Sunday, February 07, 2010

The U.S. in Latin America

The US Game In Latin America
US interference in the politics of Haiti and
Honduras is only the latest example of its
long-term manipulations in Latin America
Mark Weisbrot
The Guardian
29 January 2010

When I write about US foreign policy in places such as
Haiti or Honduras, I often get responses from people who
find it difficult to believe that the US government
would care enough about these countries to try and
control or topple their governments. These are small,
poor countries with little in the way of resources or
markets. Why should Washington policymakers care who
runs them?

Unfortunately they do care. A lot. They care enough
about Haiti to have overthrown the elected president
Jean-Bertrand Aristide not once, but twice. The first
time, in 1991, it was done covertly. We only found out
after the fact that the people who led the coup were
paid by the US Central Intelligence Agency. And then
Emmanuel Constant, the leader of the most notorious
death squad there - which killed thousands of Aristide's
supporters after the coup - told CBS News that he, too,
was funded by the CIA.

In 2004, the US involvement in the coup was much more
open. Washington led a cut-off of almost all
international aid for four years, making the
government's collapse inevitable. As the New York Times
reported, while the US state department was telling
Aristide that he had to reach an agreement with the
political opposition (funded with millions of US
taxpayers' dollars), the International Republican
Institute was telling the opposition not to settle.

In Honduras last summer and autumn, the US government
did everything it could to prevent the rest of the
hemisphere from mounting an effective political
opposition to the coup government in Honduras. For
example, they blocked the Organisation of American
States from taking the position that it would not
recognise elections that took place under the
dictatorship. At the same time, the Obama administration
publicly pretended that it was against the coup.

This was only partly successful, from a public relations
point of view. Most of the US public thinks that the
Obama administration was against the Honduran coup,
although by November of last year there were numerous
press reports and even editorial criticisms that Obama
had caved to Republican pressure and not done enough.
But this was a misreading of what actually happened: the
Republican pressure in support of the Honduran coup
changed the administration's public relations strategy,
but not its political strategy. Those who followed
events closely from the beginning could see that the
political strategy was to blunt and delay any efforts to
restore the elected president, while pretending that a
return to democracy was actually the goal.

Among those who understood this were the governments of
Latin America, including such heavyweights as Brazil.
This is important because it shows that the State
Department was willing to pay a significant political
cost in order to help the right in Honduras. It
convinced the vast majority of Latin American
governments that it was no different from the Bush
administration in its goals for the hemisphere, which is
not a pleasant outcome from a diplomatic point of view.

Why do they care so much about who runs these poor
countries? As any good chess player knows, pawns matter.
The loss of a couple of pawns at the beginning of the
game can often make a difference between a win or a
loss. They are looking at these countries mostly in
straight power terms. Governments that are in agreement
with maximising US power in the world, they like. Those
who have other goals - not necessarily antagonistic to
the United States - they don't like.

Not surprisingly, the Obama administration's closest
allies in the hemisphere are rightwing governments such
as those of Colombia or Panama, even though Obama
himself is not a rightwing politician. This highlights
the continuity of the politics of control. The victory
of the right in Chile, the first time that it has won an
election in half a century, was a significant victory
for the US government. If Lula de Silva's Workers' party
were to lose the presidential election in Brazil this
autumn, that would be another win for the state
department. While US officials under both Bush and Obama
have maintained a friendly posture toward Brazil, it is
obvious that they deeply resent the changes in Brazilian
foreign policy that have allied it with other social
democratic governments in the hemisphere, and its
independent foreign policy stances with regard to the
Middle East, Iran, and elsewhere.

The US actually intervened in Brazilian politics as
recently as 2005, organising a conference to promote a
legal change that would make it more difficult for
legislators to switch parties. This would have
strengthened the opposition to Lula's Workers' party
(PT) government, since the PT has party discipline but
many opposition politicians do not. This intervention by
the US government was only discovered last year through
a Freedom of Information Act request filed in
Washington. There are many other interventions taking
place throughout the hemisphere that we do not know
about. The United States has been heavily involved in
Chilean politics since the 1960s, long before they
organised the overthrow of Chilean democracy in 1973.

In October 1970, President Richard Nixon was cursing in
the Oval Office about the Social Democratic president of
Chile, Salvador Allende. "That son of a bitch!" said
Richard Nixon on 15 October. "That son of a bitch
Allende - we're going to smash him." A few weeks later
he explained why:

The main concern in Chile is that [Allende] can
consolidate himself, and the picture projected to the
world will be his success ... If we let the potential
leaders in South America think they can move like Chile
and have it both ways, we will be in trouble.

That is another reason that pawns matter, and Nixon's
nightmare did in fact come true a quarter-century later,
as one country after another elected independent left
governments that Washington did not want. The United
States ended up "losing" most of the region. But they
are trying to get it back, one country at a time. The
smaller, poorer countries that are closer to the United
States are the most at risk. Honduras and Haiti will
have democratic elections some day, but only when
Washington's influence over their politics is further


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