The Summit of the Americas in the Context of US Imperialism
Scholar and activist Gerald Horne traces modern-day US foreign policy in Latin America to its colonial roots
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The 7th Summit of the Americas will take place in Panama City this weekend, with many controversies that surround its original mission. The purpose of these summits are to foster discussion on a variety of issues affecting the Western Hemisphere, organized by the OAS, that is, the Organization of American States. But recently it has become the site of where most Latin American countries choose to express their resistance to the hegemony of the United States in the region.
Now joining me to discuss this history is Dr. Gerald Horne. He holds a John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston.
Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Horne.
GERALD HORNE, CHAIR, HISTORY AND AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES, UNIV. OF HOUSTON: Thank you for inviting me.
PERIES: So Dr. Horne, take us back. Give us a sense of what has happened in terms of the formation of this organization, and what the history of the United States is in Latin America and why this kind of resistance has emerged.
HORNE: It’s ironic that a bone of contention in this meeting in Panama this week is the very tattered relation between socialist Cuba and the United States of America. As you know, until mid-December 2014 there was some question as to whether or not U.S. President Barack Obama would even attend because of the presence there of President Raúl Castro of Cuba.
It’s ironic indeed that that is the case, because you may recall that approximately 180 years ago, that is to say in the 1820s, that the United States refused to attend a similar summit in Panama because of the presence of abolitionist Haiti. That is to say, as Latin American nations were surging to independence from Spanish colonial rule, Argentina, for example, Mexico, for example. There was the idea of organizing a summit of the Americas then, but the United States objected to the presence of a state, that is to say Haiti, that basically ruled that slavery was illegal.
Now, in 2015, at least until December 2014 there was some question as to whether or not the United States would attend because of the presence of the state Cuba, that proclaims itself to be socialist. In any case, Washington has decided to come because of the apparent turn towards normalizing relations with Havana.
PERIES: Just go back to 1820s for a, for a minute. Give us a little bit more context of the role Haiti played and the presence of Bolivar, and of course the role that Bolivarian politics now play out in the hemisphere.
HORNE: Well as you may know, the Haitian revolution basically came into power circa 1804, and from that point forward Haiti saw itself as the vector of abolitionist movements in the hemisphere. You may recall that Simón Bolivar, who was considered to be a national hero today in Venezuela, received assistance from the Haitian revolutionaries and his successful effort to overturn Spanish colonial rule.
PERIES: And now of course the sum of this is still getting played out as you just mentioned. So what does this mean today in terms of Cuba’s presence for the first time at the 7th Summit of the Americas?
HORNE: It’s a very important breakthrough, but keep in mind at the same time there has been a positive turn in U.S. relations with Havana. There’s been a negative turn in terms of U.S. relations with Venezuela. Fundamentally, the U.S. has decided that Venezuela, believe it or not, is a threat to the national security of the United States of America.
PERIES: Dr. Horne, recent tensions with Brazil has also exacerbated relations with Latin America. Tell us more about that.
HORNE: You may recall that some months ago there were revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency were intercepting the oral and spoken communications of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. That lead her to cancel a state visit to Washington. But since that time a scandal has erupted involving corruption in the state oil agency of Brazil, and there have been actual calls for the impeachment of President Rousseff, and as a result of being weakened politically she’s extended the olive branch to President Obama.
But there’s no doubt that there’s an underlying tension in the relationship, not least because Brazil has hemispheric dreams of hegemony all its own that do not call for the hegemony of the United States of America. Recall that after the coup government came to power in Honduras, ultimately the U.S. administration supported the coup government. The Brazilian government fundamentally opposed the coup government. In Cuba, Brazilian construction companies are helping to rebuild Cuba.
There are other tensions in the hemisphere too, that are worth examining. For example, in Argentina, there is tension between bond holders in New York who are claiming that Buenos Aires is not repaying the full amount of the bonds that they purchased some years ago.
And then there’s the controversy of them all, which is Venezuela. The allegation, the claim by Washington that Venezuela, which is about 1/10th the population of the United States of America, is somehow a threat to U.S. national security. Undergirding that — rather outrageous claim, I might say — is the fact that the state oil entity in Venezuela is being eyed ravenously by U.S. corporations like ExxonMobil, who would like to see that kind of competition disappear.
