Machiavelli’s concept of the nature of the exile element in the conduct of US foreign policy toward Latin America has been apparent for decades. Exiles are different from immigrants in that exiles leave their country and enter another hoping that changes will take place in their homeland and enabling them to return. Unlike immigrants, who basically decide to strike tents in their country of origin and move permanently to another, exiles fret and brood over the fact that recapturing their native land may prove onerous. Plainly, immigrants normally leave for economic reasons whereas exiles usually go abroad for political reasons.
Once exiles begin to take up residence in the new country they invariably manifest symptoms of Machiavelli’s sixteenth century observation on exiles. While speaking to the Prince, Machiavelli often cited the passage below:
From Discourses, Book 2, Chapter 31:
“It ought to be considered, therefore, how vain are the faith and promises of those who find themselves deprived of their country. For, as to their faith, it has to be borne in mind that anytime they can return to their country by other means than yours, they will leave you and look to the other, notwithstanding whatever promises they had made you. As to their vain hopes and promises, such is the extreme desire in them to return home, that they naturally believe many things that are false and add many others by art, so that between those they believe and those they say they believe, they fill you with hope, so that relying on them you will incur expenses in vain, or you undertake an enterprise in which you ruin yourself….. A Prince, therefore, ought to go slowly in undertaking an enterprise upon the representations of an exile, for most of the times he will be left either with shame or very grave injury.”
Examples of exiles intervening in our foreign policy include the Cuban exiles who started arriving in the early 1960s and began to take measures to have their host, the USA, take action to help recover their homeland. Prior to the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Mexican exiles sought to influence US public opinion and policy during the long Porfirio Diaz reign (1876-1911) and in the chaotic revolutionary period (1910-1920). They eagerly worked to organize and gain approval to topple the Porfiriato or the succeeding revolutionary regimes. A small Nicaraguan exile group appeared in the US during the 1980s, with limited but highly effective influence decrying the Soviet support of the Sandinista takeover of their homeland.
The Cuban exile community, which came in sizable numbers fleeing ‘communist’ Cuba, became a virtually permanent fixture in the American body politic. They incessantly sought countless ways to influence US policy to generate a ‘regime change’ in Cuba. The fact is in time the Cuban exiles became successful not in toppling Fidel Castro but in influencing US Presidential elections. The luck of these exiles settling primarily in Florida a ‘swing state’ in Presidential electoral politics resulted in an out-of-proportion influence. Since 1980, Florida has gone with every Presidential winner. This fact has allowed the Cuban exile community to cleverly claim credit for winning. Hence, US foreign policy toward Cuba has virtually become a ‘domestic’ or South Florida policy.
The new right-wing exile group beginning to be felt in our country’s politics is the wealthy and educated Venezuelan community fleeing the Chavista regime. Most appear to be settling in South Florida alongside many Cuban exiles. It seems only natural, that recently this new exile group borrowed a page from the Cuban exile playbook. The prominent Venezuelan exile leadership began to subtly suggest and insinuate itself into the sympathetic Republican Congressional staff.
When the new US Ambassador nominee to Venezuela, Larry Palmer, recently appeared before the US Senate for confirmation hearings it was widely and correctly expected that a discussion of the anti-American Hugo Chavez regime would come under fire. The Venezuelan exiles cleverly manipulated the whole process with the goal of inflaming US-Venezuelan relations to the ends of not sending a US ambassadorial envoy to Chavez. They were able to persuade, convince or enlist a key Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee Staffer working for the Minority Ranking Member. Apparently, after the hearing but just before the Senate’s Committee Business Meeting was to vote out Palmer onto the floor for final vote for confirmation of his nomination as US Ambassador to Venezuela, he adroitly submitted several additional questions. At that point, the State Department’s Venezuela Desk crafted bluntly honest and unusually provocative responses to the rather pointed questions on the Chavez regime’s misconduct. The answers were appropriately cleared and unwittingly approved by State Department’s bureaucratic mattress mice. Palmer also casually approved, most likely thinking the answers would help getting him from under the Republicans’ stare. However, one wonders if he considered that upon receiving the written answers, the staffer would go on to eagerly post them on the Senator’s (Lugar) website for the world to see. Subsequently, the staffer reportedly had Palmer’s name removed from the previously approved business meeting agenda where the final vote on his nomination was scheduled to take place. Hence, he ensured a delay of his confirmation. But the final step, in the hoped-for sequence, occurred when Chavez harrumphed and subsequently declared Palmer non-acceptable (withdrawing or countermanding his prior agrèment or approval by the Venezuelan government). As a result of the exiles skillful manipulation of the process, the Palmer nomination to Venezuela has been effectively scuttled. And even better, Chavez takes the hit for torpedoing Palmer’s nomination and US-Venezuelan relations are facing a nadir. One wonders if Friday’s editorial in the premier daily, the Washington Post calling on the US not to send an Ambassador to Caracas isn’t also part of the exiles campaign.
Unfortunately, The Obama Administration foreign policy-makers simply demonstrate scant diplomatic or political savvy to counter or even detect such Machiavellian capers. Latin exiles have once again masterfully proven their skillful reading and manipulation of US policy. The Obama/Clinton entourage should read carefully what the master political cynic of the 16th century wisely appreciated. “A Prince, therefore, ought to go slowly in undertaking an enterprise upon the representations of an exile, for most of the times he will be left either with shame or very grave injury.” If the GOP takes over Congress this fall, the encouraged and devious exiles will be difficult to contain.