Obama and Latin America: The First Six Months

By Kevin Young

Kana’an eBulletin – Volume IX – Issue 1969

Far from embodying any dramatic changes, President Barack Obama’s foreign policy has thus far tended toward continuity or worse in most major areas. The administration has escalated the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the advice of knowledgeable observers of the region and against the wishes of the vast majority of the Afghan and Pakistani populations. Despite bowing to overwhelming Iraqi pressure by agreeing to withdraw at least some U.S. forces from Iraq, Obama has pushed hard for continued war funding and has sought to consolidate U.S. control over Iraq “without being seen to do so,” as publicly conceded by one high-level official. With regard to Palestine, Obama has refused to endorse the decades-old international consensus and the 2002 Arab League peace proposal calling for a two-state solution on the pre-1967 borders. And he has increased total military spending by four percent over Bush-era levels rather than redirecting those funds to meet human needs.1 As with domestic issues, Obama’s foreign policy rhetoric has sounded more compassionate and far less arrogant than his predecessor’s, like when Obama has insisted on an immediate end to illegal Israeli settlements and talked about reconciliation with the Muslim world. Yet even such small steps have usually been confined to the realm of rhetoric; there is absolutely no indication, for example, that Obama has even considered cutting the $2.8 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Israel to force it to comply with international law.

To what extent has this pattern applied to Obama’s approach to Latin America? Acutely conscious of the long U.S. history of imperialist intervention in the region and thoroughly disgusted with the U.S.-promoted neoliberal economic policies of recent decades, most Latin Americans have long been anxious to see a new U.S. policy in the region, one that respects international law and national sovereignty while helping to promote sustainable and egalitarian economic development. Any assessment of the new administration must acknowledge, of course, that Obama himself does not singlehandedly determine policy, and that corporate, financial, military, and other elite interests constitute powerful obstacles to substantial change. Yet the President himself and the people he appoints nonetheless deserve a large portion of the praise or blame for the direction of U.S. policy. With this partial caveat in mind, this essay evaluates the extent to which Obama administration policy in Latin America has thus far adhered to ideals of democracy, human rights, and international law.

Obama and the Leftward Turn

The most significant challenge that Latin America has presented to Washington in the last decade has been its much-discussed leftward turn. With just three major exceptions (Colombia, Peru, and Mexico, with possible 2006 election fraud in the last), nearly every country on the continent has elected a left-of-center president promising to abandon economic neoliberalism and to forge strong regional alliances that will increase Latin American economic and political independence. Although the corporate press usually implicates Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez as the key culprit behind this shift, recent elections and policy changes have in fact reflected the growth of grassroots social movements and the thorough disillusionment of the region’s people with the policies promoted by U.S. leaders and Latin American elites.

Recent Latin American efforts to build intra-regional trade alliances, to institute measures of limited economic protectionism, and to limit the power of foreign capital predictably met with overt hostility from the Bush administration. The Obama administration has at time shown signs of change in this regard: in March, after right-wing members of the U.S. Congress had publicly threatened to cut off remittances to El Salvador and deport Salvadoran immigrants if the left-leaning FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes won the presidential election, the administration yielded to pressure from Salvadoran and U.S. activists by issuing an official statement of neutrality-a welcome change from Washington’s blatant intervention in support of the far-right ARENA party in the 2004 elections. But unfortunately, a more comprehensive review of Obama’s approach to the region suggests that despite this example and despite the often more tolerant, conciliatory tone of administration rhetoric, the basics of U.S. policy and strategy have thus far undergone few substantial modifications. The key test of Obama administration goodwill in Latin America-the extent to which it supports the right of Latin Americans to elect presidents who favor economic policies of redistribution and national control over key resources and to support those presidents once in office-has so far yielded, on the whole, rather discouraging results.

