SHORTLY AFTER Ronald Reagan was elected President, Political analysts began trying to figure out what made the man tick. Conclusions differed, but it was unanimously decided that Reagan's opposition to Marxism was deep, sincere, and very likely to share his foreign policy decisions. Since his inauguration, the President has surprised no one by turning many complex issues into "crucial" tests of strength between the superpowers. Reagan's three nation trip to Latin America, which begins tomorrow, promises to be a prime example of how policy becomes twisted when was the world is seen through rigid ideological blinders.
The President will visit Costa Rica, Brazil and Colombia in the next five days, and face an array of economic and political problems that in many ways characterize overall U.S. Latin American relations. Both Brazil and Costa Rica owe huge debts to American bankers and the U.S. dominated International Monetary Fund. The need for American economic support will probably ensure at least one warm welcome for Reagan; as Business week has noted, "Costa Rica...guarantees Reagan a friendly reception because President Luis Monge knows that U.S. backing is the only thing standing between his country and financial default."
For Reagan, the region's economic strains offer a chance to continue his two-year-old Latin American crusade against communism. Past Administrational-Marxist policies have included extensive military support for the besieged right-wing government of E1 Selvador, and the concentrated use of financial and military weapons to weaken the socialist leadership of Nicaragun. And, after marking Cuba as a primary source of Marxist "trouble" in the region, Reagan effectively banned business and tourist travel to the island last Mary.
The President expects those Latin American countries that rely on U.S. guns or dollars to, if asked, help him discredit Marxism in public speeches. Last month, for example, the Administration sponsored a "forum for peace and democracy," at which Caribbean and Latin American allies in effect swore allegiance to capitalism and shared the President's disdain for socialism and communism. But despite all his efforts to prevail ideologically. Reagan has achieved only marginal success.
Even though Brazil is in desperate need of American help to repay its $72 billion foreign debt, its leaders have made it clear that they will not fight in the President's rhetorical cold war. One Brazilian business leader, anticipating Reagan's wish to exchange economic aid for support of American anti-socialist policies, recently said that "unacceptable or polemical" conditions of aid would be opposed. Other Latin American nations most notably Mexico and Venezuela, have strongly refused to toe that Reagen line on Cuba, Nicaragua and E1 Salvador. They are conspicuously absent from the President's schedule in the next five days.
For one reason or another, Latin American leaders do not naturally agree with Reagan about whether or not Soviet-style Marxism presents a danger to stability in the region. Perhaps they would rather be left to govern the continent without American supervision. Whatever the source of disagreement. Reagan should realize that pressuring debt-ridden allies to denounce socialism will not make more people genuinely believe that the Soviets have assigned proxies to undermine order and stability in Latin America.
It would be best if the President stopped worrying about the political belief of people in Latin America. Shaping the ideology of foreign nations is a task that falls well outside the scope of an American President's powers. As things stand, Reagan sacrifices valuable time and energy trying to get allies to fall in line--and even the most dependent countries now seem unwilling to do so.