U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Criticizes Solidarity of Latin American Countries for Venezuela

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

On Friday the Summit of Americas will kick off. The presidents will be showing up. And this was supposed to be a big coming-out party on Friday. Coming out meaning the President of the United States and the President of Cuba shaking hands, Raúl Castro and President Obama. Instead, all the focus is on American, what people are — most people are saying – ineptitude, naiivete beyond belief, policy towards Venezuela. How they expected sanctions against Venezuela, and calling Venezuela a national security threat not to come to the fore at these meetings and overshadow things at this meeting is either incomprehensible on their part — in other words, they are incomprehensible to us how they could so misunderstand the situation.

Anyway, to talk about that and more, joining us from Claremont, California is Miguel Tinker Salas. He’s a professor of Latin American history at Pomona College, and author of Enduring Legacy: Oil Culture and Society in Venezuela. His forthcoming book is Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know.

Thanks for joining us.

MIGUEL TINKER-SALAS, AUTHOR, PROF. LATIN AMERICAN HISTORY, POMONA COLLEGE: Thank you very much. The book is out, by the way.

JAY: Oh, the book is out.

SALAS: What Everyone Needs to Know. It came out two weeks ago.

JAY: Oh, cool. Congratulations. All right. So, I don’t get this. It seems so obvious that if you get embroiled either directly in a coup, indirectly in a coup, all your little opposition people that you’ve been supporting, some of whom were directly associated with an actual coup in 2002 — and then you levy sanctions against the Venezuelan government. How can you not expect this to blow up in your face?

SALAS: Well, that’s a very good question, because when you hear Roberta Jacobson, the Under Secretary of Latin American Affairs for the State Department say that the U.S. was disappointed that Latin American countries did not come to their support. Which shows a dramatic disconnect form the reality of Latin America. I think that they’re still stuck in the 1990s, when U.S. had hegemony in the region. When it had the first Summit of the Americas in 1994 overseen by Bill Clinton, and then when they were promoting free trade for the Americas.

But the reality is that every regional body, from the Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Bolivarian Alliance, has condemned the U.S. And the U.S. is, in many ways, stuck in this notion that they still have a sort of hegemony and domination over the region and can by edict in fact begin to transform relations.

What the U.S. did was lose its entire political capital that it had gained after announcing that it was removing, or attempting to better relations with Cuba without removing the sanctions. So in many ways they blew their entire political capital, and now Venezuela will, in fact, become one of the dominant themes in the summit.

JAY: Yeah. I mean, it’s not that they restored relations with Cuba out of some goodness of their heart. It was driven by chickens and rice. This was American agribusiness that wanted the Cuban market back into its fold, and those are the forces that pushed the reconciliation with Cuba. So it’s not like the rest of Latin America needs to be so enormously impressed by all this.

On the other hand, when you read the media account of what’s going on with the summit vis-a-vis Venezuela, it’s all about how Venezuela, all these countries in Latin America, are beholden to it. Because of cheap oil to the Caribbean countries, or loans, and so and so. And they don’t, they can’t even accept that it’s they don’t want interference in the internal affairs of countries of Latin America.

SALAS: Well, you’re right. This is — the result of the Cuban policy is because the U.S. was isolated in the UN with voting only two states in support of their sanctions against Cuba, completely isolated Latin America. Completely isolated the world, so that both economically and politically this was a political move with economic implications.

But in reality, Latin America can remember very clearly what happened in Venezuela in 2002. what happened in Haiti in 2004. What happened in Honduras in 2009. What happened to Lugo in Paraguay shortly thereafter.

There is a historical memory here, and there has been a dramatic shift. I think again the U.S. is still operating as if it was in the first Summit of the Americas in 1994, when Bill Clinton hosted the reunion in Miami, and they were proposing the free trade for the Americas. Since that time, Latin America has changed dramatically, with all its complications. With different points of view, but united around the question of sovereignty, around the question of Latin America determining its own internal affairs.

And that’s what, I think, continues to shock the U.S., and definitely continues to bother the U.S., as China has begun to economically displace the U.S. in countries like Brazil, in countries like Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, in Central America and elsewhere, becoming one of the dominant economic forces.

So the U.S. seeks to recoup that space, but then blunders into this process and worsens conditions for the Summit of the Americas. And now Obama might, in fact, confront very similar conditions that he did in the 2012 summit in Colombia when he was isolated on the question of Cuba and on the question of drug policy.

JAY: Yeah. The hypocrisy of it is kind of astounding. In that quote of the Under Secretary that you read, it seems to me she also was a little bit surprised. And I’ve seen this in other accounts, that some of their closest allies, like Colombia and Mexico, have not jumped on board denouncing human rights abuses in Venezuela.

Now, apart from the point that they, these countries also don’t like the meddling in the internal affairs, and for that reason are taking a stand together with other Latin American countries, talk about human rights abuses. I mean, how can you possibly think that Colombia and Mexico have any right to talk about anybody else’s human rights abuses?

