Jackson Diehl on the hemisphere circling the drain…

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WashPost op-ed columnist Jackson Diehl’s take on the year to come from a gringo perspective…

Here’s a sad but safe new year’s prediction: U.S. relations with Latin America, which plunged to their lowest point in decades in 2005, will get still worse in 2006.

The year ended with a string of reverses. In a regional summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in November, President Bush was jeered by demonstrators and taunted by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who aspires to make Latin America anti-American and anti-democratic. He was seconded by Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner, who in the past few weeks has moved from the hemisphere’s camp of moderate democratic leftists toward Chavez’s “revolutionary” embrace.

Then came the Chavez-backed victory in Bolivia of Evo Morales, a former llama herder and coca farmer who describes himself as Washington’s “nightmare.” Lacking any coherent policies of his own, Morales will probably take instruction from Chavez, Kirchner and Fidel Castro — who at age 79 must believe he is finally seeing the emergence of the totalitarian bloc he and Che Guevara tried and failed to create in the 1960s.

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