The administration’s approach to its predecessor’s arch-enemy in the region, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, has involved a bizarre mix of conciliatory gestures and rhetoric, on the one hand, and occasional statements that have outdone even the Bush administration in their hostility toward Chávez, on the other. In the first category, Obama has restored the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, whom Chávez had expelled last September to protest U.S. support for right-wing separatist groups in Bolivia. And in a small move that triggered an absurd amount of commentary in the mainstream press, Obama greeted and shook hands with Chávez at last April’s Summit of the Americas. At the same time, much administration rhetoric has continued to vilify Chávez and to blame him for the continent-wide revulsion against Washington’s neoliberal policies. In a January interview broadcast on Spanish-language television, Obama labeled Chávez “a force that has interrupted progress in the region” and, with no evidence whatsoever, accused Chávez of “exporting terrorist activities.” Analyst Mark Weisbrot noted the charge “would not pass the laugh test among almost any government in Latin America.” At other moments, Obama has called Chávez “despotic,” while Hillary Clinton and Vice President Biden have each called him a “dictator.”2

Obama’s hostility toward Bolivia has extended beyond rhetoric into concrete policy actions, with potentially dire effects for tens of thousands of Bolivian workers. On June 30 Obama declared that Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, no longer deserved U.S. trade preferences. President Bush had rescinded those preferences last fall, but Obama had widely been expected to reinstate them; instead, he permanently eliminated them. The public rationale of both presidents has been that Bolivia has failed to reduce cocaine and coca leaf production, a major stipulation of the original agreement. Leaving aside the question of whether Washington has the right to prohibit Andean nations from growing the coca leaves which are central to Andean highland culture, the statistics on coca production suggest that the Bush-Obama policy of revoking Bolivia’s trade preferences has political motives. While Bolivian coca production increased by only 5 percent in 2007, Colombian coca production increased by 27 percent. The 2008 figures released in June do show a significant decline in Colombian coca and cocaine production, but Colombia remains the leading producer of both products.3 Yet while the Obama administration punishes Bolivians by ending much-needed trade preferences, it has rewarded the Colombian government with over half a billion dollars in aid for next year (more on this below).

With regard to Cuba policy, Obama has done nothing that U.S. business elites and the Cuban-American mafia in Florida would find offensive. He has maintained the 47-year-old embargo-which has been roundly condemned in the international community for decades-in nearly every point.4 While the press has showered much attention on the ending of travel restrictions on Cuban Americans, with many hailing this change as a progressive move, Obama explained during his campaign why he would do so. In May 2008 he appeared before a cheering audience of the Cuban American National Foundation, a group long known to have planned and promoted terrorist operations in Cuba, and told the group that the U.S. needs “a new strategy” for converting Cuba to a subservient, neoliberal economy, since the old strategy (five decades of terrorism, economic strangulation, and attempts at isolation) hasn’t worked. “There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans,” he said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later added that Cuban-American visitors to the island would also serve as “ambassadors…for a free market economy.” At the same time, Obama has plainly stated, “I will maintain the embargo.”5 Obama’s approach to Cuba, far from constituting any substantial progressive change from the Bush era, is rightly viewed as a more intelligent use of U.S. coercion to obtain the desired results. There are signs that Raúl Castro is more open to certain capitalist policy shifts than Fidel was. Raúl has, for example, publicly defined “equality” as the “equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income,” suggesting that perhaps Obama’s approach may prove a more effective imperial strategy for influencing developments on the island.6

The Coup in Honduras

Obama’s most publicized test on Latin America, however, has come from a relatively unexpected source. On June 28 the Honduran military overthrew and kidnapped democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya in the first Latin American coup in five years. Since his 2005 election, Zelaya had surprised his right-wing supporters by promoting a minimum-wage increase and a number of other mildly reformist measures and by his move to poll Hondurans as to whether they would like to convene an assembly to re-write the Constitution.7 (He was deposed the day the vote was to be held.) In a nearly unprecedented show of hemispheric unity, Latin American governments-including even U.S. allies-immediately denounced the coup and called for Zelaya’s reinstatement. Obama and Secretary of State Clinton followed Latin America’s lead by calling for a restoration of “constitutional order.” The U.S. reaction to the coup at first glance seemed to signal a refreshing change from the Bush administration, which supported the last two coups (in Venezuela in 2002 and Haiti in 2004) against democratically-elected Latin American governments.

