Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ongoing American Interference in Latin America

It may have been naive to think that the United States would eventually stop meddling in the affairs of Central and South America. However, it did seem to be an obvious and logical conclusion that the will of the people in that part of the world would not be suppressed indefinitely by manipulation and violence. Unfortunately, it would appear that the horrifying spectacle of bloody civil wars and murderous dictatorships have not dampened America's appetite for undermining democratically elected governments and for supporting regimes which oppress and murder their own people.

Perhaps the world could be forgiven for thinking that America, with all her rhetoric about freedom and democracy, might be ashamed and haunted by the memory of their henchman General Augusto Pinochet and the multitudes of Chileans who were murdered by his sadistic death squads. The specter of the Pinochet years should hang like a dark and somber rain cloud, perpetually darkening the skies over Washington. His dictatorship should serve as a constant reminder of the evil and folly of American imperial designs in the Southern Hemisphere and elsewhere.

The human and economic costs of American intervention in the South can never be fully measured and it's unlikely that there will ever be an adequate reckoning for what occurred in countries like Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Chile. However, if the United States refuses to acknowledge its moral and financial debt to the region, they could at least honour and respect the inherent rights of the people there to self-determination and freedom from outside interference.Some have argued that a revolution has taken root in Latin America and that the indigenous people have begun a process of reclaiming their continent from oppressive oligarchies which selfishly hoarded the wealth and resources of these nations. Rather than engaging in a colonial style backlash, America might do well to remember its own revolutionary roots and help the people of the South cast off their chains of oppression.

Unfortunately, America is doing what it has always done in Latin America: engaging in diabolical schemes to destabilize nations, undermine governments, and support wealthy elites in their quest to retain economic control and political power.The central playgrounds for American misadventure and bad policy at present are Venezuela, Bolivia, Columbia, and Ecuador. It is in these countries that the hypocrisy and immaturity of the great United States is most evident. Its actions in these nations reveal that America is still suffering from a pathological selfishness and an obscene kind of bullying mentality. This immaturity in the American world view is exposed in its deeply rooted insecurity about anything other than the status quo. Progressive movements which advocate meaningful change, real social justice, or a new way of doing things are always met with American suspicion and hostility. Unfortunately, the results of this childish view of the world are anything but child's play. The consequences of this lack of sophistication and vision are very serious, and often ominous, for those who fall prey to it.

Just ask Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected leader of Venezuela, who was the victim of an American backed coup attempt in 2004. It was a stark reminder that America and its would be puppets just haven't grown up yet. Like the school yard bully who steals the lunch money of his class mates, America and its ideological brethren would still prefer to steal what doesn't belong to them. And they insidiously disguise their unethical and immoral behaviour under a self-righteous banner of protecting freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, the American government only supports democracy when it likes the outcome.

When it comes to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, America is forced to concede that he was democratically elected. However, they take the desperate position that he doesn't govern democratically. Evidence would suggest that the reverse is actually true. The Bush administration has distinguished itself as one of the most undemocratic governments in American history. It is a government that rules for the benefit of the few and ignores the real needs of its people. It is also one in a long line of American governments which seems determined to bring down other more democratic and representative governments. When his referendum (which included provisions to end presidential term limits) was voted down by the majority of Venezuelans, Chavez did not roll the tanks into the streets to impose a Cuban style of Government on the country. He respected the will of the people.

America's problem with Chavez is actually rooted in his ideas about social justice and equality for the largely poor and previously marginalized indigenous people of Venezuela. They are offended by his strong conviction that all Venezuelans should benefit from the country's enormous oil wealth. Hugo Chavez is quickly replacing Fidel Castro as enemy number one in the region. Is this because he is an enemy of freedom and stability in the South? Or is it because of his ideas about land reform, access to health care and education, lifting people out of poverty, and reclaiming the country's wealth and resources from the few and giving them to the many? This is simply not the American way. In America, the vast wealth and resources of a nation are not for everyone to enjoy. They are reserved for a select few that continue to gobble up more and more as if they had some divine right to control anything of value. And the American government continues to feed this insatiable monster with little or no regard for the people who need help the most. And they dare to criticize other nations and leaders who hold a different view of what freedom and justice really mean. It would be funny if it weren't so sickening.

In any case, rather than allowing the embarrassment of their failed coup attempt to direct them elsewhere, the American government has decided to step up its efforts to destabilize Venezuela and engage in traditional American gunboat diplomacy. The U.S. government recently decided to resurrect its 4th Fleet in Latin America and the Caribbean after a 60 year absence. This naval deployment was not intended to announce the dawning of a new golden age in American foreign policy. It was a show of strength that was designed to bully and intimidate the forces of change in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. The United States is clearly feeling uneasy about the wave of left wing governments being elected across Latin America and the spread of real freedom.It is clear that America wants to assert complete military domination over the region, particularly the big oil and gas producing nations like Venezuela. However, this kind of "muscle flexing" only serves to further diminish America's stature and reputation on the global stage. It tells the world that America is intent on protecting a resource that doesn't even belong to them.
Again, it is a case of the bully who self-righteously believes he has the right to steal your money simply because he is bigger and stronger than you are.

