I've been surprised that in Peru they haven't made more of Dick Cheney's recent gaffe. The US Vice-President apparently confused Peru with Venezuela, suggesting that Hugo Chávez was President of the former rather than the latter. But Peruvian friends I've talked to weren't even aware of the incident.
Typically enough, Chávez himself has capitalized on the confusion. "Those who govern the United States are a bunch of ignorant fools," he declared. "They don't know where Venezuela is, nor do they know where Peru is." (Via LANR.)
The story can be read as a simple slip of the tongue, or perhaps as typical of the myopia of an administration run by a man who famously had never left the USA before he became President, and who as presidential candidate was unable to name the leader of Pakistan.
More interestingly, however, the mistake may reveal just how little attention the US is currently paying to Latin America. After all, if Cheney had any reason to have the region on his mind, one would have thought that Chávez's belligerent rhetoric should have put Venezuela on the Vice-President's mental map.
Moreover, the particular confusion is also revealing. Rather than confusing Chávez with any of the other Latin American leftists who have won office in recent years--Bolivia's Evo Morales or Brazil's Lula, for instance--Cheney seems to find it difficult to distinguish him even from Alan García, a president who came to office by fending off a challenge from the Left. Indeed, during the Peruvian campaign Chávez actively (and controversially) voiced his support for the candidacy of García's rival, Ollanta Humala.
Cheney's faux pas, then, seems to indicate not only that the much-heralded distinction between "social democratic" and "populist" lefts has hardly made much impact inside the Beltway. It also suggests that when it comes to Latin America, the Bush Administration doesn't even concern itself overly with the distinction between Left and Right. It's all, as they would say down here, la misma mierda.
One is tempted to feel slightly sorry for poor Hugo. For all the man's best efforts, he still seems unable to attract much attention from Cheney et. al. Though on the other hand, the lesson he might draw is that he really can do what he wants: the US simply won't notice.
Crossposted to Left Turns?.