Selling Out Democracy in Honduras: The U.S. and the Honduran Election November 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: Amnesty International, foreign policy, hillary clinton, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras election, honduras military, honduras repression, isabel macdonald, jim demint, micheletti, obama administration, rio group, roger hollander, zelaya
Posted by Isabel Macdonald, AlterNet on November 28, 2009 at 12:10 PM.
The June 28 military coup d’etat that overthrew Honduras’ democratically elected president provided President Obama with “a golden opportunity…to make a clear break with the past and show that he is unequivocally siding with democracy,” as Costa Rica’s former vice president put it. However, the U.S.’s recognition of the sham election Honduras’ de facto regime is staging on Sunday makes it quite clear that Obama is choosing instead to side with the far-right Republicans who support the coup.
In the wake of the coup that overthrew Honduran president Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, the Guardian‘s Calvin Tucker observes that there had been some promising signs that Obama was going to remain true to his pledge to “seek a new chapter of engagement” in Latin America. Despite some initial waffling by the State Department, Obama spoke out in strong terms against Zelaya’s overthrow, saying that “it would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition, rather than democratic elections.” The U.S. backed a Costa Rican-brokered compromise that would have seen Zelaya returned to office, at the helm of a “unity government.” All non-humanitarian U.S. aid was suspended to the de facto regime, as were the U.S. visas of the coup leaders. The State Department indicated that the US would “not be able to support” the outcome of the elections out of concern that they would not be “free, fair and transparent.” And finally, during a visit to Honduras by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in late October, the coup leaders agreed to sign the U.S. backed agreement providing for Zelaya’s return.
This firm U.S. reaction apparently “privately stunned” the coup leaders, who were sure “this would never have happened if the Republicans had still been in power,” according to the New Yorker‘s William Finnegan.
Indeed, the coup leaders, who along with their allies such as the Latin American Business Council have spent at least six hundred thousand dollars on Washington lobbyists and lawyers, count amongst their supporters several prominent congressional Republicans, including South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.
DeMint had been leading efforts to block key diplomatic appointments in Latin America, and earlier this month, the Obama administration succumbed to this pro-coup Republican pressure, announcing that it will after all recognize Sunday’s election, and not insist on the return of the legitimate president. On November 4, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon announced on CNN that “the formation of the National Unity Government is apart from the reinstatement of President Zelaya” and that the Honduran Congress will decide when and if Zelaya is reinstated.
DeMint took credit for the change in U.S. policy, releasing a press statement declaring “Senator secures commitment for U.S. to back Nov. 29 elections even if Zelaya is not reinstated.” In the statement, DeMint said he was
happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections… Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Shannon have assured me that the U.S. will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated.
The 23 Latin American and Caribbean nations of the Rio Group do not recognize Sunday’s election. However the Obama administration is now going ahead in recognizing the vote held in the midst of what Amnesty International has characterized as a “human rights crisis,” marked by an”increasingly disproportionate and excessive use of force being used by the police and military to repress legitimate and peaceful protests across the country.” Since Zelaya’s overthrow, over 3,500 people have been illegally detained, over 600 have been beaten and dozens have been killed, according to the Committee of Families of the Disappeared (COFADEH), with media workers, human rights defenders and female protesters particularly targeted, according to Amnesty.
The only two presidential candidates on the ballot supported the coup that ousted the elected president. The leading opposition candidate, Carlos Reyes, recently withdrew his nomination for the presidency, calling the election fraudulent, and hundreds of candidates for congressional and municipal seats have also withdrawn from the election.
And Tucker notes that
Trade unions and social movements calling for a boycott of the election are facing mafia-style threats, with the regime’s chief of police boasting that he has compiled a blacklist of “all those of the left”.
At the same time, Honduras’ big business federation, which supported the coup, is reportedly offering “cash discounts” to Hondurans for voting in the election.
The fact that such an election has won the support of the Obama administration does not bode well for the president’s “new chapter” of U.S.-Latin America relations.
No Fair Election in Honduras under Military Occupation November 28, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: dana frank, democracy, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras military, honduras repression, honduras vote, Latin America, latin america politics, micheletti, obama administration, rio group, roger hollander, zelaya
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by Dana Frank
As the Honduran election approaches on Sunday, November 29, let’s be clear about the conditions under which it is taking place. Human rights abuses are rampant, freedom of speech is under attack, and the election process is in the hands of the very people who perpetrated the coup. Clearly, no free and fair election is possible under the repressive thumb of the military coup that has been in place for five months.
While the 23 nations of the Rio Group from Latin America and the Caribbean have condemned the election and announced they will not recognize its outcome, the Obama administration still insists it will recognize the results–once again isolating the United States from those who are upholding democracy in the hemisphere.
President Obama should join the rest of the world and immediately declare the elections fraudulent and demand the immediate restoration of President Manuel Zelaya, the withdrawal of the Honduran military, and a delay of the election until three months after Zelaya has been full reinstated.
