America / Economy / Foreign Policy / Politics

Forgotten in the Coverage of the US Presidential Election: two other key elections in the Western Hemisphere

As per normal in a US presidential election year, there has been a plethora of political coverage broadcasted on most any news channel so far in 2012. While this does not mean the public is paying attention to the seemingly unending political coverage (some viewers have even expressed their dissatisfaction with it), there has been a severe lack of coverage of two other important 2012 presidential elections that may directly impact the United States as the US presidential race begins to take shape—those of Mexico and Venezuela—two countries whose political futures will have a direct impact on US national security and its economy. This is not surprising, since the American public is notorious for its lack of knowledge of the world outside of its borders and the world system.

The United States and Mexico have long had a special relationship due to their shared border, integrated economies, and migration patterns. Border security is a major issue for both the US and Mexico. The border sees major flows of legal migrants and goods, but it is also a known trafficking route for bulk cash shipments, illicit drugs, human smuggling, and weapons. The illicit networks that exist along the border have fueled a hyper-violent conflict that began under outgoing President Felipe Calderon—one that pits the Mexican Cartels and their street gang soldiers against each other, the Mexican government, armed forces, and law enforcement agencies. This has led to speculation that the Mexican government has lost control of cities and even some states.

The cartels are well armed, well organized, and considerably affluent, leading them often to be generously referred to as drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). Many DTOs are involved in a wide range of illicit activities, ranging from money laundering to mass murders; and some have connections to other organized criminal organizations. Therefore, I believe the term transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) describes them more accurately. The transnational nature of their crimes also has led to speculation that the Mexican Cartels are forging alliances with such unsavory characters as Hezbollah and Hamas. They have even been linked to an assassination plot involving Iranian elements. This is a fundamental threat to US national security. If groups or individuals that wish to commit terrorist acts against the United States are allowed access to the illicit networks found throughout our southwest border, this could become a credible threat to the US homeland. One also must not discount the hyper-violence occurring in present-day Mexico. This could result in a spillover into border states like Texas.

The well-documented violence in Mexico has also had two other effects on the US-Mexico relationship. First, it has slowed Mexican economic growth. The tourism industry has been struggling because of government-issued travel advisories that caution citizens to avoid many parts of the country. The global economic recession has also impacted Mexico because of its close bilateral trade ties with the United States. A sagging economy combined with the threat of everyday violence at home has also led to an increase in illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States, which fills the TCO’s coffers and increases their high-powered arsenals.

Second, the next Mexican president will be tasked with improving the economy and bringing peace to an embattled country tired of bloodshed. The new president will also need to collaborate with the US government on many levels to ensure border security and continued growth of trade. These two issues will also have a direct impact on immigration. The victor of the 2012 Mexican presidential contest will determine the path and eventual progress made in each of these areas.

Venezuela is not as geographically close to the United States as Mexico and is even further from it politically, but this might make Venezuela even more important. Venezuela and its “incumbent president” have been a thorn in the side of the US since Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998. After promising an ambitious array of social development programs, Chavez has become best known for his bombastic rhetoric and anti-United States positions. While this makes for a fine media spectacle, it has led Chavez to forge political and personal alliances with countries and groups whose interests are contrary to those of the US.

For example, his friendship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his (alleged) close relationship with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC – Spanish), the largest remaining leftist guerrilla insurgency in the Hemisphere, are particularly worrisome. Ahmadinejad’s anti-American sentiments and rhetoric are well known and the FARC is directly opposed to one of the strongest US allies in the Western Hemisphere: Colombia and its democratic government. Chavez has also sought to build ties throughout the hemisphere by spreading a combination of his socialist ideology and generous oil subsidy programs. This should put Venezuela’s political future squarely on America’s radar.

Due to its role in the cocaine trafficking trade, Venezuela is also part of the illicit networks in the hemisphere that pose a threat to the United States. The Chavez regime’s alliances make their access to and knowledge of these routes potentially damaging to the United States. This is only compounded by the speculation by Roger Noriega, a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, that there has already been ongoing collaboration between Venezuela, which he characterizes as a “narco-state,” and groups like the Iranian Quds Forces and Hezbollah.

Mr. Noriega has also taken an interest in the health of Hugo Chavez. The Chavez regime has attempted to quell any ideas that their leader continues to suffer from an unspecified illness (many sources have speculated that he is battling cancer). There is the possibility that his illness is far worse than publicized. This could have a substantial impact on the future of Venezuela. If Chavez falls, then the US should be standing by to offer support for the people of Venezuela and the construction of a truly democratic state. This might be a moot point since it is widely known that Chavez has already guaranteed his reelection. However, if he is reelected his aforementioned anti-United States positions, relationships with groups that threaten US interests, and efforts to destabilize the Western Hemisphere will only continue. This is potentially a dangerous situation that the US ought to monitor and begin to take action against.

I believe that Americans seem to be primarily concerned with domestic issues, and so far this year I have not seen anything to alter this opinion. However, the politicians and citizens of the United States need to begin to pay more attention to two of its southern neighbors. The outcomes of this year’s presidential elections in Mexico and Venezuela could have a long-lasting impact on the United States and directly affect hot voter issues like national security, the economy, and immigration. Hopefully, the American people will begin to take an interest in coverage of the other two elections as well, and demand that US politicians and presidential candidates provide their input on their outcomes.

-Max Rava