The funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez earlier this month was a massive celebration of a vitriolic foe of the United States. This tribute should make Washington take a fresh look not only at its relations with Venezuela but also with all of Latin America.
Virtually every Latin American country sent a high-level delegation to show its esteem for Chavez, who, during his 14 years in office, regularly vilified the United States, disparaged its leaders and campaigned tirelessly to end the U.S. role in the region. The presidents of Latin America’s six largest nations — including the closest U.S. regional allies, Mexico, Colombia and Chile — traveled to Caracas for the burial ceremonies. Never in Latin America, as many commentators noted, has a deceased leader been given a grander memorial — not even Argentina’s adored Juan Domingo Peron back in 1974.
This extraordinary acclaim for Washington’s most virulent adversary in the Americas was probably not intended as a deliberate snub. There were other reasons that so many of Washington’s friends ended up applauding a committed antagonist of the United States.
Some leaders, concerned with politics back home, were seeking to appeal to constituencies on the left, who idolized Chavez. Some who have benefited from the financial largesse distributed by the president of oil rich-Venezuela are eager for his successor to continue that support. Still others were reluctant to stand apart or isolate themselves from their neighbors — so they became part of the crowd.
Yet the fanfare accompanying Chavez’s funeral suggests a troubling degree of indifference to the United States in Latin America — as if Washington no longer counted.