SOA Grads Continue to Make Headlines Throughout the Americas February 28, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Peru, Chile, Immigration, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Genocide, Guatemala.
Tags: School of the Americas, roger hollander, Latin America, Latin America military, soa, pinochet, soa watch, rios-montt, victor jara, whinsec, guatemala genocide, Pedro Barrientos, soa/whinsec, josue antonio seirra, ebed yanez, jovel martinez, Daniel Urresti, soa grads
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Roger’s note: Another is my series: your American tax dollars at work in Latin America … to aid and abet murder.
In just the first two months of 2015, we have been horrified, though not surprised, to learn of the continued repression by SOA/WHINSEC graduates against their own people. As the US continues to secure economic and political interests by utilizing military solutions to social and political problems, SOA/WHINSEC graduates continue to make headlines in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, Peru and Chile, underscoring the importance of continuing the struggle to close the SOA/WHINSEC. While some graduates have yet to be held accountable due to the high levels of impunity in their country or in the US, they are all directly responsible for committing grave human rights violations, which include murder, torture and genocide.
As we continue to highlight these atrocities, we invite you to join us in Washington, DC for our Spring Days of Action this April 22-25, Growing Stronger Together: Resisting the “War on Drugs” across the America.
Lt. Pedro Barrientos Nuñez – Chile
In 2013, a Chilean Supreme Court formally requested the extradition of former Lieutenant Pedro Barrientos from the United States to Chile to stand trial for the 1973 torture and murder of folk singer Víctor Jara. Barrientos moved to the US after the Pinochet dictatorship ended in 1990. While the US government has yet to respond to this extradition request, a trial in a Florida court was set to begin on February 23. Though the trial has been postponed, Barrientos, who currently resides in Deltona, Florida, could potentially lose his US citizenship and later extradited to Chile where he would stand trial. In the US, Barrientos has been accused of immigration fraud, as he concealed his participation in human rights atrocities during the dictatorship in Chile. Joan Jara, widow of Víctor Jara, filed the case against Barrientos and has been seeking truth and justice for over 40 years.
General José Efraín Ríos Montt – Guatemala
On January 5, the retrial against SOA grad and former dictator General José Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez was set to resume following the annullment of the historic May 10, 2013 sentence condemning Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for crimes against humanity and genocide against 1,771 Ixil Mayans. He is the first former head of state to be put on trial for genocide. On the morning of the retrial, the defense motioned for a postponement of the trial, using Ríos Montt’s deterioating health an excuse for not being able to present himself to the courtroom. Through stalling tactics by his defense, including attempts to seek amnesty, the retrial has been postponed once again despite international criticism. Ríos Montt came to power after a coup on March 23, 1982 and remained in power until August 1983. He is 88 years old.
Second Lieutenant Josué Antonio Sierra – Honduras
In January 2015, 2011 SOA/WHINSEC graduate Second Lieutenant Josué Antonio Sierra got off scot free for his role in the murder of 15-year-old Ebed Yanes despite the judges’ finding that “it has been proven Josué Antonio Sierra and Felipe de Jesus also fired their weapons at young Ebed Jassiel, which makes them participants in his death”. Sierra was in charge of the patrol, part of a US-vetted unit in charge of the US-donated vehicle used to chase down and kill young Ebed at a military checkpoint. Conveniently, Honduras’ Public Ministry solely accused a low-ranking solidier who was not part of the US-vetted unit of murder, while accusing Sierra and Rodríguez only of abuse of authority and cover-up. Human rights organization COFADEH had previously tried to include murder charges against them but the government Special Prosecutor for Human Rights decided against it. Now, the US can conveniently report that nobody from the vetted unit, much less a WHINSEC grad, has been found guilty of murder in the case. Click here to continue reading…
Col. Jovel Martínez – Honduras
Meanwhile, in the northern part of the country on the night of January 29, 18-year-old campesino leader Christian Alberto Martínez Pérez was riding his bike near the entrance to Paso Aguán Plantation, which is controlled by security guards for Dinant Corportation and soldiers from the Xatruch III Task Force, commanded by SOA graduate Jovel Martínez. Christian went missing, his bike found at the entrance to the Paso Aguán Plantation. Campesino and human rights organizations proceeded to search for him, finding his shirt on the Paso Aguán Plantation. Over 200 people combed the area for him, until finally on the third day of searching, he was found, blindfolded, barefoot, hands and feet tied up, left in a field. Once rescued, he told how a Dinant security guard approached him with a gun and together with a soldier put him in a vehicle, blindfolded him, and interrogated him about the leadership of the Gregorio Chávez campesino movement. Click here to continue reading…
General Daniel Urresti Elera – Peru
Yesterday in Peru, prosecutors requested 25 years of prison for SOA gradaute, retired General Daniel Urresti Elera, related to the 1988 murder of journalist Hugo Bustíos. As head of the Intelligence Section of the Countersubversive Military High Command Battalion at the time, Urresti is accused of masterminding the ambush and murder of Bustíos. Up until last week, Urresti was in charge of Peru’s police as Minister of the Interior and also made headlines as police repression was unleashed on protests against a law that would eliminate labor benefits and rights for young workers. Twenty thousand young people took to the streets, protesting neoliberal reform.
