Earlier this week, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez announced that he'll be undergoing cancer surgery for the fourth time in less than two years. Chavez, who has held power in Venezuela since 1999, apparently isn't too optimistic about his chances; he's already named a successor to take his position should his health fail. The removal or death of Chavez would have large ramifications for American foreign policy with regards to Latin America. But it'll also create a vacancy for an important U.S. position: Official Latin American boogeyman.
With Chavez's fate uncertain, and with previous Enemy-of-the-State Fidel Castro doing his best Weekend at Bernie's imitation in Havana, the United States could find itself, for the first time in a long time, without a Latin or South American head of state to fear or oppose. Given Chavez's predilection toward saying mildly outrageous things, his absence could also leave us here at New Times without an important source for Spanish-speaking craziness.
In an effort to do some heavy foreign-policy lifting for Barack Obama and company, we've decided to pick the five most likely Latin and South American leaders on which our government will focus its disapproval. ¡Vamos!
1. Evo Morales, Bolivia
Reasons For U.S. Scorn: The last addition to the Axis de Evil Socialisto containing Chavez and Castro, Morales is the odds-on favorite to be mentioned next in a presidential speech as a threat to the region. He's well versed in pissing off America, such as in 2008, when he booted the U.S. ambassador out of the country, and with his longstanding hatred for the DEA and the War on Drugs. And he stridently opposed the U.S. intervention in Libya, going so far as to call for Obama's Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked.
Reasons Against Hating: Despite his bluster, Morales hasn't done much to earn America's ire. Unlike Castro and Chavez, he's kept mostly to himself in Bolivia. His "Brady Bunch" haircut, folksy manners, and refusal to wear suits makes him seem less like a Latin American strongman and more like the lead character in a Spanish body-switch comedy where a campesino and a CEO swap places. Plus, Bolivia's one of the countries that's kept cocaine rolling into Miami for the last decade. So the next time you're snorting a gram of coke off your car keys, be sure to thank Evo.
2. Rafael Correa, Ecuador
Reasons For U.S. Scorn: Like Morales, Correa, who's been in charge of Ecuador since 2007, is a close buddy of Chavez, calling himself "the hugest fan personally and professionally." He's also a supporter of Mohammed Ahmadinejad in Iran, kicked out America's ambassador in 2011, and seems generally distrustful of the Yanquis. His stance toward his country's media, which hovers between "disdainful" and "outright hostile," won't win him any fans in our offices either.
Reasons Against Hating: Back in September 2010, the country's National Police tried to stage a coup d'etat, seizing government buildings and the international airport in the capital of Quito. Most presidents would've either fled for their lives. Correa, however went to debate the police at their headquarters face-to-face, told them, "Gentlemen, if you want to kill the president, here he is, kill him if you have the guts," was taken hostage, and then rescued in a raid by a commando unit. I'm pretty sure that's the rejected plot to a Steven Seagal movie from the late 1990s, or at least Ecuador's answer to Escape From New York.
3. Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua
Reasons For U.S. Scorn: Ortega is an old hat at this "irritate the U.S." thing. He was originally president of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990 as the head of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, one of Ronald Reagan's least favorite groups. Fast forward to 2006, when Ortega re-took power in a presidential election. Since then, he's overseen elections that have been called rigged by opposition groups, tried to eliminate his term limits through legal challenges to the Nicaraguan Constitution, and has supported the criminalization of abortion even in cases of emergency. He also backed Mommar Gaddafi during the Libyan civil war, said that capitalism "is in its death throes," and declared that the 2008 U.S. financial crisis was God's way of punishing America for its imperialism, so he's definitely got the crazy side of things going.
Reasons Against Hating: He's a bit of a throwback, given his 1980s origins, and America's already inundated with reboots as is. Plus, at 72 years old, his stay atop the U.S. disapproval list would probably be a short one.
4. Cristina Kirchner, Argentina
Reasons For U.S. Scorn: Like Correa, Kirchner isn't a big fan of a free and independent press; she's only taken questions from the press five times since taking power in 2007. On top of that, she's another Friend of Chavez, has agitated repeatedly for Argentina to take back the Falkland Islands from Great Britain, and won't win fans in America with her decidedly pro-Palestine stance.
Reasons Against Hating: Unlike the other candidates on this list, Kirchner's record on human rights isn't appalling. She's spearheaded programs to reduce poverty and get low-income kids in school, and her government legalized same-sex marriage. Plus, with her government embroiled in scandals and unpopular, it's unlikely she'll be around long enough to raise America's dander.
5. Sebastian Pinera, Chile
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Reasons For U.S. Scorn: As a multi-millionaire businessman who used to own a TV channel, an airline and a Chilean soccer team, Pinera is South America's Mitt Romney, but without the luxurious head of hair. He ran for president a bunch of times before winning in 2009, and since then has shown himself to be pretty bad at running the country. He's overseen massively unpopular educational reforms, endless protests over rising gas prices, and even found time in December 2011 to make a rape joke during a state visit to Mexico. So all in all, he doesn't seem like the sharpest knife in the drawer, and would probably be a regular source of bumbling amusement.
Reasons Against Hating: His name value is practically non-existent, and his approval ratings are so low that, before we even get to know him, he'll probably be kicked to the curb.