Imagine a “free and fair election” under the conditions in Honduras today (and imagine if this were taking place in the United States):
- The same Honduran military,which perpetrated the June 28 coup forcing President Manuel Zelaya out of the country, and which has brutally occupied the country for five months, physically controls the ballots, the ballot boxes, the computers that tabulate the results, and the dissemination of the outcome.
- The legitimate President of the country is being held captive in the Brazilian Embassy under draconian circumstances, and has denounced the elections as fraudulent.
- The leading opposition candidate, the independent Carlos H. Reyes – who has a real chance of winning a free and fair election – has withdrawn his name from the ballot in protest. Throughout the country, hundreds of candidates for congress and municipal office, including those from the mainstream parties, have announced they are withdrawing from the election. They include the mayor of San Pedro Sula, the nation’s second largest city.
- All three trade union federations, the leading human rights organization, women’s groups, organizations of indigenous and African-descent peoples, the gay and lesbian movement, and the campesino movement–united in the National Front Against the Coup d’Etat–have denounced the election as fraudulent.
- The coup government has made it illegal to advocate not voting.
- Peaceful demonstrations are routinely teargassed. As the Committee of Families of the Disappeared (COFADEH) has documented, dozens of people have been killed, over 600 beaten, and over 3,500 illegally detained, including lawyers who have shown up to secure the release of detainees. Opponents of the coup continue be threatened, illegally arrested, and beaten in their homes.
- The military has recently instructed all mayors in the country to compile a list of persons in their jurisdiction who oppose the coup.
- The two presidential candidates remaining in the election from the traditional parties of the oligarchy, Elvin Santos from the right wing of the Liberal Party, and Porfirio Lobo Sosa from the National Party, both initially supported the coup.
No free and fair election can take place under these circumstances. Only when the legitimate President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, has been fully restored to office for three months, only when the military has been pushed back into its barracks, and only when civil liberties are completely restored can an orderly transfer of power to a new administration take place.
By persuading coup leader Roberto Micheletti to briefly step aside in the week before the election, the U.S. State Department has tried to whitewash the election at the last minute. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Honduran military and the oligarchs, who perpetrated the coup and who have dictated the nation’s politics for decades, are still brutally repressing the people of Honduras.
The vast majority of Hondurans aren’t fooled. After five months of military repression, they know the difference between a fraudulent cover for the continuation of the coup regime, and a truly free and fair election under the rule of law. So does the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Rio Group. They understand well the dangerous precedent the Honduran coup represents.
President Obama should refuse to recognize the results of the election and bring an end to embarrassing isolation of the United States from the rest of the world.
Honduran Dictatorship Is A Threat to Democracy In the Hemisphere November 20, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: democracy, foreign policy, hillary clinton, honduran dictatorship, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras dictatorship, honduras election, honduras military, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, latin america government, latin america politics, manuel zelaya, mark weisbrot, monroe doctrine, rio group, roger hollander
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A small group of rich people who own most of Honduras and its politicians enlist the military to kidnap the elected president at gunpoint and take him into exile. They then arrest thousands of people opposed to the coup, shut down and intimidate independent media, shoot and kill some demonstrators, torture and beat many others. This goes on for more than four months, including more than two of the three months legally designated for electoral campaigning. Then the dictatorship holds an “election.”
Should other countries recognize the results of such an election, to be held on November 29th? Latin America says absolutely not; the United States is saying, well, “yes we can”- if we can get away with it.
“There has been a sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators and intimidation of human rights defenders,” since President Zelaya slipped back into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, wrote Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and human rights groups worldwide have also condemned the violence and repression perpetrated by the Honduran dictatorship.
On November 5, the 25 nations of the Rio Group, which includes virtually all of Latin America, declared that they would not recognize the results of the November 29th elections in Honduras if the elected President Manuel Zelaya were not first restored.
Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot? One reason is that many of the governments are run by people who have lived under dictatorships. President Lula da Silva of Brazil was imprisoned by the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1980s. President Michele Bachelet of Chile was tortured in prison under the brutal Pinochet dictatorship that was installed with the help of the Nixon administration. The presidents of Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, and others have all lived through the repression of right-wing dictatorships.
Nor is this threat merely a thing of the past. Just two weeks ago the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, had to fire most of the military leadership because of credible evidence that they were conspiring with the political opposition. This is one of the consequences of not reversing the Honduran military coup of June 28th.
Here in the United States we have been subjected to a relentless campaign of lies and distortions intended to justify the coup, which have been taken up by Republican supporters of the dictatorship, as well as by hired guns like Lanny Davis, a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Perhaps the biggest lie, repeated thousands of times in the news reporting and op-eds of the major media, was that Zelaya was overthrown because he was trying to extend his term of office. In fact, the non-binding referendum that Zelaya proposed had nothing to do with term limits. And even if this poll of the electorate had led eventually to a new constitution, any legal changes would have been far too late for Zelaya to stay in office beyond January 29.