Upon closer inspection, though, the Obama response appears far more equivocal. At least some in the administration (though perhaps not Obama himself), knew about the coup plot beforehand and did nothing to prevent it. Once the military had seized power, the administration refused to legally label it a “coup,” which by law would have required it to cut off all military aid to the new regime. On July 8 Obama did end direct U.S. military aid, totaling $16.5 million, though as of this writing has left a $180 million aid package intact. Meanwhile, Honduran soldiers continue to receive training at the infamous School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia (which Obama has also left open for business) and U.S. military personnel continue operating without any change inside Honduras itself. The U.S. ambassador, who lent tacit cooperation to the coup once it was in motion, remains in Honduras.8 The administration has tried to justify the maintenance of these links using the rationale that “engagement” enables the U.S. to exert positive leverage over a regime’s behavior-reasoning that sounds suspiciously similar to an excuse often given in the 1970s and 1980s for aiding Latin America’s many terrorist states in their wars against their own people. But even this rationale does not accord with the actions of Obama, who has issued no condemnation of the violent repression and press censorship that the illegitimate Honduran government has unleashed since seizing power.

Obama administration officials have called for Zelaya’s reinstatement, but have tended more often to emphasize instead the need for “dialogue” between the two parties. Obama, Clinton, and others have firmly supported the mediated negotiations that began in Costa Rica on July 9 between Zelaya and the coup leaders.9 The implicit message to all would-be coup plotters throughout Latin America is that an illegal military coup will result not in a prison sentence but in at least a seat at the negotiating table and, if they serve U.S. interests in the region, permission to stay in power. Needless to say, the U.S. equivalent-a renegade band of military brass overthrowing President Obama-would hardly be greeted with cool-toned calls for “dialogue” here at home.

On one hand, the Obama administration has sometimes appeared quite forceful in its rhetorical condemnations of the coup. But it has used ambiguous and carefully-selected language and has refrained from taking any substantive measures (e.g., ending military aid or freezing the bank accounts of the coup leaders) that would lead to Zelaya’s reinstatement. As in other areas of its Latin America policy, the hope-inspiring tone of the Obama administration’s public rhetoric has not been matched by its actions.

Obama and the Ever-Faithful: Colombia, Mexico, and Peru

Though it has garnered far less media fanfare, the administration’s policy toward key U.S. allies in the region will have extremely important consequences in the years to come. In his first six months Obama has placed Colombia and Mexico in particular at the top of his Latin America agenda with emphasis on expanding U.S. trade and “security” links with the two countries.

On June 29 Obama welcomed Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to Washington, assuring him that “moving forward on a free trade agreement” with Colombia was among the administration’s top priorities and in “the interests of both countries.”10 Obama firmly believes in the general desirability of the so-called “free-trade” agreements that have increased poverty and inequality throughout Latin America. His partial hesitance toward a free-trade agreement with Colombia has never derived from the well-known detrimental effects of such agreements on the vulnerable sectors and the environments of underdeveloped countries, but from the constant and undeniable human rights violations of the Uribe government.

Recently, though, Obama has even suggested that he may be willing to overlook the Uribe regime’s human rights record-by far the worst in Latin America-in the interest of passing a trade agreement. On June 29 he praised Uribe’s “diligence and courage” and applauded “the progress that has been made in human rights in Colombia,” noting that “obviously we’ve seen a downward trajectory in the deaths of labor union[ist]s and we’ve seen improvements when it comes to prosecution” of the offenders. Obama neglected to note the specifics of that downward trajectory: from 2007 to 2008 in Colombia there was a 34 percent increase in murders and disappearances of trade unionists (49 were murdered last year, the most in the world), plus a 52 percent increase in forced displacement and a 102 percent increase in death threats.11 Obama has rewarded Uribe for that downward trajectory by continuing the Clinton-Bush legacy of extending massive military aid to Colombia. Although his 2010 budget reduces by about $36 million the amount dedicated exclusively to Colombia’s military and police apparatus, next year’s Colombia funding still amounts to over $508 million in U.S. aid, $268 million for military and police. Recently the administration has also sought to finalize agreements that will expand the direct U.S. military presence within Colombia.12

