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The Two Faces of Latin America

Colombia vs. Honduras.

Jun 10, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 37 • By MAX BOOT
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Uribe is a charismatic, transformational figure, similar in his impact to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. He took on not only the FARC but also right-wing militias and corrupt government officials. He pushed through a war tax and expanded the size and effectiveness of the military, enabling the armed forces to undertake an effective counterinsurgency campaign. Santos is not as flamboyant, but he is more diplomatic—a George H. W. Bush or a John Major. (A better analogy might be to William Howard Taft, since Uribe, like Theodore Roosevelt, still pines for power and has clashed publicly with his former protégé.) Santos has reached out to countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela that Uribe confronted over their support for FARC; Santos’s quiet suasion has helped persuade Ecuador, though not yet Venezuela, to stop cooperating with the rebels. Like the elder Bush at the end of the Cold War, he has the opportunity now to use his negotiating skills to secure a victory that his predecessor made possible with bold and aggressive action.

The obvious implication is that Honduras needs Colombian-style leadership. Easier said than done. The previous incumbent, leftist Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a coup in 2009. The current officeholder, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, is more conservative but no more effective. The United States is not going to swap Honduran leaders like an empire of old, but it can still play an effective role in identifying and assisting honest officials (yes, some exist) in the Honduran government. Perhaps someday Honduras will find its own Uribe. If that were to happen, the United States should extend as much assistance as possible. Until that day, however, U.S. aid will have to be limited so as not to assist the corrupt elements of the Honduran government. In Colombia, on the other hand, the United States needs to be careful not to cut off its aid too soon, as the Obama administration appears in danger of doing. For all of its success, Bogotá still needs help to ensure that FARC and its narco-trafficker allies do not stage a dismaying comeback.

Max Boot is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Invisible Armies.

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