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Why Washington Cares About Countries Like Haiti and Honduras February 3, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Haiti, Honduras.
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Published on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

US interference in the politics of Haiti and Honduras is only the latest example of its long-term manipulations in Latin America

by Mark Weisbrot

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 reduced.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.

Observations on Latin America August 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Mexico, Right Wing, Venezuela.
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Published on Saturday, August 8, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Miguel Tinker Salas

The recent events in Honduras are not isolated, but rather part of a conservative counterattack taking shape in Latin America. For some time, the right has been rebuilding in Latin America; hosting conferences, sharing experiences, refining their message, working with the media, and building ties with allies in the United States. This is not the lunatic rightwing fringe, but rather the mainstream right with powerful allies in the middle class that used to consider themselves center, but have been frightened by recent left electoral victories and the rise of social movements. With Obama in the White House and Clinton in the State Department they have now decided to act. Bush/Cheney and company did not give them any coverage and had become of little use to them. A “liberal” in the White House gives conservative forces the kind of coverage they had hoped for. It is no coincidence that Venezuelan opposition commentators applauded the naming of Clinton to the State Department, claiming that they now had an ally in the administration. The old cold-warrior axiom that the best antidote against the left is a liberal government in Washington gains new meaning under Obama with Clinton at the State Department.

Coup leaders in Honduras and their allies continue to play for time. Washington’s continuing vacillation is allowing them to exhaust this option, but so are right-wing governments in Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru. After all, this coup is not just about Honduras but also about leftwing success in Latin America, of which Honduras was the weakest link. It is increasingly becoming obvious that there is no scenario under which elites in Honduras will accept Zelaya back. I do not think that they have a plan “B” on this matter and this speaks to the kind of advice they are getting from forces in the U.S. and the region. If Zelaya comes back, the Supreme Court, the Congress, the military and the church all lose credibility and it opens the door for the social and political movements in Honduras to push for radical change that conservative forces would find more difficult to resist.

But Honduras is only part of the equation. Colombia’s decision to accept as many as 7 new U.S. military bases (3 airbases, including Palanquero, 2 army bases, and 2 naval bases one on the Pacific and one on the Caribbean), dramatically expands the U.S. military’s role in the country and throughout the region. The Pentagon has been eyeing the airbase at Palanquero with its complex infrastructure and extensive runway for some time. This is a very troubling sign that will alter the balance of forces in the region, and speaks volumes about how the Obama administration plans to respond to change in Latin America. A possible base on the Caribbean coast of Colombia would also offer the recently reactivated U.S. Fourth Fleet, a convenient harbor on the South American mainland. In short, Venezuela would be literally encircled. However, Venezuela is not the only objective. It also places the Brazilian Amazon and all its resources within striking distance of the U.S. military, as well as the much sought after Guarani watershed. After public criticism from Bachelet of Chile, Lula of Brazil and Chávez of Venezuela, Uribe refused to attend the August 10 meeting of UNASUR, the South American Union, where he would be expected to explain the presence of the U.S. bases. The meeting of the UNASUR security council was scheduled to take up the issue of the bases and Bolivia’s suggestion for a unified South American response to drug trafficking. Instead, Uribe has launched his own personal diplomacy traveling to 7 different countries in the region to explain his actions. In addition, Obama’s National Security Advisor James Jones is in Brazil trying to justify the U.S. position on the bases.

The recent media war launched by Uribe against Ecuador and Correa, once again claiming financing of the FARC, and the more recent offensive against Venezuela concerning 30 year old Swedish missiles, that, like the Reyes computers, cannot be independently verified, have filled the airwaves in Venezuela, Colombia and the region. The current Colombian media campaign was preceded by Washington’s own efforts to condemn Venezuela for supposed non-compliance in the war against drug trafficking. In addition, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also traveled throughout Latin America in July claiming that Venezuela is a destabilizing force in the region and in the Middle East.