But Mexico will become the hemisphere’s top recipient of U.S. military aid over the coming year, displacing Colombia to second place. In June the U.S. Congress approved a $420 million supplemental allocation to the Mexican government to combat Mexican drug cartels, bringing total 2009 U.S. military and police aid to Mexico to $832 million. This latest allocation comes as part of the Mérida Initiative (also known as Plan Mexico) that Bush signed last year and which the Obama administration appears eager to continue. Obama’s 2010 budget includes an additional $481 million for the Mexican government, increasing the three-year total for Plan Mexico to $1.6 billion. The current administration’s approach to the drug trade in Mexico has thus far been modeled on the deeply-flawed U.S. approach in Colombia over the past decade, placing heavy emphasis on military aid and paying insufficient attention to the endemic corruption and culture of impunity for human rights violators that characterize the governments of both countries. And Obama, like Bush, has done nothing to reassure those who worry that the Mexican government may also use U.S. aid to help repress domestic dissent, as it has been quick to do in recent years and as the Uribe government in Colombia has done quite unabashedly with the help of U.S. military assistance. The White House’s aid request for 2010 actually proposes eliminating even the tepid human rights conditions upon which current aid to Mexico and Colombia is contingent.13

Peru is less prominent on the U.S. radar, but did present the Obama administration with an important symbolic test in early June when government police forces massacred around 60 indigenous protesters who were seeking to prevent the entry of mining, logging, and biofuels companies onto their land. The massacre was clearly linked to the expansion of Washington-style neoliberal globalization: Along with the implementation of the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement, Peruvian President Alan García signed a series of laws facilitating the entry of extractive industries onto indigenous land. Following the massacre, a wave of Peruvian and international condemnation forced the government to rescind two of the controversial laws.14 The Obama administration did not join in that condemnation, however, remaining entirely silent. Such silence suggests that Obama, like his predecessors, is willing to overlook the crimes of those who support U.S. economic and geopolitical interests in Latin America. By contrast, those who “interrupt progress” in the region, like indigenous communities in Peru who believe they should they have a say in how their resources are used, will continue to pay the price for their misbehavior.

An Obama Doctrine for Latin America?

It may still be too early to talk of a distinctive “Obama Doctrine” in Latin America. Moreover, doing so is difficult because of the conflicting signals the administration has sometimes sent. Historian Greg Grandin noted recently that “what you see often in the Obama administration is Obama making very good pronouncements on any number of issues…and then on-the-ground, second-level officials either hedging or being actually quite provocative.” Secretary of State Clinton, for example, has been considerably more bellicose in her statements on Venezuela, Cuba, and Honduras, consistent with her past record of greater contempt for international law. One of Clinton’s advisers is reportedly John Negroponte, the man who helped militarize Honduras and direct Reagan’s terrorist war against Nicaragua in the 1980s, and Clinton also has close links to lobbyists hired by the Honduran coup leaders. Other Obama advisors with much-vaunted Latin American experience include Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela (a Plan Colombia architect) and Summit of the Americas adviser Jeffrey Davidow (who served as ambassador to Chile when the U.S. helped overthrow the Allende government in 1973). Clinton, Davidow, Joe Biden, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, and others have all made public statements that seem to outdo Obama in terms of hostility toward left-leaning governments.15

Of course, this lack of coherence might not be entirely accidental. For an administration facing pressures from many sides, part of the strategy may be for Obama to issue hopeful and inspiring rhetoric to placate those demanding change, and then for his subordinates and his actual policy formulations to dispel any illusions of a genuine change in U.S. policy. As some of the more perceptive critics have pointed out, Obama seems to have a unique ability to mesmerize everyone-including much of the Left-with his rhetoric while implementing or continuing policies that bear no necessary relation to that rhetoric.16

