It is one thing to sit in Washington and know intellectually that Latin Americans universally condemn the United States for its support of Great Britain in the South Atlantic crisis. It is quite another to experience firsthand the Latins' passionate resentment of the United States. Having just returned from a week in Caracas, Venezuela--the region's leading democracy and a staunch supporter of U.S. policy in Central America--I can attest to the depth of anger that Latins now feel toward the United States.
Venezuelans from across the political spectrum, from revolutionary to oligarch, use brutal language to describe what they view as the perfidy of the United States. A leading intellectual and ex-presidential candidate published a full- page article in the country's largest newspaper comparing U.S. policy to a pornographic movie -- filthy and obscene. The next day another major newspaper carried a column by a leading journalist stating that Latin America was to the United States what Polish women were to the Nazis--useful while they were digging trenches to stave off Soviet tanks, then raped and discarded.
Examples of anti-American sentiment were prevalent in Caracas. North Americans are now referred to as "Anglo-Saxons." A rally organized on a day's notice to protest English and U.S. involvement in the "Malvinas" drew over 20,000 people, one of the largest spontaneous gatherings in Caracas since Richard Nixon was spat upon in 1958. Each Venezuelan I spoke with--politician, business executive, cabdriver or student--went out of his way to express solidarity with the people of Argentina and displeasure with the United States. The message was clear: Great Britain may be doing the fighting, but the United States will be held accountable.
Why this emotional outpouring by Venezuelans? Certainly not out of admiration for the Argentine government or love of Argentines. And most Venezuelans thought that Argentina was wrong to resort to force to take what they surely would have eventually gained at the negotiating table.
Instead, the strong emotions are being expressed by Venezuelans and other Latin Americans because they feel betrayed by the United States. Secretary Haig's shuttle diplomacy conveyed the false impression that the United States was a neutral arbitrator. Most Venezuelans were stunned, therefore, when the United States openly sided with Great Britain, supplied it with military equipment and took economic sanctions against Argentina.
Moreover, Venezuelans emphathize with Argentina's plight because they too have a territorial dispute with Great Britain owing to imperialistic expansion in the 1800s. They fervently believe that two-thirds of present-day Guyana is rightfully theirs, and they want it back. From the Venezuelan perspective, by siding with Great Britain the United States demonstrated that it was a status quo power, that it was willing to sanction territorial claims created by colonialism, and that in the final analysis Latin America does not count much to policy-makers in Washington who view the world through East-West bifocals.
Venezuelan attitudes are similar to those of other Latin Americans. The South Atlantic crisis will have a profound and lasting impact on U.S.-Latin American relations. The decade- long trend toward greater autonomy of Latin American states in their dealings with the United States has been accelerated dramatically. The romantic vision of Pan Americanism and a common destiny for the Western Hemisphere is shattered.
Likewise, the Organization of American States and the Rio Treaty have been shown to be what they are: hollow shells, useful only when the United States needs them to resolve one of its problems. Latin American armed forces will now re-evaluate their military needs and their sources of supply. And it will be very difficult to engage Latin America in meaningful dialogue on the key issues of hemispheric security, nuclear proliferation, trade and capital flows, energy and natural resources.
What the United States should do now is persuade the British to cease the hostilities. President Reagan and Secretary Haig should make another all-out effort to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. If not, the fighting will continue to escalate and the British might find it necessary to launch an air strike on Argentine bases on the South American continent. This would outrage Latin Americans, and it might cause a widening of the war to include a combat role for other countries in the region. And the United States will be held accountable.