Lost in all this is the fact that Uribe is still considering a third term in office and his party has indicated it will push for a constitutional reform. So conflicts with Ecuador and Venezuela serve to silence critics in Colombia and keep Uribe’s electoral competitors at bay. All we need now is for Uribe to ask the Interpol to verify the missiles’ origins and Interpol director Ron Noble to give another press conference in Bogota. Déjà vu all over again!

The right and its allies in the U.S. are also emboldened by the electoral victory in Panama and the very real prospects of leftist defeats this year in Chile and even Uruguay. Obviously they are also encouraged by the humiliating defeat of the Fernández / Kirchners in Argentina. These developments could begin to redraw the political map of the region. Correa of Ecuador has already expressed concern about being the target of a coup and Bolivia will undoubtedly come under intense pressure as they are also preparing for an election later this year.

All this is occurring with an increased U.S. military commitment in Mexico with Plan Mérida which seeks to build on the lessons of Colombia: maintain in power a president whose economic and social policies are highly unpopular, but who relies on conflict, in this case the so-called war on the drug cartels, to maintain popularity. Parts of Mexico are literally under siege, including Michoacán, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana. The backdrop for this is a divided left; the PRD was the biggest loser in recent midterm elections, and social movements remains localized and unable to mount a national challenge.

None of these developments are forgone conclusions, but they nonetheless speak to the fact that conservative forces in Latin America and their allies in the U.S. are mounting a concerted counter offensive that could increase the potential for conflict in the region.  

Miguel Tinker Salas is professor of History, Latin American and Chicano/a Studies at Pomona College. He is the author of several books including In the Shadow of Eagles, Sonora and the Transformation of the Border during the Porfiriato by the University of California Press. The book has been translated and is being published in Mexico by the Fondo de Cultura Económica. In addition, he also has published articles on transnational migration, ethnic identity and labor matters in Latin America. His current research examines the interconnection between politics, culture and oil in Venezuela. With Steve Ellner he co-edited, Venezuela, Hugo Chávez and the Decline of an Exceptional Democracy published by Rowman and Littlefield. On the eve of the Mexican Presidential election he co-edited with Jan Rus, The Mexican Presidency, Neoliberalism, Social Movements and Electoral Politics (Latin American Perspectives) which appeared in both English and Spanish (Porrua and Universidad de Zacatecas). His new book, The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela, was published by Duke University Press in May of 2009.

Fluent in both Spanish and English, Professor Miguel Tinker Salas is often asked by the national and international media to provide analysis on political issues confronting Mexico, Venezuela, and Latin America. He has been interviewed by CNN, CNN Spanish, ESPN, the PBS New Hour, the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Univisión, Telemundo, and many other radio, television and print media outlets. His expertise includes: US-Latin American Relations, contemporary Venezuelan politics, oil policy, Mexican Politics, Mexican border issues, Immigration, and Latinos/as in the United States. He is often asked to speak on college campuses and community events on the important issue facing Latin America and Latinos/as in the US.

Venezuela, an imaginary threat February 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Venezuela.
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guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 18 February 2009

Obama is maintaining a hostile policy towards Hugo Chávez – which will cost the US friendships elsewhere in Latin America

US-Latin American relations fell to record lows during the George Bush years, and there have been hopes – both north and south of the border – that President Barack Obama will bring a fresh approach. So far, however, most signals are pointing to continuity rather than change.

Obama started off with an unprovoked verbal assault on Venezuela. In an interview broadcast by the Spanish-language television station Univision on the Sunday before his inauguration, he accused Hugo Chávez of having “impeded progress in the region” and “exporting terrorist activities”.

These remarks were unusually hostile and threatening even by the previous administration’s standards. They are also untrue and diametrically opposed to the way the rest of the region sees Venezuela. The charge that Venezuela is “exporting terrorism” would not pass the laugh test among almost any government in Latin America.

José Miguel Insulza, the Chilean president of the Organisation of American States, was speaking for almost all the countries in the hemisphere when he told the US Congress last year that “there is no evidence” and that no member country, including the US, had offered “any such proof” that Venezuela supported terrorist groups.