On January 15, 2015, police unleashed tear gas and detained protesters, and violence was reported between infiltrators and police. Soon after, on January 26, Urresti publicly boasted to the media that the young people would not be able to reach Congress and sent ten thousand police to block them. Nevertheless, the Peruvian youth and social movements prevailed and Congress was forced to repeal the law. Just last week, Urresti apologized for the February 11, 2015 death of 25-year-old Ever Pérez Huaman during protests against a petroleum company in Pichanaki, Peru. Amidst mounting criticism, Urresti admitted political responsibility for the use of firearms by police during the protest, and stepped down as Minister of the Interior.
Hope: A Message to the Movement July 20, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: bureau of prisons, Criminal Justice, doj, father roy, incarceration, k, Latin America, Latin America military, prisoner of conscience, roger hollander, roy bourgeois, soa, soa watch, theresa cusimano, torture
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A Letter from Theresa Cusimano, SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience
Last week I walked out of federal prison, flew home, and was greeted by my smiling parents at the airport gate. Unlike most other prisoners, I didn’t have to take a 14 hour Greyhound bus; or use my bright red, inmate ID card; nor wear my prison clothes en route. My privilege returned to me the moment of my release. Friends picked me up and drove me to the Westin hotel for a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream. Although it was July 11th and there was a heat wave burning through the country, I was still cold from my incarceration.
I entered prison because, like all of you, I believe torture is wrong and should not be a global export or a domestic product. The violence I survived during my six month stay in the five federal “holding” facilities confirmed my conviction. The United States’ Department of Justice likes to aggressively flex its muscles like a violent, bully when it comes to poor, sick and people of color. We spend our privileged fortunes on building expensive cages for them to fail in, without even providing clean drinking water. The Bureau of Prisons does not belong as a branch of the Department of Justice, but rather belongs in the Department of Defense, where torture and mass murder are their specialties. I saw no signs that the Department of Justice was in the business of holding olive branches, as their branding suggests. But they do know how to use the sharp, arrows that the eagle of their logo clutches in its left talon. I’m lucky to still be alive, their arrows nearly killed me.
My body gave out under the stress of being moved to four different facilities in two weeks’ time. My kidneys shut down without water or nutrition. My legs could no longer stand. The darkness of my 44 day seclusion, a “gift” to me from the feds on my 44th birthday, broke me. I lost hope when I was disconnected from all of you and your generous solidarity.
The strength of your collective prayers began to carry me out of the darkness of that rabbit hole. They shot me in the ass like a horse, to silence me. My eyes lost their ability to focus. They made me beg for my food and crawl, naked on concrete because I was unable to walk. You gave me hope that there are people who want to live a different way of life, centered on love. I wish to formally seek political asylum and live in your world.
As Father Roy faces excommunication from the church, and our first African American president fights for his second term…I hope you’ll show up at the November vigil or sponsor someone to attend in your place. This is our time to raise our voices. This is our time to extend our olive branches and request our country do the same. Peace is possible if we commit to nonviolence. When we surrender our fear of death, amazing things can happen. I am living proof and you are the reason I am still alive. Let us all live to rebuild peace in our worlds. See you on November 16-18. We will close the SOA. I owe you a hug.
SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience
On January 13, 2012, Theresa Cusimano was sentenced to 6 months in prison by Judge Stephen Hyles for her nonviolent action for crossing onto Fort Benning. She was released from Carswell Federal Medical Center on July 11. Read more about SOA Watch Prisoners of Conscience here.
Tags: Honduras, honduras resistance, human rights, Latin America, Latin America military, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch
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Act Now to bring our Latin American partners to the vigil
Featured Vigil Speakers from Honduras and Costa Rica Denied Visas to the U.S.
The two speakers named by the SOA Watch’s Latin American partners to represent them at the SOA Watch vigil (Nov. 19-21, 2010) have been denied entrance to the United States. Both Gerardo Brenes – a Costa Rican graduate of the SOA and activist with the Quaker Peace Center in San Jose, and Alejandro Ramirez – a university student and activist with the Youth Resistance movement in Honduras, had their visa applications rejected by the U.S. embassies in their countries last week.
Gerardo and Alejandro were among participants from 17 Latin American countries at the recent SOAW South-North Encuentro. They were tapped to bring the Encuentro’s major concerns about the SOA and U.S. militarization in Latin America to the gates of Ft. Benning.
Gerardo is a former Costa Rica police officer and would have been the first graduate of the SOA to speak out against the school in front of his Alma Mater. His experience of the absolute disregard for human rights in his SOA training led him to become a leading activist in pressuring his government to withdraw from the school (Click here to watch a video interview with Gerardo). Gerardo has also been a public voice in speaking out against 46 U.S. warships and thousands of marines that are scheduled to be sent to this Central American “country of peace”.
Alejandro became an active member of the Honduran Youth Resistance Movement after his country suffered a coup at the hands of two SOA graduates last year. Over 50 people – journalists, teachers, students and union leaders, have lost their lives for opposing the coup regime and its illegal successor . Alejandro is a history student at the National Autonomous University of Honduras and works with COFADEH (Committee of Family Members of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras) in their violence prevention program.
Generate Grassroots Pressure to Overturn the Visa Denial! Take Action Now:
Send a message to the U.S. State Department in Washington, San Jose and Tegucigalpa urging them to grant visitor visas to Gerardo Brenes and Alejandro Ramirez so that they can speak at the November Vigil (19-21, 2010) at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia:
1. Call State Department
a. re Gerardo Brenes of Costa Rica:
Call Jennifer Bantrump of the Costa Rica Desk of the State Department at (202) 647-3519. Sample script below.
b. re Alejandro Ramirez of Honduras
Call Gabriela Zambrano of the Honduras Desk of the State Department at 202-647-3482. Sample script below.
2. Send an email to Consul General
a. re Gerardo Brenes of Costa Rica:
Write Consul General Paul Birdsall at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, at firstname.lastname@example.org and copy Jennifer Bantrump of the Costa Rica Desk of the State Department at email@example.com Sample script below.
b. re Alejandro Ramirez of Honduras
Write Consul General William Douglas of the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras at firstname.lastname@example.org and copy Gabriela Zambrano of the Honduras Desk of the State Department at email@example.com Sample script below.
(Sample email below)
SAMPLE PHONE CALL regarding Gerardo Brenes:
Hello, my name is ______________. I am very troubled to learn that the U.S. Consulate in San Jose, Costa Rica denied a travel visa to Mr. Gerardo Brenes who was invited by the School of the Americas Watch to speak about human rights issues in Costa Rica at the annual vigil in Columbus Georgia from November 19-21, 2010. Will you call Consul General Paul Birdsall in San Jose today and ask him to immediately authorize a travel visa to Mr. Brenes so he can travel to the U.S. on to participate in this event? Thank you.
SAMPLE PHONE CALL regarding Alejandro Ramirez:
Hello, my name is ______________. I am very troubled to learn that the U.S. Consulate in Tegucigalpa, Honduras denied a travel visa to Mr. Alejandro Ramirez who was invited by the School of the Americas Watch to speak about human rights issues in Honduras at the annual vigil in Columbus Georgia from November 19-21, 2010. Will you call Consul General William Douglas in Tegucigalpa today and ask him to immediately authorize a travel visa to Mr. Ramirez so he can travel to the U.S. on to participate in this event? Thank you.
