Obama and the Decline of the Left in Latin America

Obama’s presidency treated the prospect of democratic nationalism in Latin America similarly as other US presidents, and nearly everybody who was allied with Chavez is now gone, says Consortium News contributor Ted Snider

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. President Barack Obama came into the White House promising to revolutionize relations with Latin America. He promised to foster a new era based upon mutual understanding and respect for national sovereignty. This is a sentiment that the US President repeated only just last year at the 7th Summit of the Americas held in Panama City. Let’s have a look.

video clip

BARACK OBAMA: We are respectful of the differences among our countries. The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are passed.

SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us today to review US foreign policy towards Latin America under President Obama is Ted Snider. Ted is a contributor to Consortiumnews.com, among other publications, and Ted Snider also specializes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history. One of his most recent articles, published in Consortium News and Antiwar.com is called “The End of Obama’s Term: A Report Card on Latin America.” Ted, thank you so much for joining us today.

TED SNIDER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, Ted, as you could see from that clip, President Obama rejoices in having re-established our relations with Cuba, and I think that is certainly going to be one of his major legacies when we look south. What are your big highlights that you think we should be looking at in order to look at his record accurately?

TED SNIDER: Well, I think that in 2008 when Obama came to power, and he first made the promise to do business differently with Latin America, that was a significant promise because the history of America’s business with Latin America has been a consistently ugly history of coups and interventions, so it was significant that he made that promise to do business differently. I think the one highlight in that record is Cuba.

Obama probably accomplished more good and got more goodwill from Latin America with the Cuban move than he had in the rest of the eight years, but it was greeted with suspicion because it did come around the same time as Obama identified Venezuela as a threat to America, which was a joke. And it was also the only positive sort of step he’d made in Latin America.

There’s still skepticism in Cuba because, although the relations have been opened again, which is huge, the embargo is still on. A lot hasn’t changed yet, so there’s still sort of a wait-and-see attitude, I think, in Cuba, but I think that was the one positive thing. The rest of Obama’s eight years didn’t look very consistent with his promise to change the way he does business with Latin America.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, let’s take a look at some of those. You mentioned Venezuela. Let’s dig in. Now, we know for a fact the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, who is very anti-US, but he himself had opened up to Obama and was looking forward to a more encouraging relations with Venezuela, but that didn’t actually happen. Whereas Venezuela’s perhaps greatest ally on the continent, Cuba, was faring fairly well with President Obama. Why?

TED SNIDER: Well, I think what you see… in the United States I think you get this pattern in foreign policy where the great enemy of America is what I’ve sort of identified as a Democratic Nationalist. So what I mean by that is if you give the people of a country a chance to vote for someone democratically, they’re going to elect somebody who’s going to share the wealth of natural resources with their own country rather than export that wealth to another country. If you get a president who’s also a nationalist, then he’s willing to nationalize things and keep the wealth within the country. So, I think over the history of the United States, I think the great thread of American foreign policy has been this idea of taking out democratic nationalists, because they’re people who get elected under the promise to keep the wealth in the country, as democrats and as nationalists are willing to keep the wealth in the country, America takes them out, installs dictators that are more willing to export the wealth outside of the country.

Latin America is an especially important example of this because of this idea that Kissinger talked about this idea of a contagion, and Kissinger’s idea that it’s especially important to control your own backyard, because if you can’t control your own backyard you can’t control the world. So, Latin America becomes this very special test case where America wants to make sure there’s no democratic nationalists, where there’s just dictators who will allow America to benefit from their natural resources.

Hugo Chávez in Venezuela became the center of this idea, that wealth in Latin America should stay in Latin America, that Latin American countries didn’t have to turn outside to America but could turn inwardly and help each other. So, you get this idea of Hugo Chávez who becomes the most significant person to control in order for America to control their foreign policy of keeping democratic nationalists out of their backyard.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, let’s take that a step further, Ted. Now, relations with Venezuela have been deteriorating over the last few years, particularly since President Maduro took power. And, of course, President Maduro is continuing Chávez’s legacy, but some of the friction between the two countries really continues. There has not been an effort to really mend those fences in any way, in spite of the fact that there were some meetings that took place, say, with the Foreign Minister of Venezuela, Delcy Rodríguez, and Vice President of the United States, and some of these things are actually manifesting themselves at the OAS, and as you know, recently the Latin American shift back to center and right is continuing, and I think more of the Latin American countries are getting emboldened in terms of taking anti-Venezuela positions. How do you explain that?

