Obama's not-so-new Latin America policy
writes from Bolivia on the gap between Barack Obama's rhetoric about a more cooperative Latin American policy and the reality of continued U.S. domination.
PRESIDENT BARACK Obama declared at the Summit of the Americas meeting in Trinidad and Tobago in April that there would no longer be junior and senior partners in the Americas--but his actions are sending a different message.
The most egregious case is Honduras, where the U.S. has played ball with the coup-makers who overthrew democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya earlier this month. The Obama administration also failed to speak out against last month's Peruvian police massacre of more than 50 indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon who were protesting the incursion of petroleum transnational corporations into their territory.
In Bolivia, too, Obama failed another important test. On June 30, the Obama administration rejected renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) for Bolivia, citing the country's alleged failure to cooperate in drug eradication efforts.
With this pronouncement, the administration ratified George W. Bush's decision last November to suspend the trade agreement with Bolivia on the basis of supposed non-cooperation in counter-narcotics operations. In reality, the suspension was one of a series of tit-for-tat moves that began when Bolivian President Evo Morales declared U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg persona non grata after he advised opposition politicians plotting a coup last September.
Bush overrode the decision of Congress to extend the agreement for six months just a few weeks after Morales announced that the Drug Enforcement Agency was no longer welcome in Bolivia. A few months earlier, Morales had supported the decision of coca growers in the Chapare region, where Morales was a union leader before becoming president, to expel the United States Agency for International Development from the area.
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THE U.S. allegation that Bolivia has failed to cooperate in the "drug war" carries serious economic penalties under the terms of the 1991 Andean Trade Preference Act.
According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the law was intended to help Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia "in their fight against drug production and trafficking by expanding their economic alternatives. To this end, the ATPA provided reduced-duty or duty-free treatment to most of these countries' exports to the United States." It was renewed in 2002 under the ATPDEA name.
The criteria for continued participation fall into four categories: investment policies, trade policies, counter-narcotics operations and workers' rights.
While the decision cited Bolivia's supposed failure to meet its counter-narcotics commitments as the reason for non-renewal, it is clear from the text of the U.S. Trade Representative's report that Bolivia had offended the U.S. in other areas as well. The report cites Bolivia's nationalization of hydrocarbons, the country's withdrawal from the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a "difficult investment climate," and increased tariffs. These are described in matter-of-fact language--but it's clear that the U.S. is none too pleased.
In the area of counter-narcotics, the trade representative's report claims that the "loss of the DEA presence and its information network has severely diminished Bolivia's interdiction capacity in both the short and the long term."
The report concedes that the Bolivian government has "maintained its support for interdiction efforts" and that "interdiction of drugs and precursor chemicals continues to rise," and that "the Bolivian counter-narcotics police and other CN [counter-narcotics] units have improved coordination effectiveness." Yet even Bolivia's success in these efforts is seen as a problem--the U.S. report concludes that Bolivia's increased drug interdiction is evidence of "increased cocaine production and transshipment."
While it appears that cocaine production has, in fact, increased in Bolivia, this is being used as an excuse for the U.S. to punish a government that is challenging American interference within its borders.
If the U.S. government was truly concerned with stopping the production and distribution of illegal drugs, and believed that ending trade preference agreements could have such an effect, it would refuse to extend trade preferences to U.S. ally Colombia, a country at the heart of cocaine production.
According to the Andean Information Network, coca production has risen in three of the four Andean countries participating in the ATPDEA: Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that land area under coca cultivation in the region grew by 16 percent from 2006 to 2007. Colombia led the way with a 27 percent increase, while growth in Bolivia was 5 percent and in Peru 4 percent. "Overall, Colombia accounted for 85 percent of the net 24,700 hectare increase region-wide, while Peru accounted for 9 percent and Bolivia for 6 percent," the UN agency reported.
Despite this region-wide spike in cocaine production, only Bolivia faces non-renewal of trade preferences. The U.S. recently renewed the ATPDEA for Peru and Colombia, and renewed it for Ecuador the same day it denied renewal to Bolivia.
The suspension of preferred trade status as of December 2008 had already led to a 14 percent decline in Bolivian sales to the U.S. and the loss of more than 2,000 jobs in the country's largest textile exporter. The textile industry had benefited the most from trade preference and is being hit the hardest by its suspension.
According to AmericaEconomic.com, "Bolivian exports to the U.S., in large part due to the ATPDEA, reached $171,920,000 dollars in the first five months of 2008. In the same period in 2009, exports fell 19.5 percent to $138,370,000. The textile industry has protested that the suspension of the ATPDEA will lose the sector close to 9,000 jobs."
The Agencia de Noticias Fides (ANF) estimates that 46,000 jobs will be lost nationally and between 5,000 and 7,000 businesses will be affected in the department (region) of La Paz alone. The Santa Cruz Chamber of Exporters estimates that exports from its department to the U.S. will decline 60 percent by the end of the year.
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IN THE lead-up to the decision on ATPDEA, President Morales appealed to the U.S. to renew the agreement, even sending a delegation to the U.S. to make the case. "If President Obama wants to have good relations," Morales said, "I want to publicly tell him that hopefully he can mend the ways of ex-President Bush."
When Obama followed Bush's lead and refused to renew Bolivia's status as a cooperating government in anti-drug efforts, Morales said the decision was "clearly political." "I feel deceived by the suspension of the ATPDEA because the Obama government has lied and made slanderous and false accusations against the Bolivian government to suspend the trade preferences," he told reporters.
So much for the Obama administration's stated aim of improving relations with Latin America by establishing mutual respect and cooperation. Rather, recent events indicate that Obama is committed to re-establishing U.S. hegemony in the region in order to counter the "pink tide" of center-left governments that have been elected from Central America to the Southern Cone.
Morales put it well:
In the U.S., the appearance of the leaders has changed, but the politics of empire have not. When he told us in Trinidad and Tobago that they are no longer senior and junior partners, President Obama lied to Latin America. Now there is not only a senior partner, there is a patron [boss], a policeman...
They told me not to trust Obama--that the empire is the empire. To those who made this recommendation to me, I thank you. Truly, the empire is the empire. But thankfully, the battle will continue with the consciousness of not only the Bolivian people, but all of the peoples of Latin America.
In a discussion with a New York audience in May, Uruguayan author Eduardo Galleano urged Obama, instead of restoring U.S. "leadership" in the region, to leave Latin America alone. While Obama would win a lot more favor with Latin American governments and populations were he to follow this advice, all signs point to an empire that is gearing up to reassert control in what it has long considered its backyard.
But the increasing consciousness, organization and mobilization of Latin America's popular classes--there to see on the streets of Honduras in recent weeks--means that the U.S. won't be able to re-establish hegemony in Latin America without a fight.