SAMPLE EMAIL regarding Gerardo Brenes
Dear Mr. Birdsall,
Last week the U.S. Consulate in San Jose denied a travel visa to Mr. Gerardo Brenes. Mr. Brenes was invited by School of the Americas Watch to speak about human rights in Costa Rica at the annual vigil in Columbus, Georgia, from November 19-21, 2010.
I understand that Mr. Brenes presented an invitation from the School of the Americas during his interview, as well as sufficient evidence that he had strong ties that would bring him back to his country.
I am deeply concerned about this visa denial, and I ask you to immediately authorize a travel visa to Mr. Brenes so that he can travel to the United States to participate in the SOAW vigil from November 19-21, 2010.
[Your name and address]
SAMPLE EMAIL regarding Alejandro Ramirez
Dear Mr. Douglas,
Last week the U.S. Consulate in Tegucigalpa denied a travel visa to Mr. Alejandro Ramirez. Mr. Ramirez was invited by School of the Americas Watch to speak about human rights in Honduras at the annual vigil in Columbus, Georgia, from November 19-21, 2010.
I understand that Mr. Ramirez presented an invitation from the School of the Americas during his interview, as well as sufficient evidence that he had strong ties that would bring him back to his country.
I am deeply concerned about this visa denial, and I ask you to immediately authorize a travel visa to Mr. Ramirez so that he can travel to the United States to participate in the SOA Watch vigil from November 19-21, 2010.
[Your name and address]
Stand up for justice: SOAW.org/take-action/november-vigil
Tags: Colombia, colombia air bases, colombia bases, colombia military, foreign policy, gary leech, hillary clinton, Latin America, Latin America military, palenquero, plan colombia, roger hollander, u.s.-colombia
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Undo the Coup July 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: amy goodman, death squads, hillary clinton, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras military, honduras protests, juan almendares, Latin America military, manuel zelaya, oas, Obama, oscar romero, roger hollander, romeo vasquez, roy bourgeois, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch, United Nations
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Two who know well the history of dictated U.S. terms are Dr. Juan Almendares, a medical doctor and award-winning human rights activist in Honduras, and the American clergyman Father Roy Bourgeois, a priest who for years has fought to close the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Ga. Both men link the coup in Honduras to the SOA.
The SOA, renamed in 2000 the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), is the U.S. military facility that trains Latin American soldiers. The SOA has trained more than 60,000 soldiers, many of whom have returned home and committed human rights abuses, torture, extrajudicial execution and massacres.
Almendares, targeted by Honduran death squads and the military, has been the victim of that training. He talked to me from Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital: “Most of this military have been trained by the School of America. … They have been guardians of the multinational business from the United States or from other countries. … The army in Honduras has links with very powerful people, very rich, wealthy people who keep the poverty in the country. We are occupied by your country.”
Born in Louisiana, Bourgeois became a Catholic priest in 1972. He worked in Bolivia and was forced out by the (SOA-trained) dictator Gen. Hugo Banzer. The assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the murders of four Catholic churchwomen in El Salvador in 1980 led him to protest where some of the killers were trained: Fort Benning’s SOA. After six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered in El Salvador in 1989, Bourgeois founded SOA Watch and has built an international movement to close the SOA.
Honduran coup leader Vasquez attended the SOA in 1976 and 1984. Air Force Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, who also participated in the coup, was trained at the SOA in 1996.
Bourgeois’ SOA Watch office is just yards from the Fort Benning gates. He has been frustrated in recent years by increased secrecy at SOA/WHINSEC. He told me: “They are trying to present the school as one of democracy and transparency, but we are not able to get the names of those trained here-for over five years. However, there was a little sign of hope when the U.S. House approved an amendment to the defense authorization bill last week that would force the school to release names and ranks of people who train here.” The amendment still has to make it through the House-Senate conference committee.
Bourgeois speaks with the same urgency that he has for decades. His voice is well known at Fort Benning, where he was first arrested more than 25 years ago when he climbed a tree at night near the barracks of Salvadoran soldiers who were training there at the time.