And then it seems to me that the overarching issue in the hemisphere is that China has made great inroads into Latin America in recent years. Recall that in June 2013, right before the Sunnylands Summit in Southern California between President Xi Jinping of China and President Obama of the United States, there was a meeting in Trinidad and Tobago of President Xi and all the CARICOM leaders. CARICOM of course is the Caribbean community, lead by nations like Jamaica and Trinidad and Barbados, and out of that summit came ever closer relations between those island states and China.
We all know that Venezuela ships an ever-increasing share of its oil production to China. The relations between China and Cuba may not be as close as lips and teeth, as the saying goes, but certainly they’re quite warm. And you may also know that China’s been pouring an enormous amount of capital into the Bahamas, of late. Just off the southern tip of Florida.
So when President Obama moves to normalize relations with Cuba and moves to visit this summit in Panama, it’s not only because of relations with Latin America. It’s also about growing concern about China and what China’s emissaries and envoys might accomplish in Panama if there is an absent high-level U.S. delegation.
PERIES: Just let’s back up for a moment to the points you were raising before the discussion about China. The Caribbean states, who had been courted by President Hugo Chavez during his reign, before President Maduro came to power, with various ventures that he was involved in. For example, offering petroleum for a very reduced cost to the Caribbean nations was seen as a way to court the Caribbean nations towards more of a Latin American alliance rather than an alliance with the United States.
Now, Obama, President Obama is trying to put a wedge in this relationship that has now evolved between Venezuela and the Caribbean states. What do you make of this effort to try to break that up?
HORNE: Well, it’s obvious why it’s taking place. That is to say, not only because of concern about what Venezuela is doing, but concern about what China is doing. That helps to underscore and explain why President Obama will be heading to the Caribbean, with Jamaica being his initial stop.
You may know that the subsidized oil that Venezuela had been sending to Caribbean states, that that rather ambitious program has encountered a few speed bumps. Those speed bumps include recent press reports that the amount of oil that Venezuela is sending to nations like Haiti and Jamaica, for example, is being curtailed.
What’s happening, of course, is the fall of the price of oil. Last year, oil was selling at $100 a barrel. As we speak it’s probably between $45 and $55 a barrel. There are certain analysts who suggest that next year it’ll be at $10-20 a barrel. As the price of a barrel of oil plummets, that puts a cramp in the financial and budgetary plans of Venezuela, and makes it less able to comply with previously enunciated programs such as the subsidized oil program.
PERIES: Right. So if Petrocaribe had the Caribbean tilting more towards Latin America and Venezuela, what is President Obama offering to tilt it back?
HORNE: Well, the United States, as you know, has the largest economy in the world. About $17 trillion annually GDP. And there will of course be all sorts of goodies that will be offered to the Caribbean nations. For example, perhaps speedier visa entry into the United States of America. Perhaps forgiving of loans and other kinds of debt obligations that the Caribbean nations have, have had with regard to Washington.
I think that the Caribbean nations, as ever, are very much interested in improved and more positive relations with the United States of America. As you know, Jamaica in particular has objected because the United States has deported a number of Jamaican nationals on drug charges. As a matter of fact, there’s been a considerable number of Jamaicans who have been sent back to Jamaica on drug charges, and Jamaica feels that that kind of program needs to be regularized more effectively.
So there is a laundry list of issues for the Caribbean nations to tackle and to address with Washington.
PERIES: The sanctions that have been placed against Venezuela has been also a sore point in the region, causing President Correa to state that he will be boycotting and not attending the summit. What do you make of that?
HORNE: As you know, there are some very sticky issues between Ecuador and the United States. So first of all, there is the credible claim that U.S. oil companies have despoiled the environment of Ecuador, and have not compensated Ecuadorian nationals. There was a major lawsuit about that issue brought in U.S. courts by a U.S. lawyer. But the oil companies turned the tables and fundamentally got many of the claims that he had successfully litigated ousted. And now they’ve gone after Ecuador’s lawyer, to exact penalties against him, as opposed to penalties against the oil company.
Then, of course, there is the still-lingering issue about the United States wanting a military base in Ecuador. And you may recall that the Ecuadorians said, well yes, that’s possible, if the Ecuadorians can have a military base in South Florida. Which obviously was a non-starter.
As we know, there is a thrust towards the left in Latin America that not only includes Venezuela and Brazil and Argentina, but also includes Ecuador and Bolivia and also includes Nicaragua.
PERIES: Dr. Horne, thank you so much for joining us.
HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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