Rumsfeld Reacts to Latin American Populist Leaders
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2006 Bolivia's electoral results and Venezuelan president's continued hold on power do not indicate a trend of anti-American governments sprouting across Latin America, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a National Press Club audience here yesterday.
Most Latin American countries, he said, want to cooperate militarily, politically, and economically with the United States.
But corruption-weary Latin Americans are turning to populist leaders like recently elected Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Both leaders each achieved electoral success by rallying the poor against corrupt elected governments in their respective nations.
"Corruption is something that is corrosive of democracy," Rumsfeld said. "If you think about it, free people elect people, and they then see a system that has corruption. And it's disturbing to them.
"And as a result we've seen some populist leadership appealing to masses of people in those countries," the secretary continued, "and elections like Evo Morales in Bolivia take place that clearly are worrisome."
Chavez, a former paratrooper, was elected Venezuela's president in 1998. He routinely criticizes the United States and labels America as an imperialist country. Venezuela, the 5th-largest oil producing country in the world, exports much of its oil to the United States.
Rumsfeld said Chavez is "a person who was elected legally ... and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working with (Cuban President) Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others."
Rumsfeld said the current state of affairs regarding Venezuela is disturbing, noting, "It concerns me."
The United States and Venezuela are feuding on the diplomatic front, according to news reports. A U.S. Navy officer, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela's capital, was recently accused of spying and told to leave the country.
And today the U.S. State Department told a senior Venezuelan diplomat assigned here to leave the country within 72 hours, according to news reports.