The Americans have also stepped up efforts inside Venezuela to destabilize and undermine the government of Hugo Chavez. The CIA and the State Department are very active in this effort to subvert the will of the people by toppling Chavez. It is a simple and obvious question, but it's an important one to consider: How would the American Government, and Americans in general, react if a foreign power was operating on its soil as part of an ongoing effort to bring down their government and facilitate the ascendancy of a regime that was friendly to the foreign power? The reaction would likely be swift and decisive. The response from the Government would undoubtedly be a military one and the consequences would be severe.

Next stop is Bolivia where the 2005 election of a left-wing former coca farmer in Bolivia was clearly unsettling for the US government and the wealthy elite in the country. President Evo Morales quickly introduced constitutional changes which promised to expand the political and social rights of the country’s indigenous majority. This was one of the pledges that helped Morales win a landslide victory. The response of the right wing elites has been to organize the first of three planned separatist referendums in the lowlands of Bolivia. The wealthy elite, who are heavily concentrated in this area, would like to divide the country and take the country’s large reserves of natural gas with them. The first referendum went ahead in Santa Cruz on May 4, 2008 and the illegal vote went overwhelmingly in favour of splitting the country and stealing its natural gas. There have been many credible allegations that the referendum and a larger separatist effort are being funded by the American government through organizations like USAID and the NED. President Morales has responded by subjecting himself to the will of the people once again in a recall referendum. He will be hoping for a convincing victory that will help to silence the country's increasingly vocal right-wing opposition.

Perhaps the most egregious and heinous display of American interference in Latin America has been unfolding in Columbia since the mid-1990’s. Under the watchful eye of America, successive governments in Columbia have supported or tolerated right wing death squads who have been steadily killing off labour leaders and members of leftist opposition groups. In addition, the American backed war on drugs in Columbia has involved the spraying of massive amounts of dangerous chemicals in a futile attempt to eradicate the coca plant in the country. These chemicals have damaged other legitimate crops and had negative effects on the health of people in the region. Columbia has consistently been one of the biggest recipients of American financial and military aid. The fact that they have enjoyed an atrocious human rights record during this time period has not been an issue for American administrations. The money just keeps on flowing.It should come as no surprise that more Colombian School of the Americas (SOA) graduates have been implicated in human rights abuses than SOA graduates from any other country. U.S. trained officers have also been accused of being directly or indirectly involved in many atrocities, including the Trujillo massacres, the 1997 Mapiripan massacre and the massacre at Alto Naya in 2001. Clearly the introduction of Plan Columbia has not been a welcomed gift for all Colombians.

In Ecuador, it is worth mentioning that the United States has been operating a military/air force base inside the country for almost a decade. The lease is due to expire in 2009 and the left wing president of Ecuador clearly has no intention of letting the Americans stay on. President Rafael Correa, who seems to have an appreciation for humour and irony, has stated that he would allow the Americans to continue their operations in Ecuador if the United States would consent to a reciprocal agreement which would see an Ecuadorian air base operating out of Miami, Florida. President Correa has also purged his military of its top leaders, claiming that the intelligence services had been totally infiltrated by the CIA. So far, the armed forces (which played a key role in the ouster of three Presidents in recent years) have bent to the will of the President who seems determined to stand up to the military and assert greater state control over the country’s petroleum and mining industries. Only time will tell if America will allow President Correa to force its troops out and introduce his planned reforms for the country.

So, how is Latin America responding to this long standing pattern of American interference? It would appear that a two pronged strategy is emerging to counter American influence in the region. The first has been to increase military spending and to purchase leading edge technology in order to bolster the armed forces. Military spending in Latin America has exploded in recent years to unprecedented levels. The second prong appears to be a concerted effort to coordinate deeper integration between Latin American nations. The UNASUR Constitutive Treaty was signed by 12 nations on May 23, 2008, at the Third Summit of Heads of State, held in Brasilia, Brazil. The agreement seeks to facilitate greater economic development, infrastructure development, the free movement of people, and cooperation on security matters. Throughout the years, many progressives in South America have been calling for a social, political, and economic union capable of standing up to the American empire. UNASUR is intended to be a crucial step towards the achievement of such a union. Venezuela and Brazil have also put forth a plan for a South American Defense Council which would develop shared policy and serve as a mechanism for regional defense and security. The proposal is currently under discussion by the member states.There is a widespread recognition that the time of American plundering in Latin America is over.

It's time that America herself woke up to that reality and did some long overdue growing up. America must learn how to respect the will of the people in sovereign nations and put an end to its destructive meddling. Central and South America would be a good place to begin demonstrating a more mature and sophisticated worldview in which American interests do not always take center stage at the expense of all others. Instead of being at odds with its Southern neighbours, it might actually make a few friends in the region. This would go a long way in helping to restore American credibility and integrity on the world stage.

Spencer Spratley

No comments: