Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] The unruly U.S. "backyard"
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Analysis: Eric Toussaint
======== THE UNRULY U.S. "BACKYARD" ==========================================
Eric Toussaint, president of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World
Debt , looks at the Obama administration's continuation of policies in
Latin America that are designed to ensure U.S. dominance.
February 4, 2010
U.S. AGGRESSIVENESS towards the Venezuelan, Bolivian, and Ecuadorian
governments has increased in response to diminishing U.S. influence over the
Latin American and Caribbean area, which Washington has been blaming on Hugo
Chávez in particular (and also on Cuba, but Cuba is a much older story).
Several examples illustrate the United States' waning control.
During the negotiations that followed Colombia's attack on Ecuador on March
1, 2008 , instead of appealing to the Organization of American States
(OAS), of which the United States is a member and which is headquartered in
Washington, the Latin American presidents held a meeting in Santo Domingo,
within the framework of the Rio Group , without inviting their great
neighbor from the North, and clearly laid the blame on Colombia, a U.S. ally.
In 2008, Honduras--traditionally and wholly subordinated to U.S.
policy--joined Petrocaribe, which was created on the initiative of Venezuela
to provide oil to the non-exporting countries in the region at a lower price
than that practiced on the world market. Honduras also joined the Bolivarian
Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), another initiative for regional integration
launched by Venezuela and Cuba.
In December 2008, another important summit took place bringing together most
of the Latin American presidents in Salvador de Bahía, with the noteworthy
presence of the Cuban head of state, Raúl Castro, next to whom was seated
the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, who until recently had adopted a
hostile attitude towards Cuba, to keep in line with the directives from
A few months later, the OAS decided, in spite of U.S. opposition, to
reintegrate Cuba, which had been excluded in 1964. In 2009, Ecuador also
joined ALBA, and terminated the U.S. army's lease of the Manta air base.
As the following examples illustrate, since the beginning of the 2000s,
Washington has systematically attempted to thwart the shift towards the left
made by the peoples of Latin America: supporting the coup d'etat against
Chávez in April 2002; offering massive financial support to the anti-Chávez
opposition movement; supporting the Venezuelan bosses' strike from December
2002 to January 2003; the active intervention of the U.S. ambassador in
Bolivia to prevent the election of Evo Morales; the World Bank's remote
control intervention in Ecuador in 2005 to obtain the resignation of Rafael
Correa, who was then the minister of economy and finance; the organization of
joint military operations in the Southern Cone ; the resurrection of the
Fourth Fleet ; and a very significant increase in military aid to its
Colombian ally, which serves as a bridgehead in the Andean region.
In addition, to overcome the failure of the Free Trade Area of the Americas
(FTAA) in November 2005, Washington has been negotiating and/or signing as
many bilateral free trade agreements as possible (with Chile, Uruguay, Peru,
Colombia, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras,
and Costa Rica).
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U.S. AGGRESSIVENESS toward what it sees as a dangerous "Chavist contagion" in
Latin America went up another notch in June-July 2009 with the military coup
d'etat in Honduras, which overthrew the liberal president Manuel Zelaya just
as he was calling for a referendum on the election of a constituent assembly
by universal suffrage.
The Pentagon had resented this shift to the left by a president it thought
would behave obediently because Honduras is one of its subordinate countries
in the region. If a constituent assembly had been elected by universal
suffrage, it would have inevitably had to rule on the demand for agrarian
reform, which would have called into question the enormous privileges of the
major landowners and foreign agri-business transnationals present in the
It is mainly for this reason that the local capitalist class, a significant
number of whom come from the agrarian sector, supported the coup. It is also
important to take account of the fact that this capitalist class is a class
of compradors who are completely turned towards import-export business and
dependent on good relations with the United States. This explains why it
supported the signing of a free trade agreement with Washington and was
opposed to ALBA.
Zelaya's order for an increase in the minimum wage is also one of the factors
that pushed the bosses to plot his overthrow. In addition, we know that
Zelaya intended to ask Washington to leave the Soto Cano air base located
less than 65 miles from the capital so that it could be converted into a
Even imagining--which is highly improbable--that the Honduran generals acted
on their own initiative in collaboration with the local capitalist class, it
is inconceivable that Roberto Micheletti, the puppet president designated by
the military and by corporate and liberal party leaders, could have stayed in
power if the U.S. government had vigorously opposed it.
The U.S. has been training Honduran generals for decades, and has an
important military base in Soto Cano (with 500 American soldiers stationed
there on a permanent basis); moreover, as Hillary Clinton admitted after the
coup, the U.S. has massively funded the opposition to President Zelaya. In
addition, U.S. transnational companies, particularly in the agri-business
sector, are well-established in this country, which they consider to be a
In order to further increase the threat against Venezuela and Ecuador,
Washington got President Álvaro Uribe to announce in July 2009 that seven
Colombian bases would be handed over to the American army, thereby enabling
their fighter aircraft to reach all regions of the South American continent
(except Cape Horn).
It is no coincidence that only a short time separated the military coup in
Honduras and the Colombian President's announcement: Washington was clearly
indicating that it wanted to immediately halt the extension of ALBA and nip
this 21st century socialism in the bud.
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IT WOULD be irresponsible to underestimate Washington's capacity to do
damage, or the continuity characterizing U.S. foreign policy in spite of the
election of Barack Obama and a softer rhetoric.
While President Manuel Zelaya, who returned to his country secretly on
September 21, 2009, was taking refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa
and the putschists were violently repressing demonstrations by partisans of
the constitutional president, closing down opposition media, and on September
27 declaring a 45-day state of siege, all that Lewis Amselem, the number two
representative of Washington at the OAS, had to say was: "Zelaya's return is
irresponsible and foolish."
Meanwhile, for several days, Hillary Clinton failed to condemn the extended
curfew imposed by Micheletti to prevent people from gathering in front of the
The agreement reached on October 30, under the auspices of Washington between
representatives of Manuel Zelaya and those of Roberto Micheletti, expressly
stipulated that the parties undertake not to call either directly or
indirectly for the convocation of a constituent assembly or for any
consultation of the people (point two of the agreement). In addition, it did
not explicitly allow for the return of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency of
Honduras in order to finish his term (which is due to end in January 2010).
Roberto Micheletti and his partisans then decided not to restore the
presidency to Zelaya, who then appealed to the population not to participate
in the general elections called for November 28, 2009. The main left-wing
candidate for the presidency, Carlos Reyes, together with a hundred or so
candidates from different parties (including a sector of the liberal party),
withdrew his candidature.
On November 10, 2009, an embarrassed Washington announced at a meeting of the
OAS that it would recognize the results of the elections of November 29,
2009. On the eve of the elections, human rights organizations had recorded
the assassination of more than 20 political opposition activists since the
coup d'etat, 211 people injured during the repression, close to 2,000 cases
of illegal detention, two attempted kidnappings and 114 political prisoners
accused of sedition. Media opposing the coup were either shut down or
harassed. The UN, the OAS, the European Union, UNASUR, the member countries
of the Rio Group and ALBA had decided not to send observers.
Estimates of the number of citizens who did not vote vary, depending on the
source. According to the pro-putschist electoral Supreme Tribunal, the
percentage of non-voters was 39 percent, while several independent
organizations advance figures between 53 percent and 78 percent.
In spite of this, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly considered these
illegal and fraudulent elections "a necessary and important step forward."
Washington recognized the election to the presidency of Porfirio Lobo of the
National Party, a hard-line representative of the property barons and the
political right who organized the coup d'etat.
The U.S. ambassador in Tegucigalpa declared that the elections were "a great
celebration of democracy" and said the U.S. would work with Porfirio Lobo,
whose nickname is Pepe. "Pepe Lobo is a man of great political experience",
Ambassador Llorens told HRN radio. "I wish him luck, and the United States
will work with him for the good of both our countries...Our relations will be
While the Honduran parliament decided on December 2, 2009, not to restore
President Zelaya to office up to the end of his term on January 27, 2010,
Washington continues to support the process put in motion by the putschist
government. This creates an extremely serious precedent because Washington
has repeatedly stated that the ousting of Zelaya definitely constituted a
Supporting an electoral process stemming from a coup d'etat and working to
promote international recognition of both the authorities that perpetrated
the coup and those benefiting from it gives clear encouragement to putschist
aspirants who choose to rally to the Washington camp. This clearly applies to
a large number of right-wing people in Paraguay.
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IN DECEMBER 2009, the liberal senator Alfredo Luís Jaeggli, chair of the
domestic commission and of the budget commission, called for President
Fernando Lugo--whom he charged with wishing to enforce the Chavist model of
21st century socialism, like Manuel Zelaya--to be overthrown.
Alfredo Jaeggli, whose party belongs to the current government and represents
its main "support" in parliament, claims that the coup in Honduras was not
really a coup. He sees the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya, and what has been done
by the de facto regime since, as perfectly legal. He would like the
Paraguayan parliament to initiate a political trial against Fernando Lugo, so
as to remove him from his function and replace him with the Republic's
vice-president, namely the right-wing liberal Federico Franco.
Senator Jaeggli's complaint has nothing to do with Lugo's moral behavior, his
attack is focused on his political options. He complains that he does not
follow the lead of countries that carried out a successful economic reform,
such as Chile under Pinochet and Argentina under Carlos Menem. Clearly,
Honduras can easily become a dangerous precedent as it opens the door to
military coups condoned by some state institutions, such as the parliament or
the Supreme Court.
In the light of this experience, we can see that the Obama administration is
in no hurry to break with the methods used by its predecessors: witness the
massive funding of different opposition movements within the context of its
policy to "strengthen democracy"; the launching of media campaigns to
discredit governments that do not share its political agenda (Cuba,
Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Manuel Zelaya's Honduras and so on);
maintaining the blockade of Cuba; the support for separatist movements in
Bolivia (the media luna and the regional capital, Santa Cruz), in Ecuador
(the city of Guayaquil and its province), and in Venezuela (the petroleum
state of Zulia, the capital of which is Maracaïbo); the support for
military attacks, like the one perpetrated by Colombia in Ecuador in March
2008; as well as actions by Colombian or other paramilitary forces in
The recent dispatch of 10,000 soldiers to Haiti in the wake of the January
2010 earthquake, as well as the potential support for a constitutional coup
d'etat planned by some sectors of the Paraguayan right to overthrow President
Fernando Lugo in 2010, are among other threats posed by the U.S. policy in
Latin America and the Caribbean that should be paid attention to in the
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1. The Colombian army bombed and captured FARC rebels in a guerrilla camp in
Ecuadorian territory, killing some twenty people, including civilians. It is
important to know that although the Colombian army is extremely strong, it
has very little presence on the Colombian-Ecuadorian border, a fact that has
allowed FARC guerrillas to set up camps there, including one in which Raúl
Reyes, one of its main leaders in charge of international relations, was
present at the time. Ecuador has regularly criticized Colombia for not
providing adequate border control between these two countries.
2. Created in 1986, the Rio Group comprises 19 countries in Latin America and
the Caribbean: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile,
Ecuador, Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay,
Peru, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, plus, on a rotating basis, one
representative of the Caribbean Community (Caricom).
3. Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile
4. A structure created in 1943 to protect ships in the South Atlantic, and
abolished in 1950. It officially resumed operations on July 1, 2008.
5. For an in-depth description of the sectors that backed the coup d'Etat,
read Decio Machado's study (in Spanish), which provides a list of the
companies and their CEOs that encouraged or actively supported the
putschists: "Quiénes apoyan al gobierno ilegítimo de Roberto Micheletti."