Nor do the other Latin American democracies see Venezuela as an obstacle to progress in the region. On the contrary, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, along with several other presidents in South America, has repeatedly defended Chávez and his role in the region. Just a few days after Obama denounced Venezuela, Lula was in Venezuela’s southern state of Zulia, where he emphasised his strategic partnership with Chávez and their common efforts at regional economic integration.

Obama’s statement was no accident. Whoever fed him these lines very likely intended to send a message to the Venezuelan electorate before last Sunday’s referendum that Venezuela won’t have decent relations with the US so long as Chávez is their elected president. (Voters decided to remove term limits for elected officials, paving the way for Chávez to run again in 2013.)

There is definitely at least a faction of the Obama administration that wants to continue the Bush policies. James Steinberg, number two to Hillary Clinton in the state department, took a gratuitous swipe at Bolivia and Venezuela during his confirmation process, saying that the US should provide a “counterweight to governments like those currently in power in Venezuela and Bolivia which pursue policies which do not serve the interests of their people or the region.”

Another sign of continuity is that Obama has not yet replaced Bush’s top state department official for the western hemisphere, Thomas Shannon.

The US media plays the role of enabler in this situation. Thus the Associated Press ignores the attacks from Washington and portrays Chávez’s response as nothing more than an electoral ploy on his part. In fact, Chávez had been uncharacteristically restrained. He did not respond to attacks throughout the long US presidential campaign, even when Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden called him a “dictator” or Obama described him as “despotic” – labels that no serious political scientist anywhere would accept for a democratically elected president of a country where the opposition dominates the media. He wrote it off as the influence of South Florida on US presidential elections.

But there are few if any presidents in the world that would take repeated verbal abuse from another government without responding. Obama’s advisers know that no matter what this administration does to Venezuela, the press will portray Chávez as the aggressor. So it’s an easy, if cynical, political calculation for them to poison relations from the outset. What they have not yet realised is that by doing so they are alienating the majority of the region.

There is still hope for change in US foreign policy toward Latin America, which has become thoroughly discredited on everything from the war on drugs to the Cuba embargo to trade policy. But as during the Bush years, we will need relentless pressure from the south. Last September the Union of South American Nations strongly backed Bolivia’s government against opposition violence and destabilisation. This was very successful in countering Washington’s tacit support for the more extremist elements of Bolivia’s opposition. It showed the Bush administration that the region was not going to tolerate any attempts to legitimise an extra-legal opposition in Bolivia or to grant it special rights outside of the democratic political process.

Several presidents, including Lula, have called upon Obama to lift the embargo on Cuba, as they congratulated him on his victory. Lula also asked Obama to meet with Chávez. Hopefully these governments will continue to assert – repeatedly, publicly and with one voice – that Washington’s problems with Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela are Washington’s problems, and not the result of anything that those governments have done. When the Obama team is convinced that a “divide and conquer” approach to the region will fail just as miserably for this administration as it did for the previous one, then we may see the beginnings of a new policy toward Latin America.

Bush Excluded by Latin Summit as China, Russia Loom December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Latin America.
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www.bloomberg.com

December 17, 2008

By Joshua Goodman

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) — Latin American and Caribbean leaders gathering in Brazil tomorrow will mark a historic occasion: a region-wide summit that excludes the United States.

Almost two centuries after President James Monroe declared Latin America a U.S. sphere of influence, the region is breaking away. From socialist-leaning Venezuela to market-friendly Brazil, governments are expanding military, economic and diplomatic ties with potential U.S. adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran.

“Monroe certainly would be rolling over in his grave,” says Julia Sweig, director of the Latin America program at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington and author of the 2006 book “Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century.”

The U.S., she says, “is no longer the exclusive go-to power in the region, especially in South America, where U.S. economic ties are much less important.”

Since November, Russian warships have engaged in joint naval exercises with Venezuela, the first in the Caribbean since the Cold War; Chinese President Hu Jintao signed a free-trade agreement with Peru; and Brazil invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a state visit.