Another surreal part of the whole political discussion has been the attempt to portray Zelaya, who was merely delivering on his campaign promises to the Honduran electorate, as a pawn of some foreign power – conveniently chosen to be the much-demonized Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The anti-communist hysteria of 1950s McCarthyism is still the model for these uncreative political hacks.
What a disgrace it will be to our country if the Obama team follows through on its current strategy and recognizes these “elections!” It’s hard to imagine a stronger statement than that human rights and democracy in this hemisphere count for zero in the political calculations of this administration.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.
Showdown in ‘Tegucigolpe’ July 12, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: alba, cia coups, clinton honduras, democracy, honduran generals, Honduras, honduras constitution, honduras contras, honduras coup, honduras government, honduras history, honduras military, honduras politics, honduras protests, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, manuel zelaya, micheletti, negroponte, oas, obama administration, obama honduras, oscar arias, rio group, roger hollander, romeo vasquez, School of the Americas, soa, southern command, stephen zunes
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The United States is now offering support for mediation efforts to be led by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. The Obama administration tried to discourage the exiled Honduran president from his attempt this past Sunday to return to his country and has apparently succeeded, for the time being, in preventing him from trying again. Clinton pressed this point on Tuesday in pushing for mediation, arguing that it would be a “better route for him to follow than attempt to return in the fact of the intractable opposition of the de facto government.”
Clinton also said, “Instead of another confrontation…let’s try the dialogue process.” What this ignores is that while the coup plotters have no legitimate standing, the Honduran people have a constitutionally guaranteed right to rebel under such circumstances. According to Article 3 of the Honduran constitution:
No one owes obedience to a government that has usurped power or to those who assume functions or public posts by the force of arms or using means or procedures that rupture or deny what the Constitution and the laws establish. The verified acts by such authorities are null. The people have the right to recur to insurrection in defense of the constitutional order.
What the Obama administration apparently fears is that if it allows the burgeoning pro-democracy movement to take its course, it may end up with a similar outcome to what transpired in Venezuela in 2002 — following a similar coup against that country’s left-leaning president, Hugo Chávez. Within days, a popular movement had forced right-wing elements of the military and their wealthy civilian allies to step down. Chávez returned to govern and emboldened by such a popular outpouring of support, he moved the country further to the left.The United States could help such a movement succeed if it wanted to. If the Obama administration chose, the United States could impose strict economic sanctions on Honduras that would, combined with ongoing strikes and other disruptions, grind the economy to a halt and force the illegitimate junta in Tegucigalpa to step down.
Unfortunately, while there’s no evidence suggesting that the United States was responsible for the coup, there appear to be reasons the Obama administration may not want the coup plotters to suffer a total defeat.
Despite being a wealthy logger and rancher from the centrist Liberal Party, Zelaya has moved his government well to the left since taking office in 2005. During his tenure, he raised the minimum wage and provided free school lunches, milk for young children, pensions for the elderly, and additional scholarships for students. He built new schools, subsidized public transportation, and even distributed energy-saving light bulbs. He also had Honduras join with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, and three small Caribbean island states in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an economic alliance challenging the neoliberal orthodoxy that has dominated hemispheric trade in recent decades.
None of these are particularly radical moves, but it was nevertheless disturbing to the country’s wealthy economic and military elites. More frightening was that Zelaya had sought to organize an assembly to replace the 1982 constitution written during the waning days of the U.S.-backed military dictator Policarpo Paz. A non-binding referendum on whether such a constitutional assembly should take place was scheduled the day of the coup, but was cancelled when the military seized power and named Congressional Speaker Roberto Micheletti as president.
Calling for such a referendum is perfectly legal under Article 5 of the 2006 Honduran Civil Participation Act, which allows public functionaries to perform such non-binding public consultations regarding policy measures.Despite claims by the rightist junta and its supporters, Zelaya was not trying to extend his term. That question wasn’t even on the ballot. The Constitutional Assembly would not have likely completed its work before his term had expired anyway.
Yet the Obama administration is implying that the country’s legitimate democratic president somehow shared responsibility for his illegal overthrow. The initial White House response was rather tepid, initially failing to denounce the coup, simply calling upon “all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” Similarly, Clinton insisted the day after the coup that “all parties have a responsibility to address the underlying problems that led to yesterday’s events.” When asked if her call for “restoring the constitutional order” in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself, she didn’t say it necessarily would. Similarly, in a press conference on Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly evaded reporters’ questions as to whether the United States supported Zelaya’s return. This places the United States at odds with the Organization of American States, the Rio Group, and the UN General Assembly, all of which called for the “immediate and unconditional return” of Zelaya.
