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As the Americas — and Americans — fall for Putin, it's time for dark Disney diplomacy

AMERICAS DARLING Russian leader Vladimir Putin with (top) then U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki in 2018; (bottom left) Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Moscow this month; and Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro in Moscow in 2013.
Pablo Martinez (top)
AMERICAS DARLING Russian leader Vladimir Putin with (top) then U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki in 2018; (bottom left) Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Moscow this month; and Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro in Moscow in 2013.

COMMENTARY: Disney movies helped turn Latin Americans away from Hitler. Darker versions of those flicks could turn them, and Americans, against Putin.

In her fascinating book “The Tango War,” Mary Jo McConahay lays out how America got the Americas on its side in World War II. It’s worth opening up this week because it raises an urgent if updated question: how do we get not only the Americas but much of America turned against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin?

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McConahay writes that it took some real tugging to pull Latin America and the Caribbean — and the region’s vital natural resources and shipping lanes — into the Allied camp against Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini. Quite a few of the hemisphere’s leaders back then, especially dictators like Brazil’s Getúlio Vargas, fancied fascism. They moved more to the Third Reich’s tyrannical goose-stepping than to the New Deal’s democratic jitter-bugging.

Does that remind you at all of anything going on south of the U.S. today? Like, say, the gushing bromance so many democracy-defiling honchos in Latin America have going on with Czar Vladimir the Terrible? From left-wing thugs like Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro to right-wing thugs like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, they’re holding hands with Putin right now as he invades Ukraine — calling him a “peacemaker” instead of the medieval secret-police thug he is.

READ MORE: China and Russia don't need 'sharp power' in Latin America. they've got Donald Trump

Like Cuba, they’re happy to usher Russia’s anti-democratic mojo into the Americas — because having the U.S.’s liberalism planted next door is as much a threat to their iron-fisted idea of how to run a country as Ukraine’s westernization is to Putin’s.

But these days there’s a sorrowful new wrinkle to the hemispheric drama McConahay recounts. When we talk this time about the New World revering Old World ogres, we have to include a sizable portion of Americans — norteamericanos. Starting with the norteamericano who sat in the White House from 2017 to 2021 and could be seated there again in 2025.

Revising Disney's "Three Caballeros" might scare kids — but it might scare enough Latin Americans and Republicans into making New World democracy more popular than Old World despots.

Everyone of course knows right-wing Donald Trump adores Putin — for the same reasons left-wingers like Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega do. Autocratic bullies are drawn to each other like larcenous soulmates on dating sites. But in February, Trump has taken his unhinged Putin passion to the next, be-my-Valentine level. This week he joined Mad Maduro and company in praising the Moscow Monster’s Ukraine blitz.

“That’s genius,” Trump told a conservative talk radio show. “Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine … as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper … We could use that on our southern border … Here’s a guy who’s very savvy.”


Knowing that’s how their beloved MAGA Monster feels, MAGA mouthpieces like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson have also come out swinging for Putin — and you can bet a good chunk of the 74 MAGA million folks who voted for Trump in 2020 are too. After all, recent polls showed Putin is more popular among Republicans than President Biden is.

So if even a big part of the U.S. is in Putin’s thrall, who’s left to nudge the Americas away from Putin? Canada? Nope, Ottawa’s got the MAGA-inspired taking over its own streets. Instead, McConahay’s book makes me think of … Disney.

Panchito Pistoles introduction + Three Caballeros song [The Three Caballeros] (1944)

One of the most effective propaganda tools Washington had in Latin America during World War II were animated Disney flicks like “The Three Caballeros.” They featured Donald Duck (the U.S.), the parrot José Carioca (Brazil) and the rooster Panchito Pistoles (Mexico) selling the hemisphere the illusion that it was a team of nations and peoples.

I’d suggest a dark tweak of that concept to confront the Putin problem. Change the title to “The Three Secuaces” — The Three Stooges. Donald Duck is Trump; change the parrot’s name to Jair Carioca and the rooster’s to Panchito Pistolópez for leftist Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, another authoritarian Putin admirer.

Have them taking advice, if not orders, from Zmeya Vladimir (Snake Vladimir) on how to finish burning down their countries’ democracies and those of their neighbors (with a Jair Carioca subplot on how to burn down the Amazon rainforest). Screen it in theaters from the Yukon to Patagonia. Add a catchy Disney calypso tune, like “Under the Kremlin.”

Sure, it’ll scare the kids. But more importantly, maybe it’ll scare enough adult Brazilians, Venezuelans and U.S. Republicans into once again making New World principles more popular than Old World Putins.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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