In any case, at least one general tendency of Obama’s policy thus far has been clear: to continue discriminating against, albeit with less confrontational rhetoric, the most left-leaning governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba. In marked contrast, “moderate Left” governments like Brazil, Chile, and Argentina have enjoyed much stronger support from Obama’s Washington, signaling a relative continuity with the Bush strategy of trying to split the “aggressive” and “moderate” Latin American leftists and thereby promoting adherence to the latter position. As one close observer of Bolivia, Jim Schultz, suggested following Obama’s June 30 elimination of Bolivia’s trade preferences, the administration may have “decided that Bolivia might make a nice line in the sand.” Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg publicly advocated this strategy when he spoke of the need to foster 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.”17

In sum, the Obama Doctrine gradually taking shape is less brazen and less confrontational than what Latin Americans have seen coming from the North in recent decades, but is so far substantively quite similar to the approach of the Clinton and Bush administrations. As Greg Grandin predicted about a year ago, Obama has begun “to implement a more rational, less ideologically incandescent deployment of American power.” Journalist Eva Golinger refers to this strategy as “smart power,” featuring “a mix of military force with all forms of diplomacy, with an emphasis [on] the use of ‘democracy promotion’ as a principal tactic.” (As Golinger notes, Obama’s 2010 budget has increased the funds allocated for this latter activity, which has often included channeling money to opposition groups in Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia.) Long-time solidarity activist Chuck Kaufman describes it as “a kinder, gentler imperialism,” a phrase that others have also used to describe Obama’s more general foreign policy approach-although it’s difficult to see how some of Obama’s policies are any kinder or gentler than Bush’s.)18

Whatever label is applied to characterize it, this approach bears some resemblance to that of past U.S. presidents who have been faced with waning U.S. power in the hemisphere. Some have compared it to FDR’s Good Neighbor policy, which responded to the rise of nationalism in Mexico and Central America and the crisis of capitalism at home by renouncing direct intervention and opting instead for bilateral trade agreements geared toward rehabilitating capitalism and reaffirming Latin American economic dependence on the United States. A quarter-century later, the Kennedy State Department bemoaned the fact that Latin America’s “poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a decent living.” Its response was three-pronged, combining hopeful and progressive-sounding rhetoric about the need for social reform; economic aid intended to curb the spread of redistributive and nationalist inclinations; and a huge increase in military assistance to Latin American governments.19

Obama shares Roosevelt and Kennedy’s rhetoric of respect and cooperation, and, as they did, he surely understands that such rhetoric is necessary if the U.S. is to stand any chance of recouping its declining influence in the region. Yet as in times past, and as in Iraq right now, the nice-sounding rhetoric also conceals a desire to strengthen U.S. control in the region “without being seen to do so.” And like FDR and JFK, Obama has suggested that there are real limits to this newfound tolerance. Just as Roosevelt welcomed the dictatorship led by Somoza in Nicaragua as “our son of a bitch” and Kennedy authorized any number of illegal actions against Cuba, Obama has remained quite hostile to the three most left-leaning governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba.20

If the Obama administration believes it can reassert U.S. power in the region through a strategy that tries to pit “good Left” against “bad Left,” it will probably fail. Latin American governments, despite their diversity, are more united in support of democratic sovereignty than at any time in recent memory, as their unanimous denunciations of the Honduras coup and of last fall’s right-wing violence in Bolivia have demonstrated. Mark Weisbrot writes that “when the Obama team is convinced that a ‘divide and conquer’ approach to the region will fail just as miserably for this administration as it did for the previous one, then we may see the beginnings of a new policy toward Latin America.”21 I hope so, but with one qualification: What is needed is not just a new strategy that leaves intact many of the traditional assumptions about U.S. rights and privileges in the region, but an entirely new perspective that breaks, explicitly and completely, with the Monroe Doctrine and all its concomitant attitudes and policy formulations.