6. Washington had paved the way for a putsch  by massively financing the
various opposition movements in the context of its policy to "strengthen
democracy." A month before the coup, different organizations, business
groups, political parties, high officials of the Catholic church and private
media, all opposed to Manuel Zelaya's policies, grouped together in the
coalition called "Democratic Civil Union of Honduras" in order to "reflect on
how to put an end to it."
7. Eva Golinger, on the Web site www.centrodealerta.org  published two
original documents produced by the U.S. Air Force regarding the agreements on
the seven bases concerned. The first document dates from May 2009 (i.e.
before the agreement was publicly announced) and stresses the vital
importance of one of the seven bases, observing that it will, among other
things, make possible the "full spectrum operations in a critical sub-region
of our hemisphere where security and stability are under constant threat from
narcotics-funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-U.S. governments, endemic
poverty and recurring natural disasters."
Eva Golinger adds the following comment : "It's not difficult to imagine
which governments in South America are considered by Washington to be
'anti-U.S. governments.' The constant aggressive declarations and statements
emitted by the State and Defense Departments and the U.S. Congress against
Venezuela and Bolivia, and even to some extent Ecuador, are evidence that the
ALBA nations are the ones perceived by Washington as a 'constant threat.' To
classify a country as 'anti-U.S.' is to consider it an enemy of the United
States. In this context, it's obvious that the military agreement with
Colombia is a reaction to a region the U.S. now considers full of 'enemies.'"
8. Quoted by AFP on November 30, 2009 .
9. The right-wing Latin American governments who are allies of Washington
(Colombia, Peru, Panama and Costa Rica) do likewise.
10. See also the press conference given by Arturo Valenzuela, number two of
the State Department for the Western Hemisphere, on November 30, 2009: "the
election is a significant step in Honduras's return to the democratic and
constitutional order after the June 28 coup...these elections are not
elections that were planned by a de facto government at the last minute in
order to whitewash their actions." "We recognize that there are results in
Honduras for this election. That's quite clear. We recognize those results,
and we commend Mr. Lobo for having won these elections."
Arturo Valenzuela nevertheless sounded clearly embarassed when he declared in
the same press conference : "The issue is whether the legitimate president
of Honduras, who was overthrown in a coup d'Etat, will be returned to office
by the congress on December 2, as per the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord. That
was the accord that both sides signed at that time."
The fact is that three days later, the Honduran parliament voted by an
overwhelming majority against Zelaya's return to office, which did not deter
Washington from continuing to support the de facto authorities.
11. On December 17, 2009, Alfredo Luís Jaeggli said on the Argentinian
public radio: "The Honduran president, assuming the presidency with a liberal
model, thereafter betrayed this model and replaced it with the socialism of
the 21st century. What happened in Honduras [Jaeggli clearly refers to the
June 28, 2009, coup], excuse me, for me it is completely legal." An audio
version of the interview can be accessed at htttp://www.radionacional.com
12. "Paraguay is the only country along with Haiti and Cuba that did not
reform in order to modernize. You had your modernization; you know well with
the Menem government, what I mean. Brazil also had it, as well as Uruguay,
Bolivia, too, but unfortunately they had an involution. Paraguay does not, it
is still as if in the 50s...In Chile...do you believe that the socialists in
Chile are those who made the economy grow? They have not changed anything,
not even the Chilean labor code. The Chilean labor code is still the code
implemented by Pinochet!"
13. Eva Golinger explained : "Obama called for an additional $320 million
in 'democracy promotion' funds for the 2010 budget just for use in Latin
America. This is a substantially higher sum than the quantity requested and
used in Latin America for 'democracy promotion' by the Bush administration in
its eight years of government combined."
14. Because of the failure of the mobilizations in the media luna in Bolivia
at the end of 2008 and of the right in Guayaquil, Ecuador, led by the city's
mayor Jaime Nebot in September 2008, Washington has put its support on hold
but may reactivate it if the context requires and allows it. The same may be
said for the right in the state of Zulia in Venezuela.
/Translated by Charles La Via and Judith Harris/.
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