SALAS: I think that’s really a critical issue, because in Mexico we’re confront a real human rights crisis. We have over 100,000 people who have been killed, who have been innocent. These are not combatants in a drug war. These are innocent individuals. We have 30-40,000 disappeared. We have millions that have been forced out of their country because of unsettling conditions, because of military, and because of economic conditions. In Colombia we have the largest number of displaced people because of Plan Colombia.

So we have the commonality of the U.S. presence in Colombia and in Mexico as well, conditioning the actual criminalization of social protest, in fact militarizing what, the drug war, which should be actually negotiated and resolved peacefully.

So in that context, these are not countries that are friends of Venezuela, these are countries that really want not to have the U.S. meddling. And in fact, even some more astute opposition politicians in Venezuela have said, the U.S. did us no favor by, in fact, attempting to impose these sanctions.

JAY: I should say one thing, just to be clear. There may or may not be some violations of Venezuelan law which have to do with due process. It’s possible, I don’t know. Some people have been arrested. The mayor of Caracas, some other political figures. They will, they’ve been charged, as far as I understand it now. There will be a trial.

Whether or not there’ve been any abuses by the government of the Venezuelan legal process in terms of the opposition, I don’t know. It’s possible. It’s also possible it’s not, maybe they are following due process.

The point here is, what business is it of the United States to be the determiner of these things?

SALAS: Well, I think that’s the role — you raise a very important issue. I mean, I think everyone wants due process in Venezuela. They want an open, transparent and speedy process. This should not be taking six months to a year to actually take someone to trial and expose what they did or did not do, and allow them a chance to defend their interests.

But I think the larger question is, again, the U.S. meddling in these affairs. The U.S. wants to be the arbiter of which countries support or don’t support terrorism, defined by terrorism by the U.S. They want to be the arbiter of which countries are supportive of U.S. in terms of drug policy. They wanted to blame Venezuela for human rights abuses, but turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in Colombia and in Mexico and in other countries where they have allies.

So again, that’s the hypocrisy. That’s the double-sided hypocrisy that most Latin American countries see, where they believe that countries like Venezuela and others should have sovereignty in resolving their own internal affairs, and Venezuelans should be free to criticize their government, their country, and protest freely and openly within legal parameters.

JAY: I mean, one of the things I think the Latin American left perhaps, what’s the word, overestimates, as if the Americans have some grand plan behind all this. It really seems, as it has been since at least George Bush, that the Americans just pay so little attention to Latin America at all, they’re so focused on the Middle East and contentions with Russia and China. Although you would think even in terms of that they would be concerned of Latin America, given that China has supplanted them for many countries as the major trading partner.

It really does seem like lack of focus-slash-ineptitude in what’s going on.

SALAS: Except I would caution you — you’re right. There is an ineptitude, there is a lack of recognition of the reality. Because I think fundamentally their advisors are the Venezuelan opposition. They are the Cuban exiles. I think that the conservative sectors are, in fact, there advising U.S. foreign policy, and that’s the continuity between Reagan, Bush, and the current Obama administration.

These are the same folks who brought us the Contra war in Nicaragua. These are the same folks that brought us Honduras as a military reserve for the U.S. So I think there’s a continuity in that.

But while we may say that they are looking elsewhere, the reality is that militarily they have increased the U.S. presence with a fourth fleet in the Caribbean. They have now more military stations in Central America that they’ve ever had. They have more observation posts in the Caribbean than they ever had. And even tried to get bases in Colombia to have overflights for the region.

So I think that while there has been a disconnect from a political reality, there is an effort to recapture economically, and there’s definitely a military presence in the region that we’ve seen buttressed as a result of the displacement by China and other countries.

JAY: Also, one shouldn’t forget how much some of the Latin American billionaires get involved in American politics. I saw a report just a few days ago that Cisneros, one of the biggest billionaires in Venezuela, owns media throughout Latin America. I believe he — I think he owns the Coca-Cola concession, I think, for much of Latin America – donated a million dollars to the Clinton foundation.

There’s a lot of ties between the Latin American elites and the American political elite, even straightforwardly, in terms of just the money.

SALAS: No doubt. We’re talking not only about Cisneros but Carlos Slim in Mexico. We’re talking about millionaire families throughout the region having much of their capital here, much of their education here, their political connections are here. Their connections to mass media, their connections to the market, they’re all present in the U.S. and they’re very much attuned to what happens in U.S.

But I guess the other thing I would raise is that the U.S. is in fact present in Latin America directly in the promotion of what we all call in Latin America the American way of life. An effort to impose this notion of consumerism, the notion that citizenship equates consumerism, and the countries of the region then are held to a standard that many simply have not been able to assert and maintain, so that there is constant relationship of the U.S. presence in Latin America. I would daresay that even without a military presence, the U.S. is omnipresent culturally, politically, socially in Latin America.

JAY: All right. Well, we’ll talk more as the summit begins, and we’ll talk a little bit about what comes out of it. Thanks very much for joining us, Miguel.

SALAS: Thank you very much.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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