They are a new and emerging team of anti-American players — Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Ecuador's Rafael Correa. They call themselves socialists of the 21st century. And their team manager is the undisputed champion of all losers, the longest-lasting dictator in human history, Cuba's Fidel Castro.
No one comes close to Castro at making a country and its people miserable. And yet this is the model these other Latin American leaders want to emulate. They are bonded by their thirst for power and their hatred of the United States.
But now they are taking their defiance a lot further. By joining forces with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they are part of the "axis of evil."
An old Spanish-language proverb spells it out very clearly: "Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres." It means: "Tell me with whom you hang out, and I'll tell you who you are."
Ahmadinejad, who visited Bolivia and Venezuela last week, is a ruthless oppressor of his people, an anti-Semite, a sponsor of terrorism, a seeker of nuclear weapons and a threat to world peace.
But as long as he is an enemy of the United States, he is considered a friend by the new Latin American axis of evil.
These anti-U.S. allies in our own hemisphere are exactly the kind of friends Ahmadinejad wants to cultivate. While the Bush administration ignores Latin America and concentrates only on the Middle East, the Iranians are bolstering our enemies in our own backyard. Even as the United States tries to isolate Ahmadinejad internationally, U.S. haters in Latin America — including Nicaragua's Ortega and Ecuador's Correa — are rolling out red carpets for him.
While the United States and other nations are concerned that Iran is trying to build atomic weapons under the guise of its civilian nuclear program, and while the United Nations keeps demanding that Iran halt uranium enrichment, both Chavez and Morales have expressed support for that program. In both Bolivia and Venezuela, Ahmadinejad signed bilateral agreements, committing Iran to finance energy-related projects in South America.
Anticipating condemnation for his ties with a sponsor of terrorism, Chavez poked fun at his critics in his weekly televised sermon in Venezuela. "They will say I am plotting with Iran to threaten the world, that we will build an atomic bomb," Chavez said before Ahmadinejad arrived for his third visit to Caracas.
The Venezuelan leader, who was elected democratically but rules like a dictator, said he also plans to develop a nuclear energy program.
"Iran isn't making an atomic bomb, not at all," Chavez said last week. "They just want to develop nuclear energy. Venezuela will do it also someday."
When he greeted his "beloved friend" Ahmadinejad last week, Chavez called him "one of the greatest anti-imperialist fighters" and "one of the great fighters for true peace."
Mind you, this is the same man who wants to wipe Israel from the map and is supplying weapons to Iraqi insurgents to kill American soldiers.
With Castro gravely ill, it is now Chavez who is leading the pack of anti-American socialists in Latin America. Morales has joined him gradually in criticizing the United States, and the more recently elected Ortega and Correa are following in Chavez's Machiavellian footsteps.
And what has the Bush administration done to counteract the growth of this anti-American alliance?
We are so busy fighting a war — and making more enemies — on the other side of the world that we are not paying attention to our emerging enemies in the Americas.
Congress is considering legislation that would establish a 10-year, $2.5 billion program to reduce poverty and bolster the middle class in Latin America. But it may too little too late, especially because Chavez, in command of an oil-rich nation, has pledged to triple that amount.
Thanks to our president's inept handling of foreign policy, the "axis of evil" has expanded, not only in the Middle East, but in our own backyard.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.