TED SNIDER: Chávez died — the great hope in America was that the revolution was over. And when Maduro won that election, that completely went against America’s hopes in Latin America. So, what you saw in, I guess the election was in 2013, was that when Maduro won, it shocked America. And even though there were, I think, 150 electoral monitors, including really reputable ones that America would respect, like the Carter Center, all certifying it was a legitimate election, every country in the world recognizing the Maduro government as the victors, only the United States in the world refuses to recognize that election. Even though Capriles never officially filed any charges, they continued not to recognize the election to give the opposition cover to continue to have an attempt to overthrow a legitimate election.

So, it was disappointment that this window they thought they would have when Chávez died, and the window closed, led to this frustration in 2013, again in 2015. You see a similar thing in Brazil right now with the hope that with Lula da Silva not in office that they would be able to move away from the left, but with da Silva saying he’s going to come back again, you get this, again, desperate attempt to change the government not by an election.

Before Obama, as you said, there was this major move to the left with all these countries allying with Chávez and da Silva and Morales, this idea that Latin America could look inward instead of being exploited and looking outward. Under Obama, though, that pendulum has swung back to the right, and everybody who was allied with Chávez — so, you look at Zelaya in Honduras, and you look at Rafael Correa, and you look at Paraguay and you look at all these countries that were aligned with the States — these leaders have all disappeared in a series of moves that continue to look an awful lot like doing business with Latin America the way Obama said he wouldn’t do business with Latin America anymore.

SHARMINI PERIES: Correa is still there. What do you make of his relations with President Obama?

TED SNIDER: Well, you know, Correa is still there because the attempted coup, I think it was in 2010, failed. But, you know, Correa was on the American radar even before Obama. Years before the attempted coup, you’ve got these US embassy cables from Ecuador coming in saying that a Correa election would entirely derail US plans in the region. You get Linda Jewell, the American ambassador, sending cables that we’ve got now from WikiLeaks not only saying that America is actively discouraging allies from working with Correa, but actually admitting that America has been working with like-minded people against Correa. So, you’ve got this history of trying to keep Correa out. Correa comes in, he’s an economist, he does all those things that America looks for in a democratic nationalist to take out. So, you get Correa coming in, renegotiating oil contracts so that more money stays in Ecuador, you get him opposing free trade agreements with America, you get him closing military bases, and most fearfully for America, you get him joining ALBA, you get him joining Venezuela, which is exactly what the American ambassador said they were afraid of. So, Correa has all these marks of a person you’d want to get rid of. There are all these embassy cables suggesting that he’s someone that they should get rid of.

After the coup fails, Ecuador appoints a commission to look into it and they conclude that the coup had outside actors. And, although the committee only went so far as saying “outside actors”, at least one member of the committee would say that America was involved. The leader of the coup, as so often in South and Latin American history, is a graduate of the School of the Americas. So, you’ve got this typical target, you’ve the embassy cable saying he is a target, and you’ve gotten a certain amount of evidence afterwards, so that the coup failed, but Correa looks like one of those people that for America just got too close to Chávez and so they wanted to remove him. They failed to remove him. But that’s what it looks like.

SHARMINI PERIES: Ted, you mentioned Brazil earlier. Now, you would think Brazil — you know, such a large economy that was doing very well at the beginning of the Obama Presidency — was very much willing to play ball with American business in spite of the fact that there was a left-leaning President, Dilma Rousseff, and so forth. But they were very, very silent when it came to the overthrow of the legislative coup against Dilma Rousseff and what was developing there. These were interesting times in the sense that we thought that Dilma Rousseff, and also previously Lula da Silva, had good relations with the US.