Bourgeois blasted a recording of the voice of Romero in his last address before he was assassinated. The archbishop was speaking directly to Salvadoran soldiers in his country: “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: Stop the repression.”
Almost 30 years later, in a country bordering Romero’s El Salvador, the U.S. has a chance to change course and support the democratic institutions of Honduras. Undo the coup.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
© 2009 Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
A Few Thoughts on the Coup in Honduras June 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: central america, central america politics, free trade honduras, honduran congress, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras government, honduras military, honduras politics, jeremy scahill, Latin America, Latin America military, latin america politics, manuel zelaya, roger hollander, romeo vasquez, school of the amerias, soa, soa watch
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There is a lot of great analysis circulating on the military coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. I do not see a need to re-invent the wheel. (See here here here and here). However, a few key things jump out at me. First, we know that the coup was led by Gen. Romeo Vasquez, a graduate of the US Army School of the Americas. As we know very well from history, these “graduates” maintain ties to the US military as they climb the military career ladders in their respective countries. That is a major reason why the US trains these individuals.
Secondly, the US has a fairly significant military presence in Honduras. Joint Task Force-Bravo is located at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. The base is home to some 550 US military personnel and more than 650 US and Honduran civilians:
They work in six different areas including the Joint Staff, Air Force Forces (612th Air Base Squadron), Army Forces, Joint Security Forces and the Medical Element. 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, a US Army South asset, is a tenant unit also based at Soto Cano. The J-Staff provides command and control for JTF-B.
The New York Times reports that “The unit focuses on training Honduran military forces, counternarcotics operations, search and rescue, and disaster relief missions throughout Central America.”
Significantly, according to GlobalSecurity, “Soto Cano is a Honduran military installation and home of the Honduran Air Force.”
This connection to the Air Force is particularly significant given this report in NarcoNews:
The head of the Air Force, Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, studied in the School of the Americas in 1996. The Air Force has been a central protagonist in the Honduran crisis. When the military refused to distribute the ballot boxes for the opinion poll, the ballot boxes were stored on an Air Force base until citizens accompanied by Zelaya rescued them. Zelaya reports that after soldiers kidnapped him, they took him to an Air Force base, where he was put on a plane and sent to Costa Rica.
It is impossible to imagine that the US was not aware that the coup was in the works. In fact, this was basically confirmed by The New York Times in Monday’s paper:
As the crisis escalated, American officials began in the last few days to talk with Honduran government and military officials in an effort to head off a possible coup. A senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the military broke off those discussions on Sunday.
While the US has issued heavily-qualified statements critical of the coup—in the aftermath of the events in Honduras—the US could have flexed its tremendous economic muscle before the coup and told the military coup plotters to stand down. The US ties to the Honduran military and political establishment run far too deep for all of this to have gone down without at least tacit support or the turning of a blind eye by some US political or military official(s).
Here are some facts to consider: the US is the top trading partner for Honduras. The coup plotters/supporters in the Honduran Congress are supporters of the “free trade agreements” Washington has imposed on the region. The coup leaders view their actions, in part, as a rejection of Hugo Chavez’s influence in Honduras and with Zelaya and an embrace of the United States and Washington’s “vision” for the region. Obama and the US military could likely have halted this coup with a simple series of phone calls. For an interesting take on all of this, make sure to check out Nikolas Kozloff’s piece on Counterpunch, where he writes:
In November, Zelaya hailed Obama’s election in the U.S. as “a hope for the world,” but just two months later tensions began to emerge. In an audacious letter sent personally to Obama, Zelaya accused the U.S. of “interventionism” and called on the new administration in Washington to respect the principle of non-interference in the political affairs of other nations.
Here are some independent news sources on this story:
Eva Golinger’s Postcards from the Revolution
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.
SOA (School of the Americas) WATCH June 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America.
Tags: central america, colombia military, colombia military base, death squads, el salvador arena, el salvador disappeared, el salvador government, fmln el salvador, fort benning, h.r. 2567, honduras soa, human rights, human rights abuse, Latin America military, mauricio funes, roberto d'abuisson, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch, torture
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School of the Americas (SOA Watch) May 26, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America.
