"My Administration has also imposed tough sanctions on the communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela," President Trump said during his State of the Union address. Although it was heartening to hear Trump mention the plight of the people living under the socialist dictatorships of Venezuela and Cuba, he can and should do much more.
He has the most powerful bully pulpit in the world at his disposal, and he should use the incredible weight that it carries to bring international attention to the threats posed to economic, political, and social freedoms by leftist governments throughout Latin America.
For decades, we as a nation have failed to make our relationships with our southern neighbors a priority. It is a region rich in natural resources, where many countries are rapidly developing thriving middle classes with disposable income, emphasizing English in schools, and preparing their students to participate in the global economy.
While once a so-called "pink tide" propelled socialist leaders into power throughout the region, now a new age of free markets, free trade, and center-right governments is unfolding. In particular, the member states of the Pacific Alliance have pointed the way for the region: Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile. This group, by May 2016, had removed 92 percent of tariffs on goods traded between its members, with the remainder expected to be gone by 2020. They are pioneering regional integration of trade, services, tourism, and labor markets, while partnering on innovative projects like joint diplomatic missions and integrated capital markets.
Sadly, while many of the socialist leaders of Latin America have departed, a key group of hardline Marxists remains. Many are desperate to cling to power and willing to subvert democracy in order to do so.
In Bolivia, for example, longtime socialist strongman Evo Morales lost a referendum in which he sought to alter the constitution in order to run for an unprecedented fourth term. Now, he says he will run anyway, against the will of the Bolivian people, and in direct contradiction of the Bolivian constitution.
In contrast, in Colombia, when Alvaro Uribe sought a third term in 2010, the country's Constitutional Court blocked his candidacy on constitutional grounds, and the rule of law was respected.
In Cuba, little has changed, despite former President Barack Obama's renewal of diplomatic relations. It is still a hardline Communist dictatorship with no freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or freedom of assembly, where political dissidents are routinely thrown in jail. Sadly, greater economic freedom has not translated into any appreciable degree of social or political freedom for the Cuban people, but it has pumped money into the coffers of the Cuban Communist Party and the military that props it up.
In Venezuela, the country has demonstrably devolved from a flawed democracy to a dictatorship in just a few years, as Nicolas Maduro and his ragtag band of Marxist drug traffickers desperately cling to power. This is a government that refused to schedule regional elections, and has jailed and banned its political opponents. Now, it has announced hastily-scheduled presidential elections, which it is certain to rig. The most popular opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, who would be a shoo-in to win, has of course been banned from running after Maduro's government brought trumped-up charges against him.
We can all recognize the terrible injustice done to Otto Warmbier by the North Korean socialist dictatorship; yet, that is a fate that 30 million Venezuelans endure daily, which has prompted the greatest humanitarian crisis in a generation. Venezuelan refugees are spreading into Colombia, Brazil, and throughout the region. In Colombia alone, half a million Venezuelans have fled the economic collapse and totalitarian government.
Trump should explicitly explain to the American people how socialism turned what was once an economic powerhouse into a dystopian nightmare. And he should take a minute or two to call out the socialist dictatorship a mere 90 miles from our shores.
He should deride the vulgar excesses of today's Latin American socialist dictatorships and their affronts to political and economic freedoms, and praise those countries who are espousing freedom.
With Bernie Sanders and his socialist allies well on their way to taking over the Democratic Party and college campuses nationwide, it is a lesson that today's millennials are sorely in need of learning.
David Unsworth holds degrees in History and Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis, and served as the English editor of the PanAm Post. He currently resides in Bogota, Colombia.
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