TED SNIDER: Well, they were shockingly so. I think that, although Dilma and Lula Da Silva had good relations with the US, you know, Lula DA Silva was an ally of Hugo Chávez. He respected him, he worked with him, he eulogized him upon his death. And America was shockingly silent, and not just shockingly silent, but shockingly silent in the knowledge that it was a coup. We know that they knew it was a coup because Brazil admitted it was a coup both prior to and immediately following the coup. Prior to, we get this transcript of the phone call between a Senator named Romero Juca. Juca’s since lost his position. He had to step down because of this transcript — although he’s now in line to be appointed to, I think, head of the Senate, so there’s, you know, the corruption, Brazil tends to pay off. But we’ve got this recording of Juca where he clearly talks about a national pact between the opposition, the supreme court and the military, to remove Dilma and to have this coup. They talk about it. It’s clear. It’s known it’s a coup.

After the coup, we not only get a representative of the coup government — we’re talking about the day after the impeachment where a representative of the coup government comes for meetings with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and America meets with him. So you’ve got a coup where they could say, “We’re not going to meet with you,” but in meeting with them, they sanction the coup. But then we get Michel Temer himself, the head of the coup government, coming to the United States and giving a speech in front of business leaders where he straight up says that “we wanted Dilma’s government to do this right-wing shift,” which they’re not going to do because that’s not what they were elected on this platform of reducing money to health and education, welfare, and bringing in privatization and deregulation. So, they bring this to Dilma, they know she’s not going to do it. And then Temer straight up says to an American audience — in America — when she didn’t do it, and we knew she wouldn’t do it, “We began a process that culminated with me being installed as the President.” I mean, he straight up says that this is not because of anything Dilma did illegally — and the Supreme Court already ruled that Dilma didn’t do anything illegally — he straight up says that, “We initiated a coup to take her out and put me in.”

So, America knows it’s a coup. They’re totally silent on it. And Michel Temer is so confident they’re going to be silent on it that he actually stands there in New York and boasts that he initiated a process that installed him as the President. Immediately after becoming President, the very first thing the Brazilian Congress does… or the Brazilian government does is they legalize the very move they accused Dilma Rousseff of doing, as if there was any doubt that that’s not why they removed her. They then go ahead and they pass a law which grants retroactive immunity to themselves for any sort of wrongdoing, and then they, just the other day, they’ve at least started passing a bill now that allows the politicians to bring charges against the prosecutors for going too far for exceeding their power.

So, they came in on this claim that they were cleaning up wrongdoing and corruption in the government, but then they give themselves immunity from the wrongdoing. They allow themselves to prosecute the prosecutors for wrongdoing and they legalize the very wrongdoing they said Dilma did. They also said that they were coming in because they wanted to bring in these sort of austerity measures and the very first thing — one of the very first things — but one of the first things they do now is they pass this austerity legislation where the Brazilian government is now no longer to bring about spending increases in excess of inflation.

So, they said they were doing a coup to protect themselves from corruption, which they did, and to bring in austerity measures which they did. America knows all this, but is completely silent and is actually willing to go ahead and have meetings with representatives of the coup government.

So, at least here we get complicity in the coup by being silent. We know that a lot of the major players are allies with America. We know that there’s lots of money from organizations, including organizations associated with the CIA in Brazil. And as I said earlier, we saw America willing to meet with representatives of the coup immediately following the coup. So, at the very least, there’s shocking silence on the Brazilian coup.

SHARMINI PERIES: Yes, and then we didn’t even touch upon the spying that the US had done on Dilma Rousseff…

TED SNIDER: On Dilma, yeah. Yeah.

SHARMINI PERIES: …phone calls, and some of the leadership there. So, they knew exactly what was transpiring in Brazil even before the legislative coup.

Ted, I thank you so much for joining us today. There’s a lot more to talk about. I encourage people to go and read Ted’s article. That’s in Consortiumnews.com. And we hope to have you back very soon. Thanks, Ted.

TED SNIDER: Thanks, Sharmini. I look forward to it. Thanks for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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