“While the U.S. remains aloof from a region it no longer sees as relevant to its strategic interests, other countries are making unprecedented, serious moves to fill the void,” says Luiz Felipe Lampreia, Brazil’s foreign minister from 1995 until 2001. “Countries in the region are more aware than ever that they live in a globalized, post-American world.”

A Castro Triumph

The two-day gathering, called by Brazil at a beach resort in Bahia state, is also a diplomatic triumph for Cuban President Raul Castro, making his first trip abroad since taking over from his brother Fidel two years ago. The communist island was suspended from the hemisphere-wide Organization of American States in 1962 over its ties with the former Soviet Union.

“A lot of this is designed to stick it in the eye of the U.S.,” says Peter Romero, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere from 1999 to 2001. “But underlying the bluster, there’s a genuine effort to exploit the gap left by a distant and distracted U.S.”

The effort is most evident in the bloc of countries allied with the anti-American president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

Bolivian President Evo Morales last month expelled the Drug Enforcement Administration, alleging that DEA agents were conspiring to overthrow him; U.S. President George W. Bush dismissed the charges as absurd and suspended trade privileges for the Andean nation.

Drug-War Defeat

In Ecuador, meanwhile, President Rafael Correa has refused to renew the lease on the U.S.’s only military outpost in South America, a critical platform for the U.S. war on drugs.

For Brazil, tomorrow’s summit caps a decade-long diplomatic drive to use its growing economic and political stability to play a bigger role in the world.

While little concrete action is expected from the first-ever Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development, the fact that the U.S. wasn’t invited has symbolic importance, says Lampreia.

The summit reinforces such regional initiatives as the Union of South American Nations, which was formed in May by 12 countries to mediate conflicts such as political violence in Bolivia, bypassing the U.S.-dominated OAS.

Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, says the nature of American influence is only changing, not declining, as the region matures.

No Invitation Sought

The U.S. “didn’t ask to be invited” to the summit, he says, although it had discussed with Brazil and Mexico ways the meeting’s agenda could be used during the U.S.-backed Summit of the Americas, in April in Trinidad and Tobago.

“We don’t subscribe to the hydraulic theory of diplomacy that when one country is up, the other is down — that if China and Russia are in the area our influence has somehow waned,” Shannon said in a telephone interview.

The fact that “there’s no warfare, weapons proliferation, suicide bombers or jihadists” in Latin America may make its issues “less urgent,” though no less important, Shannon said. The U.S. remains the region’s dominant investor and trading partner: Foreign aid to Colombia to fight drug traffickers and Marxist rebels totals $700 million a year, and remittances from Latin Americans living in the U.S. totaled $66.5 billion last year.

Monroe’s Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine, which dates back to 1823, declared Latin America off-limits to European powers. Whether welcomed by the region or not, it has been invoked whenever real or imagined security threats to U.S. interests arise, says Gaddis Smith, a retired Yale University historian of American foreign policy.

“Its essence is unilateralism; no Latin American country had any say in it,” says Smith, whose more than a dozen books on American foreign policy include “The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine.”

The real battle is for a larger share of the region’s abundant resources and expanding economies, and China has led the way.

Two-way trade with the region shot up 12-fold since 1995 to $110 billion last year, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. China’s share of the region’s imports also jumped, to 24 percent from 9.8 percent in 1990, while the U.S. share shrunk to 34 percent from 43 percent. Two years after reaching a bilateral free-trade agreement, China’s demand for copper made it Chile’s biggest export market in 2007, replacing the U.S.

Hu’s Trips

Since making his first of three trips to Latin America in 2004, China’s President Hu Jintao has spent more time in the region than Bush — 22 days to 20 for the U.S. president. In October, as the global credit crunch dried up lending in the region, China joined the Inter-American Development Bank with a $350 million loan to finance small businesses. This month it pledged $10 billion in loans to state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA so Brazil can develop the Western Hemisphere’s largest oil discovery since 1976.

“The Chinese play up the development side of diplomacy so much better than the Americans,” says William Ratliff, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who has a Ph.D. in Chinese and Latin American history. “Deals come with none or very few strings attached.”

