A mere ten years ago almost all countries in South and Central America had left or center-left governments in office. Now only a handful remain. How did this happen? We speak to CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot about how Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon might have described to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the US effort to do help bring this change about
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Less than ten years ago, Central and South America’s pink tide was at its highest point. Most of the continent had leftists or center-left governments in power. However, since 2009, more or less, when Honduras’s president Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a right-wing coup, the tide turned. And now, a conservative or center-right tide is firmly in place in the region except for the recent development of López-Obrador in Mexico. How did this undoing off the left tide happen? Of course, opponents of the pink tide say that these governments were elected or forced out of office because of their own policy failures. Another interpretation of all of this is that U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America under President George W. Bush and under President Barack Obama played a key role in reversing tide.
Now, this argument can be found in a letter from Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas Shannon, who managed Latin America policy desk for both presidents. In truth, it is actually a fictional letter about the advice of Shannon, what he might have given Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he resigned last month. This hypothetical letter was actually written by Mark Weisbrot, our next guest. Mark Weisbrot joins us now from Washington, D.C. to discuss U.S. Latin America policy managed under Latin American pink tide. Mark is the codirector of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and is the author of the book, Failed: What Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. Thanks for joining me, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT: Thanks for having me here, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. Let’s start off with why you felt you had to pen this letter in order to draw attention to the undoing of the pink tide in Latin America.
MARK WEISBROT: Well, I thought it would be more interesting and readable. Most people are not that interested in the recent history of Latin America. And also, I want to emphasize that everything in there is true except for the fact that he didn’t actually write the letter. But everything he says in there, the facts are all sourced and they’re all public information. And even where it refers to positions that he took within the State Department, those are positions that were documented in the media.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. In 2008, almost all of the South and Central American states had prgressive or center left governments in place. And this includes El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Brazil. Now only Bolivia, El Salvador and Venezuela and Nicaragua remain, with the last two of these, one could say Nicaragua and Venezuela, in a great deal of trouble and in crisis. So, give us a sense of what happened.
MARK WEISBROT: Well, some of it was due to the recessions that these countries experienced. So, for example in Brazil, they went into recession in 2014 and that’s when the opposition began to gain ground and eventually impeach Dilma, the president, Dilma Rousseff, who they impeached without ever actually accusing her of of a crime. And so, in all of these, countries there were various factors at play. But what I emphasize in this letter in the form of Thomas Shannon taking credit for it, is that the U.S. played a role in in most of these countries where there was a change of government.
Some of it is not well known. Obviously, some of it is. In the 2009 coup in Honduras, Hillary Clinton wrote in her memoirs that she helped ensure that the democratically elected president of Honduras did not come back to office after the coup. But in others, people don’t even know. So, for example, in Argentina the U.S. government under Obama opposed loans to the government and blocked some at the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. And this was a time when Argentina was having a balance of payments problem. So, that was important. And they did run into some economic trouble. It wasn’t severe, but I think it contributed to a close election result where the right was able to win at the end of 2015.
And also, I should say that in that in the case of Argentina they were severely hurt by a decision of a New York judge to take ninety percent of their creditors hostage and say that the government could not pay them until they paid the vulture funds. And that was very much a political decision. In fact, the judge lifted his injunction as soon as the right-wing President Macri was elected, and said it was because there was a new government that he was lifting the injunction. So, that was a major thing from the United States as well. And you can go through all of the countries. And some of it I’ve already said here on The Real News. There was a U.S. role, and of course we only see the tip of the iceberg.
Lula was interviewed a few months ago and he said, “It took us fifty years before we found out about the U.S. role in the 1964 coup.” And so, he was saying that to answer a question about what the United States was doing in Brazil. But you can see things that they did there as well. In fact, Shannon himself, Thomas Shannon met with the leader of the coup effort, the parliamentary coup in Brazil in 2016, when the leader in the Senate in Brazil of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Aloysio Nunes, came to the U.S. just a day after the vote to impeach Dilma took place in the House and met with Shannon. So, that was a signal to everyone in Brazil that the U.S. was behind this coup.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. Now you argue that of course this kind of U.S. policy had a role to play in so many countries. Now, give us some examples, for example, Haiti and Honduras and Brazil, just remind people what the U.S. policy actually did in these countries.