There are serious questions as to whether Clinton can be trusted to make a clear stance for democracy, given her traditionally pro-interventionist position on Latin America. As a senator, she argued that the Bush administration should have taken a more aggressive stance against the rise of left-leaning governments in the hemisphere, arguing that Bush has neglected such developments “at our peril.” In response to recent efforts by democratically elected Latin American governments to challenge the structural obstacles that have left much of their populations in poverty, she expressed alarm, saying, “We have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and economic openness in parts of Latin America.” Though no doubt aware that U.S. policy toward leftist regimes in Latin American in previous decades had included military interventions, CIA-sponsored coups, military and financial support for opposition groups, and rigged national elections, she argued that “We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement.”
The United States and Honduras
The United States certainly has a history of “vigorous engagement” in Honduras, actively supporting a series of military dictatorships from 1963 through the early 1980s. Though military rule formally ended by the end of 1982, the weak civilian presidents who followed in the subsequent decade served only at the pleasure of Honduran generals and the U.S. embassy. John Negroponte, who later served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to Iraq and the United Nations, as well as his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was the U.S. ambassador to Honduras during this period.
During the 1980s, thousands of U.S. forces were sent to Honduras to train Honduran security forces as well as train and support the rightist Nicaraguan contras, which were engaged in a series of cross-border terrorist attacks. The CIA organized, trained, and equipped a special military unit known as backed Battalion 316, bringing in Argentine counterinsurgency experts as advisors on surveillance and interrogation. These advisors had been part of the “dirty war” in their country during the 1970s, in which more than 10,000 people were murdered. Honduran armed forces chief Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez personally directed the unit with strong U.S. support, even after acknowledging to Negroponte that he intended “to use the Argentine method of eliminating subversives.” Though Alvarez’ personal involvement in large-scale human rights abuses were well-known to State Department and other U.S. officials, the Reagan administration awarded him the Legion of Merit for “encouraging the success of democratic processes in Honduras.”
Former Honduran congressman Efraín Díaz told the Baltimore Sun, in reference to U.S. policy towards human rights abuses in his country, “Their attitude was one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.” Under Negroponte, CIA officers based in the U.S. Embassy frequently visited a secret prison where captured dissidents were routinely tortured. It was one of a number of facilities to which U.S. officials had regular access that were off-limits to civilian Honduran officials, including judges looking for victims of kidnapping by right-wing paramilitary units.
Despite this history, including revelations of his role in covering up for such human rights abuses, Negroponte had little trouble on Capitol Hill during the Bush administration. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), then the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Negroponte for having “served bravely and with distinction,” and for bringing “a record of proven leadership and strong management.” Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), then the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, praised him as “a seasoned and skilled diplomat, who has served with distinction,” saying he was a “smart choice” to become the first DNI. This enthusiastic support for Negroponte among leading congressional Democrats, despite his well-documented role in human rights abuses while U.S. ambassador to Honduras, is indicative of how little regard the majority party in Congress cares about democracy in Central America.
The Legacy Today
The legacy of U.S. support for repression in Honduras is very much part of recent events.
The leader of the June 28 coup, Honduran General Romeo Vásquez, is a graduate of the notorious School of the Americas, a U.S. Army training program nicknamed “School of Assassins” for the sizable number of graduates who have engaged in coups, as well as the torture and murder of political opponents. The training of coup plotters at the program, since renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” isn’t a bygone feature of the Cold War: General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, who played an important role in the coup as head of the Honduran Air Force, graduated as recently as 1996.
Former members of Battalion 316 were involved in the coup as well.
Unfortunately, while far more knowledgeable of recent history than most recent presidents, Obama doesn’t seem willing to apologize, much less make amends, for U.S. complicity in supporting repression in Latin America. I am writing this article en route to Chile, where the United States played a major role in the downfall of another democratically elected leftist leader, Salvador Allende, back in September of 1973. Just five days before the coup in Honduras, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet visited President Obama in Washington. When asked by Chilean reporters whether he was willing to apologize for the U.S. role in bloody 1973 coup and its aftermath, Obama brushed off the suggestion by saying, “I’m interested in going forward, not looking backward.”
Meanwhile, U.S.-armed and trained security forces have violently dispersed largely nonviolent demonstrators protesting across the country, including shooting into a crowd of demonstrators near the airport on Sunday, killing two. Rather than acknowledge the widespread popular opposition to their illegitimate rule, the Honduran junta, like its authoritarian counterparts in Iran, have instead tried to blame outsiders for the unrest, in this case Cuba and Venezuela. Yet the Honduran people, like the Iranians, don’t need outside agitators or foreign funding in order to resist. This isn’t about geopolitics but about democracy. Unfortunately, backers of the rightist junta in Honduras, like backers of the rightist regime in Iran, are repeating fabricated stories of outside interference to discredit a genuine home-grown pro-democracy movement.
What may be at work in these U.S. and Costa Rican-led mediation efforts is some kind of deal where Zelaya can return, but under conditions that would preclude a constitutional assembly, any challenges to oligarchic interests, or any further efforts to promote economic justice. Similar kinds of pre-conditions were forced upon the deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, prior to U.S. assistance in his initial return from exile in 1994.
