Obama and Latin America: Will policy go beyond small changes?

The Obama administration has reached, but has not yet taken advantage of, a “teachable moment” (to use one of Obama’s own favorite phrases) in U.S. relations with Latin America.

On the positive side, it pointedly refrained from interfering in the Salvadoran elections in March (breaking with a heavy handed practice of the Bush crowd), and agreed to dismantle the U.S. base in Manta, Ecuador. Obama’s initial strong statement against the Honduras coup was also a sign of change. One can only imagine what John McCain, had he been elected president, would now be doing in Honduras.

But these are small-scale advances, and there are still many sources of concern.

The Obama administration has canceled some aid to Honduras, but as far as we know the U.S. military is still coordinating with the Honduran armed forces via the Soto Cano military base and the training of Honduran officers at the School of the Americas. And the cancellation of visas of coup leader Micheletti and others is mostly symbolic, as those were special diplomatic visas; evidently at least some of these individuals also have regular visas with which they can still visit the U.S.A.

Thus, the Obama administration’s move only goes a small way toward complying with Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s urgent request that these people’s U.S. visas be canceled and U.S. bank accounts frozen. No wonder most of the Latin American left does not trust the Obama administration’s intentions in Honduras, and believes that the U.S. has promoted mediation by Costa Rican President Arias as maneuver to buy time for the coup regime to institutionalize itself.

Now the Obama administration has signed an agreement to greatly increase the U.S. military presence in Colombia, setting up 5 or more U.S. bases in that strife-torn country, with 10-year leases. Never mind that previously, Obama had opposed signing a free trade agreement with Colombia because of the savage violence to which the right-wing Colombian regime repressed labor union leaders. Never mind that it has been revealed that the Colombian military has been murdering innocent young people and then presenting their corpses as evidence of victories over the FARC guerrillas. Never mind that Colombia is engaged in a campaign of destabilization against its neighbors, Venezuela and Ecuador. Never mind that if ever there was a narco-state, it is Colombia under Alvaro Uribe. Never mind that the bases in Colombia are, quite reasonably, seen as a threat by Colombia’s neighbors, Venezuela and Ecuador.

The U.S. administration evidently still needs to learn the following lessons from the Latin American turmoil:

*The United States is not the arbiter of the destinies of Latin America’s peoples. The Monroe Doctrine, with which the United States first asserted this arrogant claim, has always been indignantly repudiated by the peoples of Latin America. It has been one of the most pernicious foreign policy doctrines in our whole history, being used as the pretext for dozens of U.S. military interventions (open or through local proxies) in which hundreds of thousands have died in dozens of Latin American countries. Now, thanks to the victories gained by the peoples of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba and more to come, the Monroe Doctrine may be coming to its well-deserved end.

*The peoples of Latin American – and the world – do not want to be subjected to the “Washington Consensus” of rigged trade relations falsely called “free trade”, privatization of their public resources and the resulting deprivation and suffering. They are resisting these things, and will continue to resist, country by country and via the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of America (ALBA), a very promising economic and political bloc that includes Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and, until the coup, Honduras. The United States is going to have to adjust itself to this reality. The Bush administration and its predecessors could not, and resorted to methods ranging from economic blackmail to terrorism to keep Latin America down. We hope that Obama has the intelligence and flexibility to learn the lessons, and to radically change the policies.

*By consigning the Monroe Doctrine and the Washington Consensus to the trash-heap of history, the Obama administration will in no way be harming the interests of U.S. workers. On the contrary, it will be breaking up one of the favorite games of the monopolistic corporations, namely to play U.S. workers off against those of other countries, to the detriment of both.

Let us help with the teaching in this teachable moment.