Past is present in Latin America Pt.2

  April 24, 2009

Past is present in Latin America Pt.2

Latin American leaders, born out of US backed repression, demand an end to 50 year-old US-Cuba standoff
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Larry Birns is the Founding Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington-based independent research organization dedicated to promoting the hemisphere's common interests. He is a longtime commentator on US-Latin American relations having written hundreds of articles for publications such as: The Nation, New York Review of Books, The Guardian, London Independent, Miami Herald, Toronto Star, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, The New York Times and Foreign Policy, He served previously as public affairs officer for the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America in Santiago, Chile.


Last weekend, the leaders of the Americas met with US President Barack Obama for the first time as a group. While no major agreements were signed, long-time Latin America observer Larry Birns believes that the atmospherics were of a nature never before seen in the hemisphere. Signs of improvement in relations between the White House and Cuba, after 50 years of embargo and intervention. The leaders of Latin America have made it clear to Obama that any future progress in relations will require a drastic shift in his government's policy toward Cuba, and there are signs that Obama will be willing to do so. Until that time, an entire hemisphere lies in wait.


Past is present in Latin America Pt.2Past is present in Latin America Pt.2

Producer: Jesse Freeston

JESSE FREESTON, TRNN: Last weekend, the heads of state of the Western Hemisphere, minus Cuba, met for the fifth version of the Summit of the Americas. The event was hyped as an opportunity for President Obama to set the tone for a new policy towards Latin America. And while the gathering yielded no substantive agreement, many believed that relations have entered a new era.

LARRY BIRNS, DIRECTOR, COUNCIL ON HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS: This is a different type of rhetoric. This rhetoric, in my own lifetime of watching these things for decades, I have never caught such infectious rhetoric being thrown around.

FREESTON: The summit is a gathering of the Organization of American states, or OAS. Article 19 of the OAS charter, as agreed to in 1948, states that "No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State"—a founding article that has been routinely infringed upon by numerous members of the group, but by one more universally than the rest.

BIRNS: For every country in Latin America, I can mention some heinous action that the United States committed. I mean, it's this dreadful history. Nor it can be kissed off by some rejective language, saying, "Well, you know, I'm just moving on." I mean, Latin America right now is concerned with building institutions, and part of the process of building institutions is going to have to involve an inquiry into the misdeeds that the United States has committed.

FREESTON: Such an inquiry could have started at the summit itself by collecting victim impact statements from the various leaders around the room. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was arrested and tortured, her boyfriend murdered, and her father found dead of heart failure in a prison cell after he was tortured, all for opposing the US-backed military coup of General Augusto Pinochet. The president of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, lived the assassination of his uncle Manuel Colom, former mayor of Guatemala City, at the hands of that country's US-backed military dictatorship. Daniel Ortega's Sandinista government in Nicaragua spent the entire 1980s fighting a brutal war against US-equipped contras. President Lula of Brazil was imprisoned for his trade union activities in 1981 by that country's US-backed military dictatorship. President Morales took leadership of Bolivia's union of coca leaf growers during US attempts to eradicate the plant, which is a staple of Bolivian medicine, food, and beverage. Haitian President René Préval, while serving as prime minister under President Aristide in 1991, was forced to flee his country after a CIA-funded coup returned the military to power. El Salvador's new president-elect, Mauricio Funes, saw his brother, a student organizer, murdered in 1980 by security forces funded and trained by the US. At only seven years ago, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was briefly overthrown by a US-sanctioned coup. The US was the only country in the hemisphere to immediately recognize a military government that would last only 47 hours.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: I didn't come here to debate the past; I came here to deal with the future. I believe, as some of our previous speakers have stated, that we must learn from history, but we can't be trapped by it.

FREESTON: In contrast, hours after leaving the summit, Obama spoke at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, birthplace to so many of the US's interventions into Latin America, where he was willing to discuss the past.

OBAMA: First, I want to underscore the importance of the CIA. When the CIA was founded, you were focused on one overarching threat, the Soviet Union, and for decades the CIA carried out a critically important mission.

BIRNS: It's part of the fuel that is stoking the fires that are burning under Latin American leaders. That is, this is why, even after being charmed and romanced by Obama, a lot of Latin American leaders express a certain reservation, and that we still have to see what they're going to do on Cuba.

FREESTON: The Latin American leaders made it extremely clear that the first and necessary step towards a new relationship would be the normalization of relations with Cuba.

HUGO CHÁVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT: I think we're off to a great start. But, as Lula said it himself, and it's completely true, we can't imagine having another Summit of the Americas without Cuba.

BIRNS: The United States has abiding relations with 30 or 40 countries in the world that demonstrably are worse human-rights violators than Cuba, so it's not a question of being a human rights violator. Washington's selective indignation is directed at Cuba because of Cuba's historic role as being this country's brothel. And the American Legion conventions were held in Batista's Cuba. And you had Ambassador Earl T. Smith. He wrote a book, and he said, "I was the man who ran Cuba. If you wanted to know who made the laws in Cuba, come to me." He said this proudly.

FREESTON: A state of affairs that was put to an abrupt end when Fidel's guerrilla army took Havana on January 1, 1959.

BIRNS: US policy towards Cuba ever since has been a policy of attempting to asphyxiate the Cuban economy and to isolate it. And, of course, the irony is that it ends up today that Cuba has never been less isolated than it is, and the United States has never been more isolated than it is. That is, every country does—or soon, within a matter of days, will recognize Cuba to have diplomatic relations with Cuba. The United States has very troubled relations with any number of countries in Latin America. The reason why everyone felt so good after Trinidad was that almost an irreversible commitment was made by the United States to talk to Cuba.

FREESTON: And Cuba is ready to talk, but only as equals.

RAÚL CASTRO, CUBAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): We have told the US government, both in private and in public, that we are prepared to discuss everything—human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners, every single thing—but under conditions of equality, without the smallest shadow over our sovereignty, without the smallest violation of the Cuban people's right to self-determination.

OBAMA: Over the past few days, we've seen potential positive signs in the nature of the relationship between the United States, Cuba, and Venezuela. But as I've said before, the test for all of us is not simply words, but also deeds.

FREESTON: With all the words aligning to bring down 50 years of destructive impasse between the United States and Cuba—a giant step towards a post-imperial era for the Americas as a whole—an entire hemisphere is lying in wait to see the deeds.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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