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Obama and a united South America

The Real News Network Analyst Pepe Escobar pursues his discussion with historian Forrest Hylton. They examine the possibility of a South American union and Obama’s stance to current trends in Latin American politics.

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Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: The united states of South America—what’s happening? How does that relate to the United States? What is the future of South America? To find that out, I spoke to Forrest Hylton, historian, author of two very good books on Bolivia and Colombia, here under the trees, under the shade of a famous liberator—not Simon Bolivar in South America, but Garibaldi. Okay, Forrest, let’s start with UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations. This has been billed, at least in some corners of South America, as a real first step towards a real union in South America. What’s your take on it?

FORREST HYLTON, AUTHOR, "REVOLUTIONARY HORIZONS": Well, I think it reflects the extent to which, as the most recent Council on Foreign Relations position paper puts it, the Monroe Doctrine is indeed obsolete. For the first time, countries throughout the hemisphere are getting together. Dreams of regional integration are as old as independence. They go back to the 1830s. But they have been almost impossible to realize, in part because of the rise of the United States as a world power, beginning in the region in 1898. So this really reflects the decline of US imperial reach and US imperial power, because there is the real possibility of integration beyond mere rhetoric. And there appears to be the political will on the part of governments in the region to continue to move forward on this.

ESCOBAR: How do you see Uribe in Colombia being part of UNOSUR? Because ideologically he’s poles apart from Correa, Chavez, or even Lula.

HYLTON: That’s correct. And if it were up to Uribe himself, he would clearly want to stay away from any type of initiative that brings Latin American countries closer together that does not actually pass through the United States. He is for greater integration with the United States, rather than independence, autonomy, or distance from the United States. So in that respect, Colombia really does look like the Israel of South America. And at the same time, the Colombian economy, particularly in its border regions, is dependent on trade with Venezuela. So, in fact, where Venezuela goes, to some degree Colombia has to go, because it couldn’t survive one day without its commercial exchanges and its exports to Venezuela, which is the number-two consumer of Colombian exports after the United States. So, fortunately, thanks to the material reality of his country, which he tends to ignore in his public statements, he will have to come to terms with these initiatives.

ESCOBAR: How would you explain to a North American audience the concept of an Israel in South America, in this case Colombia? What does that mean?

HYLTON: Well, I think the way to think about it is that Israel feels free to violate the sovereignty of neighboring countries, particularly if it’s in pursuit of anybody they label a terrorist, in the same way that Uribe feels free to violate Ecuadorian sovereignty in his pursuit of terrorists. And because they are allies of the United States, and because they’re pursuing bad guys or people that the United States has deemed bad guys, they are allowed to violate the sovereignty of neighboring countries with other impunity.

ESCOBAR: So basically an outpost of the war on terror.

HYLTON: Absolutely. And Israel and Colombia both received enormous amounts of military and police aid from the United States. Without that aid, they wouldn’t be able to carry out any type of military activity to speak of. So all the United States would have to do to rein in these allies is simply tell them to stop doing the sort of thing that creates regional diplomatic crises. But, of course, they create these crises with either the tacit or explicit support of the US government. So this is a sort of counter-factual scenario.

ESCOBAR: Latin America’s totally absent from the presidential debate in the US. But Obama, recently he went to Florida, and he gave, we could say, a very worrying speech to Cuban Americans, basically validating the embargo and the sanctions against Cuba, validating the incursion by Colombia in Ecuadorian sovereign territory. So this doesn’t sound like change, does it? Is Obama basically an extremely conservative politician who basically will not alter the Bush policies towards Latin America?

HYLTON: I think, if we’re talking about Latin America, it’s clear that he is a conservative politician. If ever there was a moment to rethink US policy towards Latin America before it’s too late, so to speak, it would be now. Now would be the time to introduce something like a revamped version of the good-neighbor policy. But instead, when Obama all but explicitly poses the question of who lost Latin America, he answers his question with a series of right-wing positions that are, let’s say, more conservative than the Council on Foreign Relations, which represents establishment thinking on US foreign policy. So whether it’s Venezuela, whether it’s Colombia and its violation of its neighbor’s sovereignty, or including the integration of South American countries through UNASUR, I think we can expect Obama to continue to uphold very conservative positions. It’s clear he knows almost nothing about the region, and he doesn’t have anybody close to him who understands the types of changes that have been taking place.

ESCOBAR: But he has no advisers who understand South America, at least, then.

HYLTON: Based on his public policy statements, it seems that he does not. There is a group of people, Progressives for Obama, who have tried to outline some type of new good-neighbor policy for Latin America. So he has supporters who are putting forth what have to be seen as fairly rational policy proposals, given the irrationality of US foreign policy towards Latin America, which has been overwhelmingly militaristic and neoliberal. But Obama doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to those supporters, and he seems to be trying to out-McCain McCain in a certain way, which is consistent with what we’ve seen from Democratic politicians going back to Clinton. When the Republicans took over in ’94, Clinton pandered to the right. That was his response. And it would seem that Obama is taking his cue from Bill Clinton and simply pandering to the right on issues of relations with Venezuela and Colombia. Venezuela has acted as a peacemaker in the region, and there is now a stronger and stronger push from Brazil, from Ecuador, from all countries in the region to find a negotiated political solution to Colombia’s armed conflict. And it’s clear that outside, neighboring countries will play an important part in any type of negotiated political solution. In fact, Chavez and Correa have been working towards peace, and it has only been the US ally, Uribe, who aims to spread the conflict wider. But what’s really exciting about UNASUR is that there is a collective political will that’s shared by governments across the region to rein in Colombia’s militaristic ambitions and not allow it to become the Israel of South America. So this is definitely new.

ESCOBAR: But meanwhile the Pentagon seem to have their own plans. They resurrected the Force Fleet based in Florida, and they will be patrolling South American seas as well. This does not bode well in terms of peace for the nearby future. And it’s an element of direct interference in South American affairs.

HYLTON: Well, it seems, too, that under Bush, the Pentagon, in relationship to the executive, well, the Pentagon and the executive together have really been able to maximize their own power. So the Pentagon now is almost—I wouldn’t say an independent arm of US foreign policy, but it has a degree of autonomy to act as it wishes in the region with very little consultation with State, for instance. So there’s a way in which the Pentagon has its own foreign policy, which will presumably remain consistent no matter who’s in power. But it’s interesting to note that in this case we might be able to expect the State Department to stand behind the Pentagon in its initiatives. One would hope, given the situation in the world and the United States right now, that any type of military expansion on the part of the Pentagon in the south of the Western Hemisphere would be militantly opposed by the State Department. But, unfortunately, we can’t assume that that’s going to happen.

ESCOBAR: So that’s not changing.

HYLTON: That doesn’t appear to be changing either.

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