[1] On Iraq, see Michael Schwartz, “Colonizing Iraq: The Obama Doctrine?TomDispatch, July 9, 2009, and Democracy Now! headlines for June 17 and June 25, 2009. On Afghan and Pakistani public opinion, see the 2009 Western-run polls cited here and here. On Israel and Palestine, see Noam Chomsky, “Obama on Israel-Palestine: Carefully Framed Deceit,” Z Magazine (March 2009), and, on Iraq and Central Asia, Chomsky’s “Crisis and Hope: Theirs and Ours,” June 2009 speech reproduced on Democracy Now! July 3, 2009. Also useful is Jeremy Scahill and Anthony Arnove’s joint interview, “Rebranding War & Occupation,” ZNet, June 18, 2009, where Schahill points out that Obama will “say a few things…that sound like they’re new, like a totally different U.S. approach, but then he’ll also at the same time roll out a policy that is further than even Bush took things.”

[2] Quoted in Garry Leech, “U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela and Colombia Will Change Little Under Obama,” Colombia Journal, January 20, 2009, and in Weisbrot, “Venezuela, an Imaginary Threat,” Guardian, February 18, 2009.

[3] UN statistics quoted in “Morales: Bolivia Trade Suspension Shows Obama ‘Lied to Latin America’” (headline), Democracy Now! July 2, 2009; UN Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2009 (New York, 2009), 11.

[4] Every year since 1992 the UN General Assembly has condemned the embargo; in October 2008 the most recent resolution passed by a vote of 184 to 4. See AP, “U.N. Again Urges U.S. to Lift Embargo against Cuba,” October 30, 2008.

[5] Carol J. Williams and Johanna Neuman, “Obama Says He Would Meet with Cuba’s Leaders,” Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2008; “Senate Confirmation Hearing: Hillary Clinton,” New York Times, January 13, 2008.

[6] Sarah Miller Llana and Matthew Clark, “Cuba under Raúl: Creeping toward Capitalism?Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 2008. Though the writers probably exaggerate the younger Castro’s capitalist proclivities, and like other U.S. commentators erroneously attribute the thrust of Cuban economy policy to a single man rather than the wishes of the Cuban people, the difference in rhetoric between the two Castro brothers is significant.

[7] On Zelaya’s background see Benjamin Dangl, “Showdown in Honduras: The Rise and Uncertain Future of the Coup,” Toward Freedom, June 29, 2009, and Stephen Zunes, “Showdown in ‘Tegucigolpe,'” Foreign Policy in Focus, July 10, 2009.

[8] Obama Condemns Honduran Coup, But Won’t Suspend Aid,” Democracy Now! June 30, 2009, and DN‘s collection of news and interviews on the coup; John McPhaul, “U.S. Suspends Military Aid to Honduras before Talks,” Reuters, July 9, 2009; James Hodge and Linda Cooper, “U.S. Continues to Train Honduran Soldiers,” National Catholic Reporter, July 14, 2009; “Honduras Rivals Back Peace Moves,” BBC, July 8, 2009; Nikolas Kozloff, “Obama and Honduras: It’s All About the Constitution,” ZNet, July 19, 2009; for evidence that the State Department had prior knowledge of the coup, as well as the argument that the Obama administration may have been closely implicated in it, see Eva Golinger, “Honduran Coup: Made in Washington,” MRZine,January 15, 2009; for a recent report on over 1,000 human rights violations in the two weeks following the coup, see Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH), Informe preliminar: Violaciones a derechos humanos en el marco del golpe de estado en Honduras (Tegucigalpa, July 15, 2009).

[9] Honduras Rivals Back Peace Moves,” BBC, July 8, 2009.

[10] White House, Office of the Press Secretary, “Remarks by President Obama and President Uribe of Colombia in Joint Press Availability,” June 29, 2009.

[11] Escuela Nacional Sindical, Sistema de Información Sindical y Laboral (Sislab), 1º reporte a diciembre de 2008 (Medellín, June 2009), 41.

