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American Grand Strategy for Latin America in the Age of Resentment

American Grand Strategy for Latin America in the Age of Resentment - Cover

Authored by Dr. Gabriel Marcella.

October 2007

71 Pages

Brief Synopsis

A healthy Latin America is of critical value to the United States as a global power. It is besieged by a powerful force of resentment engendered by a combination of weak states, social exclusion, criminal violence, and corruption. In the context of attack by radical populism against democratic values, the United States needs a new grand strategy that addresses the causes rather than the symptoms of the malaise. The author argues that such a strategy must strengthen the effectiveness of the democratic state in providing security, justice, and governance, as well as effectively engender a linkage of the 40 percent of the population presently excluded from the social and economic benefits of democracy to the national and international economy. Unless current trends reverse, Latin American countries will be poor security partners and a continuing menace for international security. The author recommends imaginative courses of action for the grand strategy.


The fear that extra-hemispheric powers would strategically deny Latin America as a friend of the United States has animated American statesmen since the 19th century. Such fear certainly pervaded the Cold war competition. Today the challenge to the security and well-being of Latin America is neither ideological, nor military, nor external. Strategic denial is more likely to come about from a highly combustible blend of poverty, crime, despair, corruption, resentment, and antidemocratic sentiments that promise a vague 21st century socialism under new authoritarian clothing. The sentiments are sinking deep roots in the sociopolitical landscape, and they are profoundly anti- American.

This witch’s brew is presently best understood in the case of the Andean countries, particularly Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. They, along with Peru, are experiencing a crisis of democratic legitimacy, authority, and governance. The crisis in the Andean countries applies to much of Latin America.

The problem is compounded by the prevalence of weak state systems that are incapable of providing security, justice, and the benefits of democratic governance to the maximum number of people. The roots of the weak state syndrome are to be found in the persisting dualism of the formal state populated by the “haves” and the informal state populated by the “have nots.” The two states are socio-spatially separated from each other. The 40 percent of the population that inhabits the informal state must be productively integrated into the formal state and into the global economy, or Latin America will continue to face crises of authority, governance, and legitimacy.

The United States is the only power that can move Latin America in the right direction. Good things usually happen when the United States fully directs its attention toward Latin America. Accordingly, a new American grand strategy for Latin America is imperative. It must address simultaneously two challenges: strengthening the effectiveness of the democratic state, and enhancing the security and dignity of the socially excluded. Such strategy requires vision and new ways of thinking about holistic security. The unpleasant alternative for the hemispheric community will be poor security partners sitting atop a cauldron of accumulating resentment.

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