Even Colombia, which is spending $115,000 a month lobbying the U.S. Congress to approve a stalled free-trade pact, signed an investment treaty last month with China. During this year’s U.S. campaign, President-elect Barack Obama said he opposed the accord over concerns that Colombia isn’t doing enough to stamp out violence against labor organizers.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe today canceled his plans for the summit to monitor rescue efforts involving 200,000 people affected by flooding over the weekend.

Arms Deals

Changing relationships are also evident in arms deals. Chavez turned to Russia for at least $4.4 billion in weapons after the U.S. blocked sales of aircraft parts. Brazil, the region’s largest economy, is also shopping around: Defense Minister Nelson Jobimsaid in Washington this month that his government will only buy weapons from countries that agree to transfer technology for local production.

Plans to purchase 36 new fighter jets, in which Boeing’s F- 18 is competing for a contract against Stockholm-based Saab AB and France’s Dassault Systemes SA, “can only be justified politically if they contribute to national development,” Jobim said.

Brazil may sign a deal with France for four nuclear submarines intended to help secure its oil basins in the Atlantic when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visits Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva this month.

Reactivating a Fleet

The U.S. plan to reassert its naval presence by reactivating the Fourth Fleet after 58 years to patrol the Caribbean has triggered negative reactions ranging from Chavez’s threat to sink the convoys to the more-diplomatic Lula’s demand for explanations from the Bush administration.

Latin American leaders are looking to Obama to restore relations after the Bush presidency’s initial pledges of greater engagement gave way to a focus on the 9/11 terror attacks and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the honeymoon with Obama may be short-lived, says Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter- American Dialogue in Washington. He says that the issues that have dominated Latin American relations — including Cuba, immigration and U.S. trade barriers on agricultural products — may remain in dispute.

“Latin America wants the U.S. to be engaged, but in very different terms that it has in the past,” says Shifter. “In any case, they’re not waiting around for the U.S. to change its mindset.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Goodman in Rio de Janeiro jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: December 15, 2008 10:40 EST

Latin America summit excludes U.S. and welcomes Cuba December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Latin America.
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www.truthdig.com

Reuters UK, December 17, 2008

By Raymond Colitt

 

COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil (Reuters) – Latin American leaders on Tuesday blamed the global economic crisis on rich countries and welcomed Communist-run Cuba at a summit meeting designed to weaken U.S. influence in the region.

 

The presence of Cuban President Raul Castro at the meeting in northeastern Brazil was touted as a sign of Latin America’s growing independence from the United States, a far cry from the Cold War era when Cuba was expelled from the Washington-based Organisation of American States.

 

“Cuba returns to where it always belonged. We’re complete, we’re forming a team, a good team,” said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the region’s most vehement U.S. critic and Cuba’s closest ally.

 

“The most positive thing for the independence of our continent is that we meet alone without the hegemony of the empire,” Chavez said in reference to the United States.

 

Previous summits of Latin American and Caribbean leaders have always included former colonial powers Spain and Portugal or the United States.

 

Castro, on his first foreign trip since taking over from his ailing brother Fidel Castro earlier this year, said an unfair, world economic order benefiting rich countries and multinational companies was in crisis.

 

“It’s the demise of an economic model,” he said.

 

Cuba’s admission on Tuesday into the long-standing Rio Group of more than 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries brought renewed calls for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

Castro said on the eve of the summit meeting here that he was open to meeting with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to discuss the issue.

 

PROGRESS AT RISK

 

The global crisis, which has cut off credit lines and hit demand for the commodity exports of many countries, has threatened to undo years of economic and social progress in the region, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said.

 

“Crises like the current one reveal the perversities of the current economic system,” Lula said.

 

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, who defaulted on a foreign debt payment this week, said emerging market economies didn’t cause the crisis but would end up paying a high price for it.

 

He said Latin American countries should pool their international reserves and speed up the creation of a regional development bank to help overcome the global credit crunch.