[12] See “FY2010 International Affairs (Function 150) Budget Request-Summary and Highlights,” released May 7, 2009, the Colombia portion of which is summarized here; on U.S. military bases see the Center for International Policy’s Colombia Program, “U.S. Use of Colombian Bases: More Questions than Answers” (blog), July 16, 2009.

[13] Obama Signs War Funding Bill” (headline), Democracy Now! June 25, 2009; Bill Weinberg, “Plan Colombia: Exporting the Model,” NACLA Report on the Americas 42, no. 4 (July/August 2009); Abigail Poe, “Mexico to Surpass Colombia as the #1 Recipient of U.S. Aid in Latin America” (blog on Just the Facts website), June 17, 2009; Kristina Aiello, “Obama’s Choice: Human Rights First or Plan Mexico,” NACLA (online), June 1, 2009; White House Office of Management and Budget, FY2010 Budget Request for Department of State and Other International Programs, 883, 895, with analysis by the Center for International Policy’s Colombia Program here. For the ways in which “Washington is funding both sides of the drug war” in Mexico, see Todd Miller, “Mexico’s Emerging Narco-State,” NACLA (online), July 1, 2009.

[14] Laura Carlsen, “Victory in the Amazon” (Special Report of the Center for International Policy’s Americas Program), June 22, 2009.

[15] Greg Grandin, Interview by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! July 2, 2009; Mark Weisbrot, “Who’s in Charge of U.S. Foreign Policy?Guardian, July 16, 2009; Stephen Zunes, “Hillary Clinton’s Disdain for International Law: Change We Can Believe In?AlterNet.org, December 1, 2008; Eva Golinger, “Honduran Coup: Made in Washington.”

[16] See especially Paul Street’s “Obama’s Violin: Populist Rage and the Uncertain Containment of Change,” Z Magazine (May 2009), and “‘Business Liberalism’: The Real Meaning of Obama’s ‘Pragmatic’ Reluctance to ‘Tilt at Windmills,’ZNet commentary, June 26, 2009.

[17] President Obama Ends U.S. Trade Preferences for Bolivia” (blog on website of The Democracy Center), July 2, 2009; Steinberg quoted in Weisbrot, “Venezuela, an Imaginary Threat.”

[18] Grandin, “Losing Latin America: What Will the Obama Doctrine Be Like?TomDispatch, June 8, 2008; Golinger, “Honduran Coup: Made in Washington“; Chuck Kaufman, personal correspondence; Corey D.B. Walker, “A Kinder, Gentler Imperialism? Getting Beyond the Either/Or Choice,” Counterpunch.org, July 18, 2008.

[19] Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein, “Honduras, Washington and Latin America: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Good Neighbor,” UpsideDownWorld.org, July 8, 2009; “Summary Guidelines Paper: United States Policy toward Latin America,” July 3, 1961, in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Vol. XII: American Republics (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996), 33; Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 47-49.

[20] The approach taking shape under Obama also has at least something in common with that of two less likely figures, Eisenhower and Nixon. Both presidents were firmly committed to projecting U.S. power in the region, but also sought to minimize the use of overt, direct U.S. intervention (though both men would authorize major direct interventions, most notably in Guatemala, Cuba, and Chile). Eisenhower emphasized covert action and, in the case of the Bolivian Revolution, a policy of engagement and U.S. aid in order to channel the revolution in safe directions. Nixon sought to reduce direct U.S. military involvement by shifting military responsibility onto Latin American forces themselves. (To be sure, there were also significant differences among these presidents-Roosevelt, for example, was far less open to overt intervention in Latin America than Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon all were).

[21] Weisbrot, “Venezuela, an Imaginary Threat.”


Source: The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), July 23 2009


URL: https://nacla.org/node/6017


Kevin Young is a doctoral student in Latin American history at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He thanks to Chuck Kaufman of the Alliance for Global Justice for his comments on the first draft of this essay.