This column is supposed to be about Latin America. But the region has been kind of quiet lately, and Crimson readers don’t seem to care much about Cuba or Chávez, and in any case, this is my last column. So instead I’d like to emulate my friend and fellow columnist Eric T. Justin ’13, who recently wrote about the perils of whining at Harvard, and highlight some unfortunate social tendencies on campus.
On the Harvard admissions website, prospective applicants are told that, “Our Admissions Office chooses carefully from a broad range of applicants who seem to us to offer the most promise for future contributions to society.” It’s a nice, fluffy bit of advice (show some promise!), but the seemingly benign platitude carries more sinister implications. Judging us by our future returns makes us seem suspiciously like investments rather than individuals.
Last week, in news that surprised few observers, Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, announced that he would seek re-election next year. With approval ratings well over 50 percent, the charismatic, controversial figure—you may remember him as the president who gave refuge to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, earlier this year—seems likely to be successful in his bid. If Correa does win reelection, he will merely help to cement the dominant role that leftist political forces have played in Latin America for much of the current century.
Since 1998, when Hugo Chavez was elected in Venezuela, democratic processes have brought leftist parties to power over as much as two-thirds of Latin America’s population. This would be remarkable in any region, but it’s especially so in one whose political history is riddled with oligarchical tendencies and right-wing military dictatorships. As recently as the 1980s, with Pinochet and other anti-Communist strongmen firmly in power, a leftist Latin America was unthinkable. For all intents and purposes, the region was Washington’s sandbox. Not anymore.
Every few months or so, fresh evidence corroborating that Fidel Castro is alive surfaces, fueling endless rumors about his health and supposedly imminent death. Only recently, the Cuban leader published a newspaper article ironically called “Fidel is Dying” to prove he’s still alive. He long ago ceased to be a relevant political actor on the international stage, yet he has passed into a higher pantheon—that of the legendary. He’s certainly one of the most important Latin American leaders of the past century, and were the communist regime in Cuba to die along with Castro, his name certainly would not.
The Cuban Revolution has had a lasting influence on Latin America. The Cuban regime in the present day has very little. From the triumph of the revolution to the present day, and especially since the end of the Cold War, the ability of the Cuban regime to influence events in the rest of the region has waned dramatically. Yet, illogically, United States policy towards the island has barely changed. By continuing to impose an economic embargo in an attempt to isolate Cuba, the United States does nothing to further its long-term goals and causes only harm.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of Argentina, is a remarkable individual by any measure. The first woman to be elected president of her country, her tenure has seen the enactment of the first same-sex marriage law on the continent and the establishment of a Ministry of Science, Technology, and Productive Innovation. She’s been a forceful leader, unafraid to make controversial decisions in the face of strong opposition.
Mitt Romney’s ineptitude at handling matters of foreign policy became egregiously clear when disparaging remarks he made about Palestinians at a fundraiser in May went viral on the web. Romney’s absurd claims that “the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace” have been widely criticized, not least by Palestinians themselves, who are justly incensed. Seen in a certain light, Romney’s accomplishment is rather impressive; with just a couple of sentences, he’s assured that, were he elected come November, America’s efforts to promote peace in the Middle East over the next four years would fail.
The specifics of Romney’s blunder do not matter greatly, however. What does matter are Romney’s continued attempts to criticize President Barack Obama because he allegedly “doesn’t have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do.” Perhaps even more important are the ways Americans view and define themselves at a time when international concerns should take center stage on the national consciousness.