How much the junta leaders are willing to compromise will depend on what is going on outside the meeting rooms.
One factor would be the ability of the pro-democracy movement to organize, think strategically, expand their ranks and maintain a nonviolent discipline. Fortunately, the rebellion thus far has been largely nonviolent, which would be far more effective in such circumstances.
For various historical reasons, Hondurans don’t have the same kind of history of armed revolution as their neighbors. Even during the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s— while the country’s immediate neighbors Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua experienced major armed insurrections — the armed Honduran revolutionary movement was quite small and never had much of an impact.
By contrast, civil society organizations engaged in strategic nonviolent conflict have grown dramatically in recent years, including peasant organizations, indigenous and Afro-Honduran movements, human rights monitoring groups, environmental groups, women’s groups, an anti-militarization movement, and student groups, as well as three major labor federations. A series of strikes, blockages of major highways, and land seizures occurred over the past year as civil society became increasingly mobilized.
The second factor which could tip the balance is how firmly the United States comes down in support for democracy. Obama has at times been clear in his support for the legal process, declaring, “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there.” Recognizing larger implications of this stance, he added, “It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backward into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections.”
Still, it was a full week before the United States announced it would slash aid to Honduras, and there have been no imminent signs of tougher sanctions. Unlike most Latin American countries, the United States has not withdrawn its ambassador from Tegucigalpa.
The United States, which hosts a U.S. Southern Command task force at the Soto Cano Airbase, 50 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa, exerts enormous influence on Honduras. Therefore, the pressure pro-democracy forces in the United States can bring to bear upon our government may prove as crucial as the efforts of brave pro-democracy forces within Honduras.
Copyright © 2009, Institute for Policy Studies.
Does US Lukewarm Response Bolster Honduran Coup? July 2, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: chavez government, clinton honduras, coup d'etat, foreign policy, general assembly, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras government, honduras military, honduras politics, honduras repression, Hugo Chavez, latin america politics, manuel zelaya, mark weisbrot, oas, obama administration, obama honduras, rio group, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, venezuela coup
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The military coup that overthrew Honduras’s elected president, Manuel Zelaya, brought unanimous international condemnation. But some country’s responses have been more reluctant than others, and Washington’s ambivalence has begun to raise suspicions about what the US government is really trying to accomplish in this situation.
The first statement from the White House in response to the coup was weak and non-committal. It did not denounce the coup but rather called upon “all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter”.
This contrasted with statements from other presidents in the hemisphere, such as Lula da Silva of Brazil and Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, who denounced the coup and called for the re-instatement of Zelaya. The EU issued a similar, less ambiguous and more immediate response.
Later in the day, as the response of other nations became clear, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton issued a stronger statement that condemned the coup – without calling it a coup. But it still didn’t say anything about Zelaya returning to the presidency.
The Organisation of American States, the Rio Group (most of Latin America) and the UN general assembly have all called for the “immediate and unconditional return” of Zelaya.
The strong stances from the south brought statements from anonymous state department officials that were more supportive of Zelaya’s return. And by Monday afternoon President Barack Obama finally said: “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras.”
But at a press conference later that day, Clinton was asked whether “restoring the constitutional order” in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself. She would not say yes.
Why such reluctance to call openly for the immediate and unconditional return of an elected president, as the rest of the hemisphere and the UN has done? One obvious possibility is that Washington does not share these goals.
The coup leaders have no international support, but they could still succeed by running out the clock – Zelaya has less than six months left in his term. Will the Obama administration support sanctions against the coup government in order to prevent this? The neighbouring governments of Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador have already fired a warning shot by announcing a 48-hour cut-off of trade.
By contrast, one reason for Clinton’s reluctance to call the coup a coup is because the US Foreign Assistance Act prohibits funds going to governments where the head of state has been deposed by a military coup.
Unconditional is also a key word here: the Obama administration may want to extract concessions from Zelaya as part of a deal for his return to office. But this is not how democracy works. If Zelaya wants to negotiate a settlement with his political opponents after he returns, that is another story. But nobody has the right to extract political concession from him in exile, over the barrel of a gun.
There is no excuse for this coup. A constitutional crisis came to a head when Zelaya ordered the military to distribute materials for a non-binding referendum to be held last Sunday. The referendum asked citizens to vote on whether they were in favour of including a proposal for a constituent assembly, to redraft the constitution, on the November ballot. The head of the military, General Romeo Vasquez, refused to carry out the president’s orders. The president, as commander-in-chief of the military, then fired Vasquez, whereupon the defence minister resigned. The supreme court subsequently ruled that the president’s firing of Vasquez was illegal, and the majority of the Congress has gone against Zelaya.
Supporters of the coup argue that the president violated the law by attempting to go ahead with the referendum after the supreme court ruled against it. This is a legal question. It may be true, or it may be that the supreme court had no legal basis for its ruling. But it is irrelevant to the what has happened. The military is not the arbiter of a constitutional dispute between the various branches of government.