Tags: catholic activist, colombia massacre, death squads, father romero, foreign policy, fort benning, hr 2576, human rights, human rights activist, jim mcgovern, jorge alberto amor paez, larry rosebaugh, Latin America, Latin America military, latin american military, military dictatorship, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, torture, torture survivors, torture victims
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Obama’s Real Plan in Latin America April 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Colombia, Cuba, Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela.
Tags: Alvaro Uribe, bay of pigs, colombia human rights, Colombian military, cuba embargo, farc, felipe calderon, foreign policy, Free Trade, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, Latin America military, merida initiative, meridia initiative, mexico drug war, mexico human rights, oas, obama latin america, plan colombia, plan mexico, rio group, roger hollander, shamus cooke
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|Written by Shamus Cooke
|Wednesday, 29 April 2009, www.towardfreedom.com
|At first glance Obama seems to have softened U.S. policy toward Latin America, especially when compared to his predecessor. There has been no shortage of editorials praising Obama’s conciliatory approach while comparing it to FDR’s “Good Neighbor” Latin American policy.
It’s important to remember, however, that FDR’s vision of being neighborly meant that the U.S. would merely stop direct military interventions in Latin America, while reserving the right to create and prop up dictators, arm and train unpopular regional militaries, promote economic dominance through free trade and bank loans and conspire with right-wing groups.
And although Obama’s policy towards Latin America has a similar subversive feeling to it, many of FDR’s methods of dominance are closed to him. Decades of U.S. “good neighbor” policy in Latin America resulted in a continuous string of U.S. backed military coups, broken-debtor economies, and consequently, a hemisphere-wide revolt.
Many of the heads of states that Obama mingled with at the Summit of the Americas came to power because of social movements born out of opposition to U.S. foreign policy. The utter hatred of U.S. dominance in the region is so intense that any attempt by Obama to reassert U.S. authority would result in a backlash, and Obama knows it.
Bush had to learn this the hard way, when his pathetic attempt to tame the region led to a humiliation at the 2005 Summit, where for the first time Latin American countries defeated yet another U.S. attempt to use the Organization of American States (O.A.S.), as a tool for U.S. foreign policy.
But while Obama humbly discussed hemispheric issues on an “equal footing” with his Latin American counterparts at the recent Summit of Americas, he has subtly signaled that U.S. foreign policy will be business as usual.
The least subtle sign that Obama is toeing the line of previous U.S. governments — both Republican and Democrat — is his stance on Cuba. Obama has postured as being a progressive when it comes to Cuba by relaxing some travel and financial restrictions, while leaving the much more important issue, the economic embargo, firmly in place.
When it comes to the embargo, the U.S. is completely unpopular and isolated in the hemisphere. The U.S. two-party system, however, just can’t let the matter go.
The purpose of the embargo is not to pressure Cuba into being more democratic: this lie can be easily refuted by the numerous dictators the U.S. has supported in the hemisphere, not to mention dictators the U.S. is currently propping up all over the Middle East and elsewhere.
The real purpose behind the embargo is what Cuba represents. To the entire hemisphere, Cuba remains a solid source of pride. Defeating the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion while remaining fiercely independent in a region dominated by U.S. corporations and past government interventions has made Cuba an inspiration to millions of Latin Americans. This profound break from U.S. dominance — in its “own backyard” no less — is not so easily forgiven.
There is also a deeper reason for not removing the embargo. The foundation of the Cuban economy is arranged in such a way that it threatens the most basic philosophic principle shared by the two-party system: the market economy (capitalism).
And although the “fight against communism” may seem like a dusty relic from the cold war era, the current crisis of world capitalism is again posing the question: is there another way to organize society?
Even with Cuba’s immense lack of resources and technology (further aggravated by the U.S. embargo), the achievements made in healthcare, education, and other fields are enough to convince many in the region that there are aspects of the Cuban economy — most notably the concept of producing to meet the needs of all Cubans and NOT for private profit — worth repeating.
Hugo Chavez has been the Latin American leader most inspired by the Cuban economy. Chavez has made important steps toward breaking from the capitalist economic model and has insisted that socialism is “the way forward” — and much of the hemisphere agrees.
