Reading about last week’s protests at the Summit of the Americas in Argentina, I was reminded of the classic book Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot by Carlos Montaner, Alvaro Vargas LLosa and Plinio Mendoza. If you want to understand the Byzantine world of politics south of the border, this is by far the most accessible and entertaining book on the subject. I was glad to find that Tom Bevan at Realclearpolitics thought likewise, and highlights Montaner’s article on the origins of the protests at Mar del Plata.
I would have thought nothing of such protests, as I take for granted that these kind of activities always take place as surely as the sun rises every morning. But then I spotted an article in my local newspaper about Argentinean soccer superstar Diego Maradona interviewing Fidel Castro for his television talk show. Like Bevan the first thought that came to my mind was: What a f#%&ing HIPPOCRITE! The man became a worldwide sports idol in the mid-eighties, receiving piles of cash from corporate endorsements while playing for elite European soccer club for millions. There was a dark side to the man, from getting away with his illegal “hand of God” stunt at the World Cup tournament of 1986 to failing numerous drug tests and getting booted out of subsequent World Cup tournaments thereafter. He responded to each of these episodes by playing to the victim, which he demonstrated repeatedly by claiming he was fouled EVERY time he fell to the ground. Therefore it wasn’t much of surprise to find that he was of leftist persuasion, since I find such people always blaming someone else for problems of their own making. I’m no big fan of soccer, and I wish the U.S. team could win the World Cup for the simple reason that it would deflate the undeserved importance many countries around the world put into their soccer teams.
And yet Maradona serves as a perfect microcosm of the problems that affect Latin America’s political culture. The dominance of leftism has less to do with the abstract philosophical merits of Marxism in general than does the ability for clever and malevolent demagogues to use it for their advantage. As usual, Latin American leaders exclude themselves from the deteriorating effects of their own policies on the people they claim to “fight for”, as much as Maradona hates free-markets while he is one of its biggest beneficiaries in that part of the world. It seems that a personal experience with poverty does nothing to prevent leaders from manipulating the plight of the poor for their own personal gain.
As American democracy is founded on the bedrock of virtue, Latin American democracy falters on the quicksand of real malevolence.
The Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot takes the view the much of intellectual elite gets suckered by an extremely misguided set of beliefs. These beliefs have become the orthodoxy to such an extent that espousing pro-market ideas is quickly reinterpreted to mean all that could go worse than it already is. Still the authors pull no punches when it comes to describing the atrocities committed in the name of socialist solidarity or liberation theology. Robert D. Kaplan vividly details how evil has substituted the Marxist ideology of Colombian militias in his latest book, and it leaves wondering whether Latin American political institutions need a moral revival over anything else. Without such a change, I worry that this region will be consigned to a stasis defined by poverty, corruption, and death.