USA elections a Circus
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St. Louis Post-Dispach: Editorial: Hemispheric security issues, not beauty queens, demand candidates' attention
With American's attention focused justifiably on the Nov. 8 elections, it might seem out of place for this Midwestern newspaper, less than a week before presidential debates in St. Louis, to be sounding danger warnings about Colombia and Venezuela. But while our presidential candidates obsess over insults leveled at a Venezuelan beauty queen, a real-life security vacuum is developing in our hemisphere that truly merits the next U.S. leader's attention.
We live in a world where adversaries, including Russia, are looking for every possible entry point to move world instability closer to American shores. Americans need only look at Libya, Syria and Somalia to understand why security vacuums must be kept as far away from our hemisphere as possible. Denver is farther by air from Miami than are Bogota and Caracas.
The United States has spent more than 15 years and billions of dollars to dismantle drug cartels and halt the flow of illicit money to Colombia's biggest guerrilla group. U.S. special operations troops have played an important role in forcing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to the negotiating table, where both sides hammered out a landmark peace accord last month.
On Sunday, the accord went before voters in a referendum. By a narrow margin, Colombians rejected it despite predictions it would win approval by overwhelming margins. Rejection means the guerrillas, known as the FARC, will delay their plans to disarm. The war isn't over.
Many Colombians have bitter memories of FARC atrocities, which have included hijackings, extrajudicial killings, urban bombings and a highly profitable kidnap-for-ransom business that terrorized the nation. Until the 9/11 attacks, Colombia dominated Washington's international security agenda because the FARC had seized control of Colombia's multibillion-dollar cocaine and heroin trade, made possible by the U.S.-engineered collapse of the Cali and Medellin drug cartels.
In neighboring Venezuela, the chaos is deepening as the socialist government established by the late President Hugo Chavez hurtles into a financial abyss. Venezuela, with the highest volume of proven oil reserves in the world, should be among the most stable and prosperous countries in the hemisphere. Instead, it is a basket case because of rampant inflation, economic mismanagement and steady government dismantling of a once-thriving free-market economy.
Severe shortages of food, essential supplies and medicine are driving millions of people toward desperation. President Nicolas Maduro's government is so inept, it now must import oil. China recently decided to cut off loans. The United States has kept its distance, but Russia's ambassador has kindly offered to help.
That's exactly the problem. Washington can ill afford to stand by idly while one key ally, Colombia, braces for the prospect of renewed hostilities and another longstanding democracy, Venezuela, teeters toward the open embrace of a superpower with a well-known penchant for meddling and mischief.