This is the sole reason that Obama continues the Bush-era hostility towards Chavez. Obama, it is true, has been less blunt about his feelings towards Chavez, though he has publicly stated that Chavez “exports terrorism” and is an “obstacle to progress.” Both accusations are, at best, petty lies. Chavez drew the correct conclusion of the comments by saying:
“He [Obama] said I’m an obstacle for progress in Latin America; therefore, it must be removed, this obstacle, right?”
It’s important to point out that, while Obama was “listening and learning” at the Summit of Americas, the man he appointed to coordinate the summit, Jeffrey Davidow, was busily spewing anti-Venezuelan venom in the media.
This disinformation is necessary because of the “threat” that Chavez represents. The threat here is against U.S. corporations in Venezuela, who feel, correctly, that they are in danger of being taken over by the Venezuelan government, to be used for social needs in the country instead of private profit. Obama, like his predecessor, believes that such an act would be against “U.S. strategic interests,” thus linking the private profit of mega-corporations acting in a foreign country to the general interests of the United States.
In fact, this belief that the U.S. government must protect and promote U.S. corporations acting abroad is the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, not only in Latin America, but the world.
Prior to the revolutionary upsurges that shook off U.S. puppet governments in the region, Latin America was used exclusively by U.S. corporations to extract raw materials at rock bottom prices, using cheap labor to reap super profits, while the entire region was dominated by U.S. banks.
Things have since changed dramatically. Latin American countries have taken over industries that were privatized by U.S. corporations, while both Chinese and European companies have been given the green light to invest to an extent that U.S. corporations are being pushed aside.
To Obama and the rest of the two-party system, this is unacceptable. The need to reassert U.S. corporate control in the hemisphere is high on the list of Obama’s priorities, but he’s going about it in a strategic way, following the path paved by Bush.
After realizing that the U.S. was unable to control the region by more forceful methods (especially because of two losing wars in the Middle East), Bush wisely chose to fall back a distance and fortify his position. The lone footholds available to Bush in Latin America were, unsurprisingly, the only two far-right governments in the region: Colombia and Mexico.
Bush sought to strengthen U.S. influence in both governments by implementing Plan Colombia first, and the Meridia Initiative second (also known as Plan Mexico). Both programs allow for huge sums of U.S. taxpayer dollars to be funneled to these unpopular governments for the purpose of bolstering their military and police, organizations that in both countries have atrocious human rights records.
In effect, the diplomatic relationship with these strong U.S. “allies” — coupled with the financial and military aide, acts to prop up both governments, which possibly would have fallen otherwise (Bush was quick to recognize Mexico’s new President, Calderon, despite evidence of large-scale voter fraud). Both relationships were legitimized by the typical rhetoric: the U.S. was helping Colombia and Mexico fight against “narco-terrorists.”
The full implication of these relationships was revealed when, on March 1st 2008, the Colombian military bombed a FARC base in Ecuador without warning (the U.S. and Colombia view the FARC as a terrorist organization). The Latin American countries organized in the “Rio Group” denounced the raid, and the region became instantly destabilized (both Bush and Obama supported the bombing).
The conclusion that many in the region have drawn — most notably Chavez — is that the U.S. is using Colombia and Mexico as a counterbalance to the loss of influence in the region. By building powerful armies in both countries, the potential to intervene in the affairs of other countries in the region is greatly enhanced.
Obama has been quick to put his political weight firmly behind Colombia and Mexico. While singing the praises of Plan Colombia, Obama made a special trip to Mexico before the Summit of the Americas to strengthen his alliance with Felipe Calderon, promising more U.S. assistance in Mexico’s “drug war.”
What these actions make clear is that Obama is continuing the age old game of U.S. imperialism in Latin America, though less directly than previous administrations. Obama’s attempt at “good neighbor” politics in the region will inevitably be restricted by the nagging demands of “U.S. strategic interests,” i.e., the demands of U.S. corporations to dominate the markets, cheap labor, and raw materials of Latin America. And while it is one thing to smile for the camera and shake the hands of Latin American leaders at the Summit of the Americas, U.S. corporations will demand that Obama be pro-active in helping them reassert themselves in the region, requiring all the intrigue and maneuvering of the past.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org