Neither Democrat nor Republican will give Latin America a moment of peace.
U.S. imperialism tries to rebound in Latin America
What is the U.S. government’s basic strategy towards Latin America? It is said by some pundits that George W. Bush “ignored” Latin America, and that with Obama’s presidency, there would be a more “hands-on” approach.
This abstract characterization does nothing to clarify U.S. policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean, a vast region of more than 580 million people.
While Washington’s political and military tactics have varied, its objectives in the region today are essentially unchanged: economic domination. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Washington installed and armed military dictatorships and regimes in Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay and Haiti. It fueled genocidal proxy wars to crush insurgent popular movements in Central America, as well as Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in the 1980s. The U.S. military directly intervened in Panama and Grenada, and Cuba continues to be punished with a severe blockade and the occupation of part of its national territory, Guantánamo Bay.
The military and fascist repression of previous decades eventually gave way to elections and civilian governments, but only the form of domination changed. Under a more “democratic” façade of government, the new leaders signed onto free-trade programs, allowing U.S. capital to dictate terms and dominate national economies like Mexico and Argentina. With rising overproduction of U.S. commodities and the never-ending drive for expansion, U.S. multinational corporations and banks used Latin America as an outlet for their “surplus” production and capital.
For Mexico, the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement was the major turning point. Mexican farmers, in mostly small-scale production, could not compete with highly subsidized and mechanized U.S. agribusiness. Mexican agriculture collapsed and over 6 million workers and farmers were forced for their survival to leave their country for the United States.
A historic rejection of Washington’s rule
An inspiring new development—the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (or ALBA)—arose in Latin America in the mid-2000s. Unprecedented in the continent’s history, a successful alliance of Latin American and Caribbean countries started to deliver real advances for their people through cooperation and solidarity.
It began with Cuba and Venezuela signing a pact known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas in 2004. In the following years, Bolivia joined ALBA in 2006 after Evo Morales’ election the previous year, Nicaragua joined in 2007 after Daniel Ortega became president and Ecuador joined under Rafael Correa’s presidency in 2009. Caribbean members have also joined: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Hugo Chávez ‘buries’ free trade
In a famous episode in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in November 2005, Hugo Chávez spoke to tens of thousands of Latin American activists in an outdoor stadium at the conclusion of a massive “People’s Summit.” The People’s Summit was organized to protest the U.S.-led “Summit of the Americas” in the same city. There, George W. Bush headed the U.S. delegation and tried to pressure other member states to accept the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
It was clear the FTAA would fail. Too many countries had been ravaged by already-existing free trade, and growing movements had re-awakened in resistance, inspired by Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolutionary process and by Cuba’s determined survival.
At the People’s rally, Chávez waved a shovel above his head and the crowd cheered as he said, “We have come here to bury the FTAA!” He announced a groundbreaking economic pact with Argentina, beginning with the very first oil shipments ever delivered to Buenos Aires by Venezuela. Chávez then spoke of ALBA’s Petro-Caribe accord with 14 Caribbean nations, essentially offering oil for barter.
In Mar del Plata, George W. Bush refused to back Argentine President Nestor Kirchner’s request for support in that country’s impending debt renegotiation with the World Bank. This was punishment for Argentina for openly rejecting the FTAA and improving relations with Cuba, a reversal of the open hostility displayed by previous administrations.
As a harbinger of what ALBA could mean for the peoples of the continent, Venezuela stepped in and helped eliminate Argentina’s billion-dollar debt.
Today, U.S. imperialism is less able to impose its will on a growing number of countries, in particular those states in the ALBA alliance.
U.S. role evident in Latin America reversals
On May 20, 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama gave a major “Latin America speech” that included a veiled threat to Venezuela and ALBA. Having chosen to give the speech in Miami, he strongly condemned Cuba and promised to maintain the blockade. Obama then warned of “demagogues like Chávez” who had “stepped into this vacuum” left by the discredited Latin American establishment, cautioning that this new trend had “made inroads from Bolivia to Nicaragua.” The speech denied the social advances of these countries, calling them mere “false promises.”
Only six months into Obama’s presidency, in June 2009, the Honduran military seized democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya and expelled him from the country. Honduras had just joined ALBA, and Zelaya, who came from a moderate ruling-class party, began to adopt a more progressive stance. In a sharp shift from his past politics, for instance, he supported a popular drive for a constitutional assembly. New constitutions had already been adopted under the administrations of Chávez, Morales and Correa; while not socialist, these offered more opportunities for the government and the people to challenge the rule of the oligarchy and foreign capital.
Both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to condemn or even characterize the military coup as such. Later, the U.S. government offered recognition to the 2010 sham election of Porfirio Lobo. Honduras is now solidly back in the U.S. sphere of influence and is no longer part of ALBA. There has been a dramatic rise in political repression and murders of opposition leaders, women, journalists and LGBT activists.
Then, in June of this year, Paraguay’s democratically elected President Fernando Lugo was deposed without due process in a lightning-speed impeachment. His illegal removal means that the huge agribusiness operations of Monsanto and Cargill, which own enormous tracts of land for gigantic transgenic soy and corn production, can go on unimpeded.
In 2008, the Pentagon, with no notice to or consultation with any Latin American governments, reactivated the Fourth Fleet, which had been deactivated 58 years earlier. They claimed the purpose of the Fourth Fleet was to promote peace, but the real aim was clear: to bully and threaten a Latin America breaking free of their control.
Whether the president is a Democrat or Republican, U.S. imperialism will not give the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean a moment of peace. A vast array of diplomats, generals, think tanks and corporations are working day and night, in coordination with their ruling-class friends across the region, to undermine and reverse the left-wing tide. Inside the belly of the beast, the Party for Socialism and Liberation is working to expose these efforts, and stands in solidarity with the people’s resistance and unfolding revolutions of the new Latin America.