Seneca: Machiavelli & Exile Latinos

August 16th, 2010 · 7 Comments

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.

Tags: Barack Obama · Cuba · Fidel Castro · Foreign Policy · GOP · Hillary Clinton · Latin American Foreign Policy · Republican Party · Seneca

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 india blanca // Aug 16, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Once again Seneca’s brilliant insight reveals to us information missed even by our brightest journalists and puts things into context. I ask myself, how can the American public understand the forces that maneuver to manipulate our policies when we no longer can count on a journalistic community with the institutional memory, the dedication and the insight to keeps us well informed.
    The collusion between our congressional staff and these outside forces is truly tragic. To think the motivation behind this unethical conduct is simply political gain forces me to question their commitment to our national interest and hence our national security; especially when these are the same politicians whose inflamed rhetoric have casted our undocumented as criminals.
    I wonder if the oversized bank account of these elitists exiles are contributing to the political campaigns that seek to gain control of our legislative body this November.
    We should demand transparency from our representatives and from those who call themselves journalists we should demand they put forth the time to research, investigate and uncover the behind the scenes machinations that impact on the health of our institutions and our country’s policies.
    I am not aware of one media outlet that revealed the facts behind Mr. Palmer’s demise as potential US Ambassador to Venezuela.
    My hat off to and to Seneca for their invaluable contribution!

  • 2 Chicano future tense // Aug 16, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Sr.Seneca got it right in pointing out what many reactionary Latin American refugees do after they flee to America.
    It’s true they will try to influence American policy in the direction of destroying and sabotaging the current ruling governments of their home countries which have had either a revolution or have experienced popular mass movements in favor of democratic or socialist inspired models which desire to bring about a more just redistribution of the nations welath and recources to the poor.This is what the rich Latin American reactionaries hate.They hate to share…straight-out greed and selfishness.
    But,in terms of influencing and shaping American policies and government the influence that these Latin American reactionaries have had are miniscule compared to Zionist and Israeli groups ,lobbies and dual-citizens who have been incredibly effective even to the point that many perceive Israel as “the tail that waves the dog”.

    …a sarcastic twist to Emma Lazurus famous poem..
    “Give me your rich,
    Your reactionary fascist masses yearning to steal as much as they can,

    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.(she got that right)

    Send these, the greedy, the treacherous to me,

    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  • 3 Latino Exiles VS. Latino Immigrants « Bettinainclan's Blog // Aug 17, 2010 at 8:45 am

    […] 17, 2010 by bettinainclan A recent post at got my attention titled “Seneca: Machiavelli & Exile Latinos.”  The author “Seneca” (a pen name) goes on to try to explain the differences between exiles […]

  • 4 Pablo // Aug 17, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Ditto india blanca. Also, the distinction Chicano makes with the Israeli lobby is significant, as unlike some of the Latin American exile groups Seneca mentions, which do often seem to focus simply on political recognition of their cause through the tactical sabotage of procedural protocols in the Beltway, the Israeli lobby seems to approach “the game”, as it were, with much more productive end games in mind for their cause.

  • 5 LeFou // Aug 18, 2010 at 5:10 am

    Even if from spectacularly rich and powerful families, some exiles cast themselves as victims and use that status as an excuse to be bullies and to enter into alliances with homegrown bullies.

    Ambassador Palmer got mugged, for sure. But the beating could have been avoided if his own State Department team hadn’t manifested the same biases and demagoguery as Palmer’s provocateurs. Seneca says the draft responses to the long, blatantly leading exile questions submitted by the Senate staffer were “bluntly honest and unusually provocative.” “Honest” based on what — yet another Uribe speech (which even Santos has discredited)? “Provocative” to what end?

    Even Bush-era NSC senior director and assistant secretary Tom Shannon tried to get out of the exile-driven game of provoking Chávez with half-baked allegations and theatrics. The exiles and their correligionists in the bureaucracy have reversed all that and, through the Venezuela Desk’s amateurish submission to the Senate, shoved the Obama Administration right back into Bush mode — back into a namecalling game that Chávez can win. A potentially great ambassador is blocked, our policy is in disarray, and the region shakes its head in disbelief.

    Once again, the exiles and their surrogates hand Chávez a victory and hand us another loss.

  • 6 india blanca // Aug 18, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Bettina are you sure you READ Seneca’s piece?
    Your diatribe full of clichés totally misses the essence of his post. Might it be that you are too blind to appreciate the concept expounded on by Machiavelli about the inherent danger of allowing exiles dictate the host country’s foreign or domestic policy because you have been part of such efforts i.e. your tenure as legislative assistance of a Florida Cuban American soon to be ex congressman.
    You accusatory tone is indicative of the fact that you are not familiar with the blogger who writes under the pen name Seneca. By the way, are you familiar with who Seneca was or Machiavelli for that matter? But the more egregious nature of your post is your manipulation of Seneca’s words or could it be you are just ignorant?
    You stated:
    “In her post she also points to “right-wing exiles” infiltrating the political process and getting jobs in Congress. (Gasp! Someone felt passionate enough about American politics they decided to get involved and work in the field.) Agree or not agree with what happened, I think it is a positive thing to have more Latinos working on the Hill.”
    The congressional staffer referred to in Seneca’s piece WAS NOT one of the exiles…you MUST read before you can engage in constructive criticism. What Seneca said was “They were able to persuade, convince or enlist a key Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee Staffer working for the Minority Ranking Member.”
    What you failed to notice is that Seneca was not insulting the exiles, on the other hand, he gave them credit for their successful manipulation of our politics… nor did Seneca blast their right to lobby or influence, or their dedication to their cause…Seneca’s point was that a host country and its leaders must be aware of the risk involved in allowing exiles to impact on national policy for it might result in injury to the host country. In other words the allegiance of the exiles is to their cause and not necessarily to the Host country’s best interest….got it???
    If you would have taken the time to read Seneca’s multiple postings you would have learned that Seneca advocates for political involvement and effective leadership, that he speaks of Cesar Chavez with great respect, that he understands the tragic plight of the Braseros…in other words if instead of launching your glandular attack of Seneca’s post you would have researched his ideas you would have realized that you are totally off the mark. He was not speaking of an immigrant’s right to become a citizen, to engage in our political process, to vote, to run for office.. But then again you might not be able to help yourself when it comes to keeping an open mind. There is something to be said about DNA which is beyond our control. I am sure no one ever praised you for your objectivity, especially since your dossier underscores your ability to market political figures. Perhaps that is why you decided to leave out the fact that Seneca also refers to two historic Mexican exile groups who also attempted to exert pressure on US policy, one from the left and one from the right; choosing only to mention Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. The goal is not to seek out the truth but to muddle the facts so that it fits the argument no matter what; except this time you looked rather foolish.

  • 7 Anna // Aug 19, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Re: “the allegiance of the exiles is to their cause and not necessarily to the Host country’s best interest…”

    Actually she does get it. She just disagrees, stating that “history has proven the blogger wrong.”

    Sorry, but I don’t see how organizing to vote and participating in the political process is “devious” or “Machiavellian.” The Cuban exiles settled in a swing state? Come on…

    Instead of fostering resentment towards exiles from Cuba and South America, please focus on our own problems which are getting worse.

    What do you think will happen if weak Obama has a GOP Congress?

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