In Chile last month, Bush was met by thousands of protesters; 15,000 people by some accounts. The opposition decried past, present and possible future wounds by the United States. They marched. They wore signs. A few even burned a U.S. flag.
Americans should not scratch their heads in dismay like they did after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
An almost infant-like naivete surrounded the country then as people asked: "Why do they hate us so much?"
The answer is that most of the world doesn't hate the American people. They hate our foreign policies. Especially ones that inflict harm on other countries, sometimes unwittingly. Americans are shielded from understanding because we tend to focus on how the world gobbles up American pop culture.
The more complicated nature of foreign policy is less tidy than Brittany Spears or J Lo. An accounting of U.S. dealings with Latin America gives ample evidence why some fear and protest American involvement on Latin soil.
Take Chile. In 1973, a military coup overthrew elected President Salvador Allende. Guess who backed the coup? The United States.
The man the United States helped to power, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, was responsible for thousands of people disappearing, tortures and other human rights violations.
Last year, Secretary of State Colin Powell apologized. Powell called the time period, "not a part of American history we are proud of."
The same could be said for U.S.-backing of guerrilla troops that killed thousands in Guatemala.
Pick a Latin country and there are similar stories.
Current politics cause rifts as well. The general population in Mexico was largely opposed to Bush's re-election. Mostly, they were showing opposition to the war in Iraq. Dissatisfaction with NAFTA is another reason. NAFTA is not the economic savior for Mexico once promised.
A new report by the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America details more rationale for the anti-American dissent brewing in Latin America.
The report, "Drugs and Democracy in Latin America: The Impact of U.S. Policy," details the effects in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and the Caribbean.
The idea of the American drug policy was to cut the supply of the drugs into the United States, driving prices up. One strategy was to fumigate coca crops.
But the poor farmers and indigenous people who grew the crops and make the least money off the drug trade, were the inadvertent targets. They lost their means of livelihood.
Meanwhile, corrupt Latin military leaders, often implementing the U.S. policies, go on their merry way. The crops shift to being grown elsewhere.
Twenty-five years and more than $25 billion later, cocaine and heroin streams entering the United States are as strong as ever, the report says. And costs for the drugs are at all-time lows.
The critics aren't opposed to reducing drug use. Just as rational critics in Latin America are not opposed to all trade agreements. But make sure U.S. policies are helping. And not simply incubating new problems.
In the meantime, Americans need to continue learning about the less-than-desirable outcomes to our policies.
Far too often Americans dismiss criticism from foreign sources with a patriotic, red, white and blue zeal. Other countries are just jealous of our wealth and military strength, goes the simplistic thinking.
Sept. 11, 2001, should have mercilessly pounded this truth into Americans: Understanding how the rest of the world views our country is important.
Military strength is no excuse for ignorance about the broad impact of our foreign policies; the good and the bad results.
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