This is especially true in this case, in that the proposed referendum was a non-binding and merely consultative plebiscite. It would not have changed any law nor affected the structure of power. It was merely a poll of the electorate.
Therefore, the military cannot claim that it acted to prevent any irreparable harm. This is a military coup carried out for political purposes.
There are other issues where our government has been oddly silent. Reports of political repression, the closing of TV and radio stations, the detention of journalists, detention and physical abuse of diplomats and what the Committee to Protect Journalists has called a “media blackout” have yet to draw a serious rebuke from Washington. By controlling information and repressing dissent, the de facto Honduran government is also setting the stage for unfair elections in November.
Many press reports have contrasted the Obama administration’s rejection of the Honduran coup with the Bush administration’s initial support for the 2002 military coup that briefly overthrew President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. But actually there are more similarities than differences between the US response to these two events.
Within a day, the Bush administration reversed its official position on the Venezuelan coup, because the rest of the hemisphere had announced that it would not recognise the coup government. Similarly, in this case, the Obama administration is following the rest of the hemisphere, trying not to be the odd man out but at the same time not really sharing their commitment to democracy.
It was not until some months after the Venezuelan coup that the state department admitted that it had given financial and other support “to individuals and organisations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chávez government.”
In the Honduran coup, the Obama administration claims that it tried to discourage the Honduran military from taking this action. It would be interesting to know what these discussions were like. Did administration officials say, “You know that we will have to say that we are against such a move if you do it, because everyone else will?” Or was it more like, “Don’t do it, because we will do everything in our power to reverse any such coup”? The administration’s actions since the coup indicate something more like the former, if not worse.
The battle between Zelaya and his opponents pits a reform president who is supported by labour unions and social organisations against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite who is accustomed to choosing not only the supreme court and the Congress, but also the president. It is a recurrent story in Latin America, and the US has almost always sided with the elites.
In this case, Washington has a very close relationship with the Honduran military, which goes back decades. During the 1980s, the US used bases in Honduras to train and arm the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitaries who became known for their atrocities in their war against the Sandinista government in neighbouring Nicaragua.
The hemisphere has changed substantially since the Venezuelan coup in April of 2002, with 11 more left governments having been elected. A whole set of norms, institutions and power relations between south and north in the hemisphere have been altered. The Obama administration today faces neighbours that are much more united and much less willing to compromise on fundamental questions of democracy.
So Clinton will probably not have that much room to manoeuvre. Still, the administration’s ambivalence will be noticed in Honduras and can very likely encourage the de facto government there to try and hang on to power. That could be very damaging.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.
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 email@example.com
Hillary Clinton and James Steinberg “Talk Tough” on Latin America February 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Foreign Policy, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: agrofuel, april howard, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, diplomacy, Evo Morales, farc, foreign policy, foreign relations, Gregory Craig, hillary clinton, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, mercosur, monsanto, obama administration, plan colombia, rio group, roger hollander, Sánchez Berzaín, Sánchez de Lozada, Venezuela
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Written by April Howard
|Thursday, 29 January 2009
|While President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and their appointees emphasize a return to diplomacy in foreign relations, so far they show little inclination to be diplomatic toward leftist governments in Latin America. In fact, recent comments by Obama, Clinton and recent appointees show a continuation of an antiquated analysis and a lack of understanding of recent Latin American social movements and regional integration.On a visit to the State Department on January 23, Clinton promised “I will do all that I can, working with you, to make it abundantly clear that robust diplomacy and effective development are the best long-term tools for securing America’s future.” Obama made similar assertions in a speech to diplomats, and ‘diplomacy’, symbolizing a return to international peace and prosperity, was the word of the week.
Most recently, however, newly appointed Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, boldly stated that “Our friends and partners in Latin America are looking to the United States to provide strong and sustained leadership in the region, as 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.” This begs the question of exactly who “our friends and partners in Latin America” are, as many Latin American countries are happily accepting funding for humanitarian projects from Venezuela, and Bolivia is hardly in an economic position to pull strings around the continent. These and other comments by Clinton show that the Obama administration intends to continue a foreign policy in Latin America based on corporate benefit and a misplaced fear of Latin American nationalism.
Taking the Field Back From Chavez in Venezuela
According to Steinberg, the US’s relationship with Venezuela “should be designed to serve our national interest . . . Those interests include ending Venezuela’s ties to the FARC and cooperating on counter-narcotics. For too long, we have ceded the playing field to Chavez. . . We intend to play a more active role in Latin America with a positive approach that avoids giving undue prominence to President Chavez’ theatrical attempts to dominate the regional agenda.”
Clinton herself, in replying to questions by Senator Kerry during her nomination, said that Chavez has tried to take advantage of a lack of US attention in Latin America “to advance out-moded and anti-American ideologies.” Clinton and Steinberg echoed each other about the dangers of “ceding the playing field” to Chavez and leaders “whose actions and visions for the region do not serve his citizens or people,” but Clinton showed less bravado by adding that “While we should be concerned about Chavez’s actions and posture, we should not exaggerate the threat he poses.”
