The Ugly Americas

By Beatrice E. Rangel

At the peak of the Cold War, a roman á clef caused a true sensation in the US political circles. It was the Ugly American depicting the contrast between the lack of sensitivity displayed by American diplomats in South East Asia and the stark contrast of such behavior with that of the Eastern Block diplomats.

As a consequence, America was truly loathed in South East Asia while the Soviet Union had turned into the role model for many politicians.

The book authored by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer was read by the top US political leadership making such an impression on then Senator John F. Kennedy that it sparked the creation of the Peace Corps during his presidential mandate.

The context of this book would today apply to Latin American elites who seem to fail to acknowledge the times we live in and the demands placed on leadership whether public or private.

Indeed, the information revolution is far more than simple data transmission, gathering and storage.

Because data can now be gathered, stored and transmitted in volumes and speed unknown heretofore, consistency and transparency are essential attributes of leadership.
Like the US, diplomats described by Burdick and Lederer who publicly declared their desires to serve the country at which they were stationed while not bothering to speak the local language, Latin American elites pay lip service to the ideals of separation of powers, checks and balances, and rule of law while behaving in authoritarian, abusive and truly anti-democratic fashion.

As a result they enjoy the delights of power over the short run while failing to build viable and transcendental republics for the long run.

Unlike the book hero -- an American engineer who chooses to live with the people of Sarkhan and to develop technologies that enhanced their quality of life -- South of the Rio Grande most leaders hamper progress by failing to guarantee their people's education through payment of taxes and by observing the rule of law.

This perpetuates armies of dependent people who cannot survive without handouts from the state. Democratic civic culture then fails to develop and the spirit of citizenship evaporates in the midst of hardships and loss of hope. The continent is thus full of failed promises and non-encounters with sustainable development. These are the seeds of instability and violence.

It is the absence of the spirit of citizenship and of opportunities for the many that account for today's ugly snapshot of Latin America.

From Argentina to Mexico a regional collage would include a murdered prosecutor; the looting by public officers and employees of the leading regional energy company (Petrobras); the cold blooded murder of young soldiers by narco guerrillas; the rise of a narco state at the top of South America; the birth place of FIFA's corruption; and the evaporation of 43 students.

This canvas spells disaster for foreign direct investors who concentrate in value creation and provides a warm welcoming party for pirates from all over the world who would undoubtedly see their fortunes multiply under such conditions.

In the end, ugly Latin Americans attract ugly handlers as seen during the 17th-19th centuries.

Some World Bank experts recently estimated that absence of rule of law in Latin America had a cost equivalent to the net worth of the gold and silver mines leveled during those centuries by European extraction. This is equivalent to about three centuries of positive average growth of about 5% in the region. No wonder the regional picture is so full of ugly Latin Americans.

Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.

For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.
Ms. Rangel is a Director of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy
You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at