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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Beatrice Rangel: The Pope's Difficult Stopover in the Americas
Former Presidential Chief of Staff Beatrice Rangel explains the work that the Pope has to do on his trip to Cuba and Mexico.

By Beatrice E. Rangel

Pope Francis arrived in Mexico with a bag full of dilemmas.

On the top of his list is how to manage systemic criticism without opening the flood gates to crime leaders or staunch populism à la Lopez Obrador.

Second on the agenda, of course, is Cuba closely followed by Venezuela.

Those who are privileged to be received in private audiences have detected some papal concern with both countries given that neither seems to be moving in the direction of stability and progress.

But having one of his predecessors as the author of the Latin American political divide (Pope Alexander VI and his Inter caetera)), His Holiness knows the limits to Latin American cooperation or integration drives.

Cooperation materializes when fighting the U.S. is on the agenda; integration, when the region decides to seal off competition from other countries or a tragedy erupts.

Today, the U.S. is all but invisible in the region and FDI has redrawn the regional economic map to let many foreign players set-up shop in the leading economies. Only drama seems to be left in the cards to play.

Cubans will highly price face-saving therefore freezing internal change until a solemn state funeral can be held for Fidel.

The Venezuelans, for their part, do not know any other way to conduct business than bullying. A humanitarian drama seems to be looming on both countries horizons. Could Latin American intervention prevent such a outcome?

Havana was the setting for a stopover to meet the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill.

The centuries old schism from 1054 could be bridged by working together under the Vatican call for the year of mercy.

Such a move could ease tensions in the Eastern world beginning in Ukraine and entering the Middle East where a concerted response to the refugee crisis is about to be articulated under the leadership of the Red Cross.

And as Russia and the U.S. announced that they would hold a cease fire in Syria, the Havana stopover makes geopolitical sense.

The crises posed by refugees to European nations needs to be addressed immediately and with the widest coalition possible. Eastern and Western Christianity need to be together on this.

But the real reason for the Pope's second visit to Havana in 5 months called for more discretion.

As the law of gravity pulls the economic dimension of Venezuela's reality, social tensions rise and the much feared humanitarian crisis seems to begin to unfold.

These developments have placed a wake-up call upon the leading influencers in the hemisphere.

From the US perspective, this crisis could not have come at a worst time.

The Obama administration in spite of its composure and elegant demeanor is lame ducking. Antiestablishment sentiment and frustration with inequality among the lower income population has set into the electoral battle pushing the electorate towards bold and untried formulas that remind us of Latin America's never ending search for a political Messiah.

Cuba is about to drown in the ocean of despair. General Castro for the first time in his life -- in the solitude of his political labyrinth -- seems paralyzed by fear.

Venezuela has effectively suspended oil deliveries for about a month; FDI is elusive under the mountains of red tape created to keep power in the hands of the nomenclature once the embargo fades away and people are beginning to show their discontent under the spotlight of the world media that have settled into Marti's nation since December the 17th, 2014.

General Castro knows he cannot even dream of launching the same policy approach that successfully suppressed dissent in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. He lacks the manpower to execute it, as most have either died or vanished as victims of a purge and world media are in Havana.

His brother is still alive and in his brief periods of consciousness brags about the successful resilience of Cuba to the world ocean of change.

After having kept a U.S. missile for weeks in the hope that the Obama Administration would give in to Cuba's demands of economic compensation for the embargo, General Castro now knows that President Obama lacks cold feet when it comes to national security.

The only weapon he has left is his own people. Opening the doors to migration could bring havoc to the hemisphere. But this could boomerang back it seems to be the case with the first inflow of Cuban migrants to Central America last year.

And in Venezuela another human bomb is about to explode.

Without foreign exchange to buy naphtha which is the essential ingredient to mix with oil so that it can be poured into a tanker, the country is failing to meet oil export deadlines.

Having to import about 98% of consumption, food, medicines, electricity and gasoline are scarce and will soon become nonexistent.

The ruling elite is a card carrying member of Fidel's economic school.

Soon people will begin an exodus to Colombia, the Caribbean Islands and to a lesser extent to Brazil. The wave of people bracing for survival could reach 2 million souls.

This is what is prompting the Vatican to intervene in the Caribbean conundrum.

Having the duo Castro-Chavez strenuously work to polarize the region, today there is not a single honest broker in the whole hemisphere except for Canada that lacks the appetite to play the role.

The Vatican, on the contrary, led for the first time by a Latin American who has lived the tragedy of dictatorship and who understands the political repercussions of polarization and inequality, is the right player for this drama.

And the solution it is seeking has the virtue of transcending the short term to plant the seeds of solid institutional development in two countries that have never truly known the meaning of rule of law.

His holiness understands the consequences of absence of rule of law, as he comes from an organization that was about to claim victory for development in Paraguay in the 18th century when it was abusively expropriated and exiled from South America by a despotic Spanish Crown.

He has worked all his life to set the foundations for a development model that goes beyond observance of human rights to educate people on the significance of value creation. This vision should be closer to the mind of Michael Porter as it perfectly resembles the vision of Benedict the XVI's encyclical "In caritas veritate."

The Cuba stopover infused the Pope with energies to begin his Mexican trip where internal dilemmas demand a response by the Catholic Church.

Mexican society is undergoing what the Spaniards called “el destape” in the aftermath of Franco’s death. This entails citizen’s participation in every instance of government with a critical eye.

Democratic revival is palpable in the growing number of NGOs and in the unending flow of criticism of authorities carried by newspaper columns, tweets and social networks.

Tensions build up as mobilization fails to promote change in government policies. Frustration materializes and violence seems to be the only escape valve, as the frustration is exploited both by organized crime as well as anarchistic movements to undermine authority.

Inequality is yet another dilemma affecting a country that has consistently reduced poverty over the last 30 years. The poor will certainly expect support from the Pope of their plight. But can this be done at times when fiscal balances are at bay?

Finally, there is migration to the U.S. and from Central America.

These two waves of human beings who place their lives in jeopardy to reach the U.S. for a better life have been hijacked by organized crime that exploits them in multiple ways. Just to have the right to stride through “secure tracks,” most migrants have to pay the equivalent of four years of salary.

Women are consistently raped and forced into prostitution. Children are killed to sell their organs for transplants.

The Pope’s visit to the border with the U.S. will certainly be the perfect setting to reflect on the ways to bring this tragedy to an end. But all these dilemmas need to be treated with caution and long term vision so that they are resolved without imperiling the progress made by Mexico in terms of democracy and progress.

Mr. Trump should attend the service. He would perhaps understand how important it is for the U.S. to liberate Mexico from the migrant drama.

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.

You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.

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