 

“The answer is integration,” said Correa.

 

Leaders also agreed to create a South American defence council aimed at preventing local conflicts and reducing dependence on U.S. weaponry. Brazil is the largest arms manufacturer in South America and could gain ground against U.S. manufacturers if the region’s governments came together on some defence issues.

 

“The idea is cooperation for the basis of a (common) defence industry,” Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told reporters

But behind the scenes, the show of unity looked fragile.

 

The newly-formed South American Union failed on Tuesday to agree on a secretary-general to lead it, and the regional customs union Mercosur failed to eliminate double taxation on imports that have held up negotiations with other trade blocs.

 

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo said he was studying the legality of his country’s foreign debt, echoing the arguments made by Ecuador this week and raising the possibility of another default that would reinforce doubts about Latin America’s investment climate.

 

(Additional reporting by Carmen Munari and Julio Villaverde; Editing by Kieran Murray)

Under Bush, US Influence in Latin America Wanes October 11, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Economic Crisis, Latin America.
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by: The Associated Press

photo
From left to right, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva forge alliances at a regional integration meeting in Manaos, Brazil, in early October 2008. (Photo: Antonio Lacerda / EPA)

    Quito, Ecuador – In a matter of weeks, a Russian naval squadron will arrive in the waters off Latin America for the first time since the Cold War. It is already getting a warm welcome from some in a region where the influence of the United States is in decline.

    “The U.S. Fourth Fleet can come to Latin America but a Russian fleet can’t?” said Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa. “If you ask me, any country and any fleet that wants can visit us. We’re a country of open doors.”

    The United States remains the strongest outside power in Latin America by most measures, including trade, military cooperation and the sheer size of its embassies. Yet U.S. clout in what it once considered its backyard has sunk to perhaps the lowest point in decades. As Washington turned its attention to the Middle East, Latin America swung to the left and other powers moved in.

    The United States’ financial crisis is not helping. Latin American countries forced by Washington to swallow painful austerity measures in the 1980s and 1990s are aghast at the U.S. failure to police its own markets.

    “We did our homework – and they didn’t, they who’ve been telling us for three decades what to do,” the man who presides over Latin America’s largest economy, President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva of Brazil, complained bitterly.

    Latin America’s more than 550 million people now “have every reason to view the U.S. as a banana republic,” says analyst Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. “U.S. lectures to Latin Americans about excess greed and lack of accountability have long rung hollow, but today they sound even more ridiculous.”

    From 2002 through 2007, the U.S. image eroded in all six Latin American countries polled by the Pew organization, especially in Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia. (The others were Brazil, Peru and Mexico.) People surveyed in 18 Latin American countries rated President Bush among the least popular leaders in 2007, along with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and just ahead of basement-bound Fidel Castro of Cuba, according to the Latinobarometro group of Chile.

    In three years of presidential elections ending last year, Latin Americans chose mostly leftist leaders, and only Colombia and El Salvador elected unalloyed pro-U.S. chief executives. In May, the prestigious U.S. Council on Foreign Relations declared the era of U.S. hegemony in the Americas over. And in September, Bolivia and Venezuela both expelled their U.S. ambassadors, accusing them of meddling.

    Along with the loss in political standing has come a decline in economic power. U.S. direct investment in Latin America slid from 30 percent to 20 percent of the total from 1998 to 2007, according to the U.N. Economic Commission on Latin American and the Caribbean.

    The U.S. still does $560 billion in trade with Latin America, but in the meantime other countries are muscling in. China’s trade with Latin America jumped from $10 billion in 2000 to $102.6 billion last year. In May, a state-owned Chinese company agreed to buy a Peruvian copper mine for $2.1 billion.

    Other countries are also biting into U.S. military sales in the region. Boeing Co. is vying with finalists from France and Sweden for the sale of 36 jet fighters to Brazil. Venezuela’s Chavez has committed to buying more than $4 billion in Russian arms, from Sukhoi jet fighters to Kalashnikov assault rifles. In April, Brazil and Russia agreed to jointly design top-line jet fighters and satellite-launch vehicles, and Brazil is getting technology from France to build a submarine.

