005, issue of National Review.
In military terms, the Western Hemisphere is the strategic rear area of the United States. The U.S. needs a secure and prosperous hemisphere not only to ensure a peaceful neighborhood in which to live, but also to be able to project its power to the farthest reaches of the globe and win the War on Terror.
What is happening in our neighborhood? Press reports indicate that a leftist-populist alliance is engulfing most of South America. Some Andean and Central American countries are sliding back from economic reforms and narcotics eradication, and the Caribbean remains irrationally hostile to the U.S. This is the reality U.S. policymakers must confront; and our most pressing specific challenge is neutralizing or defeating the Cuba-Venezuela axis. With the combination of Castro’s evil genius, experience in political warfare, and economic desperation, and Chávez’s unlimited money and recklessness, the peace of this region is in peril.
A quarter-century ago, a democratic revolution began to stir in Latin America and the Caribbean. Today, that revolution is in danger of being reversed. When Ronald Reagan came to power in 1981, more than three-quarters of the region’s citizens lived under undemocratic regimes, mostly right-wing military juntas, but also a few left-wing dictatorships. By 1981, the Soviet Union and its cat’s paw, Fidel Castro, had succeeded in backing Marxist takeovers in two nations close to U.S. shores: Grenada and Nicaragua. Financed by the Soviets and by local kidnappings, drug trafficking, bank robberies, and other criminal activities, Castro had spread his ideology of violence throughout the Caribbean and Central America. By January 10, 1981, ten days before Reagan’s first inauguration, the Castro-supplied Marxist FMLN guerrilla group in El Salvador felt so confident of victory over a moderate civilian-military junta that it launched what it called a “Final Offensive” to give Reagan an “inaugural gift” of a Communist El Salvador…