Protecting Fear Mongering Politicians in Bolivia
While President Evo Morales and members of his administration have consistently expressed hope about prospects for better relations with the new US president since last November, during a positive visit to the US and meetings several senators, recent comments by Clinton make this possibility obscure, if not unlikely.
In her first appearance in the senate, Clinton also defended former Bolivian Ambassador Philip Goldberg, who was expelled from Bolivia in September of 2008 by Morales, who accused Goldberg of interfering in affairs of national sovereignty. In turn, the Bush Administration expelled Bolivian ambassador, Gustavo Guzman. Without cause, the Bush Administration then proceeded to accuse Morales’ government of failing to fulfill commitments to international drug control and withheld Bolivian benefits under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). Morales responded by accusing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of spying and interfering in national politics in favor of opposition leaders, and expelled the DEA.
Clinton described Goldberg’s expulsion as another “unjustified” act along with others taken against personnel of the US mission and aid programs by the Bolivian Government. It begs the question, Clinton said, “If Bolivia wants a constructive bilateral relationship.” Also included is Mike Hammer, a political and economic advisor to the US in Bolivia who worked with Goldberg. Hammer was recruited as White House Spokesperson for matters of National Security, but will later return to Bolivia.
Last week, Clinton continued the trend of lumping together the drastically different countries and governments of Venezuela and Bolivia and characterizing them both as negative influences on the continent. She called for the U.S. to fill what she referred to as “that void” of US attention “with strong and sustained US leadership in the region, and tough and direct diplomacy with Venezuela and Bolivia. We should have a positive agenda for the hemisphere in response to the fear-mongering propagated by Chavez and Evo Morales.”
As Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network writes, “Although the new Secretary of State’s reply received scant attention in the United States, it was front-page news in Bolivia, and was easily open to interpretation as a deliberate rebuff of the Bolivian government’s repeated expressions of readiness to engage the new U.S. administration.” Yet, Clinton also stated that the administration believes that “bilateral cooperation with Venezuela and Bolivia on a range of issues would be in the mutual interest of our respective countries – for example, counterterrorism, counter narcotics, energy, and commerce,” and Ledebur reports that “Clinton’s testimony was also hailed by Bolivia’s Vice Foreign Minister, Hugo Fernandez, as signaling that the Obama administration shared Bolivia’s desire for closer relations.”
Other Obama complicated administration ties to Bolivia include political adviser Gregory Craig, who, despite a record for defending human rights in Latin America, has been criticized for his work defending Latin American leaders accused of human rights abuses. According to Politico.com blogger Ben Smith, Craig is a “muscular counsel” whose top deputies and stature suggest that “office will play a larger role in policy — on an already muscular White House staff — than in previous administrations.”
Currently Craig is representing ousted Bolivian President Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada and former Minister of Defense Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, a fact which, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), “has raised legitimate doubts regarding his moral commitment to Latin America.” Both men are indicted in the United States for their participation ordering soldiers to open-fire on protesters in El Alto, Bolivia, in 2003, and uncontestable fact that caused the death of over 60 citizens. In June of 2007, both Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín were granted political asylum in the US while awaiting trial in Miami under the Alien Tort Claims Act. Over 20 people marched against the action in Bolivia, and the Bolivian ambassador Gustavo Guzman prepared a case for extradition of the politicians before he was expelled.
While COHA Research Associates Michael Katz and Chris Sweeney defend Craig as a politician dedicated to human rights, they write that “The Bush administration’s decision to protect these powerful figures has sent a disconcerting message of American elitism to the Bolivian citizenry. Human rights advocates believe that Craig’s continued representation of Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín demonstrates his readiness to defend the interests of the rich and famous against the poor. Admittedly, such charges complicate his reputation in Latin America, and for some bring into question his true commitment to regional solidarity.”
According to Ledebur, “The new Obama administration and Congress could help repair some of the damage done to the U.S. reputation in Latin America in recent years by taking a flexible, respectful approach toward Bolivia, in cooperation with Bolivia’s neighbor democracies and the international community. The Obama administration would also do well to recognize that Bolivia’s political dynamics, demands for profound reform, and jealous defense of national sovereignty and self-determination have emerged from the country’s own history, and have not been somehow foisted upon it by outside powers against the democratic wishes of the Bolivian people.”
Successful Failures in Plan Colombia
In his questions for the record prepared for Clinton’s nomination as Secretary of State, John Kerry cited a GOA report from fall 2008 that concluded that Plan Colombia “has not significantly reduced the amount of illicit drugs entering the United States.” Steinberg showed a lack of understanding of the accepted failures of Plan Colombia by referring to “counternarcotics successes in Colombia.”