    “Similar deals could have been made with the United States had it been willing to share its technology,” said Geraldo Cavagnari, of the University of Campinas near Sao Paulo.

    Last month, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered to help Chavez develop nuclear power. Even Colombia, the staunchest U.S. ally in South America, isn’t limiting its options. After expressing alarm about the Russian warships a week ago, its defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, promptly headed for Russia himself to discuss “better relations in defense.” Chavez says he expects to hold joint Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises as early as November.

    Bolivia also is looking to deepen ties with Russia and Iran.

    Although the Islamic republic’s ambassador has yet to arrive in South America’s poorest country, its top diplomat there announced Friday that Iran will open two low-cost public health clinics.

    And while Bolivia’s only announced Russian hardware purchase is five helicopters for civil defense, Moscow’s ambassador told the AP – after Bolivia booted the U.S. ambassador – that Russia has every right to help Latin American nations arm themselves.

    “We know of many historical cases of U.S. intervention in Latin American countries,” said the diplomat, Leonid Golubev.

    Thomas Shannon, U.S. assistant secretary of state for the hemisphere, wouldn’t comment directly on whether the U.S. has lost influence in Latin America. But he added that there is no doubt that the U.S. still holds most of the military power in the Caribbean, and said it has no interest in reviving “Cold War rhetoric.” Shannon also noted that overall U.S. aid to the region will reach $2.2 billion for 2009, to total more than $14 billion during Bush’s presidency.

    However, critics point out that roughly half that aid is for the military or counternarcotics, and that Washington sends more money annually to Israel alone. Even U.S. giving has been dwarfed by Chavez’s checkbook diplomacy, which easily eclipses U.S. aid between outright gifts and discounted oil.

    His largesse has lured several longtime U.S. friends. Honduras’ president, Manuel Zelaya, said last month that after pleading with Washington and the World Bank, he accepted $300 million a year from Chavez for agricultural investment to help fight rising food prices.

    “Allies, friends, did not help me when I asked,” he said.

    Costa Rica’s president, Oscar Arias, says Venezuela offers Latin America about four or five times as much money as the United States. Costa Rica has become the 19th member of Petrocaribe, through which Chavez sells Caribbean and Central American nations cut-rate oil at very low interest.

    The diminished profile of the U.S. in Latin America comes after a history of welcomed influence dating back to President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy of the 1930s, which emphasized cooperation and trade over military intervention. There have been major bailouts, such as Washington’s $20 billion rescue of Mexico in the 1994 peso devaluation crisis. As former Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich noted, “We are the assistance bureau of first choice for the region.”

    But the U.S. has an ugly legacy of covert intervention in countries including Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Cuba. Chile’s center-left president, Michele Bachelet, was jailed and tortured by a U.S.-backed military dictatorship in the 1970s. She recently recalled telling Washington’s ambassador to Chile an old joke: “Some say the only reason there’s never been a coup in the United States is because there’s no U.S. Embassy in the United States.”

    The United States has also long served as chief educator to Latin America’s elite. Correa is among its presidents with a U.S. graduate degree – though that didn’t stop him from accusing the CIA of infiltrating his military, or refusing to renew a lease for U.S. counterdrug missions to fly out of Ecuador.

    With the U.S. facing its own financial crisis, it’s unlikely to be able to leverage economic influence in Latin America anytime soon. Sen. Barack Obama’s senior adviser on Latin America, Dan Restrepo, acknowledges that his candidate is essentially proposing a symbolic shift in style – albeit adding a special White House envoy for the Americas.

    “Barack doesn’t see the United States as the savior of the Americas, but as a constructive partner,” Restrepo told the AP.

    Reich, an adviser to Sen. John McCain who served three Republican presidents in the region, put it even more bluntly.

    “No matter who is elected in November, there is not going to be any money for Latin America,” he said. “Latin Americans expecting financial resources, any kind of help from the United States, they are barking up the wrong tree.”

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