Clinton showed a lack of nuanced understanding of government connections to paramilitaries by stating that the administration will “fully support Colombia’s fight against the FARC, and work with the government to end the reign of terror from the right wing paramilitaries.” She did show recognition of the need to change Plan Colombia strategies by mentioning the need to work “here at home to reduce demand.”
In terms of trade agreements, Clinton attempted to remain neutral, saying that “It is essential that trade spread the benefits of globalization,” but she added that “without adequate labor protections, trade cannot do that,” and that “continued violence and impunity in Colombia directed at labor and other civic leaders makes labor protections impossible to guarantee in Colombia today.”
No Timeline for Change in Cuba
Clinton spoke for Obama on Cuba, reiterating that Obama “believes that it makes both moral and strategic sense to lift the restrictions on family visits and family cash remittances to Cuba,” but added that the administration does not have a timeline for this action. Contrary to the experience of the past 50 years, she also communicated that Obama “believes that it is not the time to lift the embargo on Cuba, especially since it provides an important source of leverage for further change on the island.”
Big Business in Brazil
Kerry expressed concern with Brazil’s “leading role” in MERCOSUR, the Rio Group and the Union of South American Nations “which have at times been at odds with U.S. interests in the region.”
Clinton’s reply focused on business opportunities in the increasingly destructive agro-export sector. “We look forward to ensuring that continued U.S.-Brazil energy cooperation is environmentally sustainable and spreads the benefits of alternative fuels. The expansion of renewable energy production throughout the Americas that promotes self-sufficiency and creates more markets for US green-energy manufacturers and producers is vitally important,” she said.
Consistent with other members of the Obama administration, Clinton emphasized the agrofuel industry and did not address top scientist’s continued criticisms that agrofuels are not only unsustainable and do not create a net reduction in greenhouse gasses, but that the carcinogenic spread of crops grown for animal feed and agrofuels is dangerous to farmers and has contributed to an international food crisis. When later asked about the international food crisis, Clinton asserted that the U.S. has a “moral responsibility” and a “practical interest in doing its part to address a food crisis.” She categorized the causes of the food crisis as “cyclical and structural,” citing “poor harvests in key-grain producing nations, sharply higher oil prices, and a surge in demand for meat in high-growth Asian countries.” Many of the transgenic and genetically modified grains and crops grown in Latin America are destined as much for feed for meat animals in Europe and China as for agrofuels, but Clinton did not make that link.
Clinton identified “long-term factors include[ing] inadequate investment in enhanced agricultural productivity, inappropriate trade and subsidy programs, and climate change.” If ‘inadequate investment’ includes “hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. Department of Energy grants aimed at jump-starting the evolution to fuels made from such non-corn feedstocks as switchgrass, wheat straw and wood chips” given to several privately held firms, then more of the same problems are to be expected. Similarly, if agrofuel crops are emphasized, as Clinton indicates a U.S. interest in doing in Brazil, then issues related to climate change can only be expected to intensify.
While one could hope that Clinton’s plans to “work with partners in the international community to address immediate humanitarian needs and make seeds and fertilizers available in critically affected nations, . . . put more focus on efforts to enhance agricultural productivity . . . including agricultural research and development , and investment in improved seeds and irrigation methods,” will not involve multinational pesticide and GM seed giant Monsanto, or processors Cargill, Bunge and Syngenta. Without accepting the present dangers of the agrofuel and agro-export situation in Latin America, change in the current trajectory under an Obama administration is unlikely.
Though both Candidates ran on campaigns of change to the Bush Administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and Clinton’s recent comments show little to indicate that the US will change it’s now more than century old policy of foreign intervention under the vestige of “democracy promotion.” Clinton urged the senate “not [to] allow the war in Iraq to continue to give democracy promotion a bad name. Supporting democracy, economic development, and the rule of law is critical for U.S. interests around the world. Democracies are our best trading partners, our most valuable allies, and the nations with which we share our deepest values.” Clinton seems to urge a return to covert actions of regime change and support for opposition parties in her assertion that “democracy must be nurtured with moderates on the inside by building democratic institutions; it cannot be imposed by force from the outside.”
Still, “America,” she said, “must renew its effort to bring security and development to the disconnected corners of our interconnected world.” Like past members of past administrations, Clinton does not seem to grasp the idea that US involvement is not always necessary or welcome in all parts of the globe, and furthermore, involvement that refuses to recognize peoples’ rights to defend access to natural resources, preserve their human rights, and act out of self determination cannot solve past problems and will only exacerbate future conflicts.
April Howard is a instructor of Latin American Studies at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, and an editor of UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email April.M.Howard(at)gmail(dot)com
Latin America summit excludes U.S. and welcomes Cuba December 17, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Latin America.
Tags: Brazil, caribbean, carmen munari, Cuba, default, Economic Crisis, Ecuador, emargo, Hugo Chavez, julio villaverde, kieran murray, Latin America, lugo, Lula, mercosur, oas, Obama, paraguay, Rafael Correa, raul castro, raymond colitt, rio group, roger hollander, summit
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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)