MARK WEISBROT: Well, Haiti is a good example because they kind of did that in broad daylight. They took the president, the elected President, in 2004, flew them out of the country on one of those rendition planes, basically kidnapped him. And they didn’t even care. That was under George W. Bush, but the effort actually began under Clinton in 2000. There was an election there and the Organization of American States observers went there and they produced a report saying that everything was good. And then they changed that and they basically had a technical objection to some of the Senate elections. And they use that, and then the U.S. government under their first Clinton, then Bush, used that as a pretext to cut off almost all international aid to Haiti which was desperately poor.
And then, they by 2004, after four years of destabilization, they were funding opposition groups and they were also telling the President, Aristide, that he wouldn’t get aid restored until he reached an agreement with the opposition. And then at the same time, they were telling the opposition, don’t reach an agreement, don’t make any agreement with him because we’re going to get rid of him. And that’s how they did it. And they overthrew the government. And that was the second time they had overthrown the Haitian government since 1991. And so, that was just one example. Obviously, there was also the Honduran coup-.
SHARMINI PERIES: Before you go there, in Haiti’s case, they had the aid of a few other nations as well, France and Canada.
MARK WEISBROT: That’s right. And they got almost all the countries in the world to cut off their aid to Haiti between 2000 and 2004. And then, in 2011, there was an election in 2010, and in 2011, United States actually use the Organization of American States to overturn the results of the first round of the presidential election. And in that case, they also threatened Haiti to accept the results or they would cut off the post-earthquake aid, which was even more desperately needed. And so, they got to choose who made it into the second round and who became president there as well. And this really devastated Haiti in so many ways. I mean, you only had like a twenty percent turnout in the last presidential election in Haiti because the people have become so disenfranchised as a result primarily of U.S. intervention.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now one could argue having a poor country like Haiti, who was was so dependent on the U.S, the U.S. Can us can flex their muscles and make sure what they want takes place in Haiti. But what about a country like Brazil?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think they did. Like I said, I think that signal was important. The show of support for that coup I think helped. There was another show of support when John Kerry went down to Brazil on August 5 of the same year and he held a joint press conference with the acting Foreign Minister, Jose Serra and they said talked about how great their relationship was going to be going forward. And Dilma wasn’t even removed from office yet, she was still- the Senate hadn’t voted yet to remove her from office. So, that was another signal of support. Again, we don’t know what else they did.
Actually, we do know some other things. The Department of Justice was involved in the investigation, the big corruption investigation there. And so, we don’t know what they did, how it is that they managed to get Lula put in jail while the banks, who most of laundered the billions of dollars of corruption, there were no banks or financial institutions implicated in this whole investigation. So, that’s very odd. And of course, most Brazilians think that the Department of Justice intervention in the investigation was probably political and they have good reason to believe that.
SHARMINI PERIES: And Honduras, of course Argentina, Venezuela too, but let’s just dig into the Honduras case because I think that’s also left people’s memory.
MARK WEISBROT: Yes, well in 2009 there was a coup and the president was- in June of 2009, the president was flown out of the country in the middle of night. And he was overthrown, and the first statement that came out of the White House really foretold everything that was going to happen and showed what the real position of the United States was. Because it didn’t even condemn the coup. It just said all parties should work together and try and arrive at a solution. And when a military coup happens in the twenty-first century and you don’t even say anything bad about, and they knew it was coming as well. We found that out later. So clearly, they had time to prepare a statement. And they don’t even say anything’s wrong.
That was a massive signal to everyone that they supported it. And then, as the coup proceeded and the government needed to establish its legitimacy, the United States was practically alone in supporting the election that legitimated the coup later that year. And as I said, Hillary Clinton wrote in her memoirs that she helped make sure that the elected president didn’t go back, which was what almost all of Latin America wanted. And the U.S. manipulated the Organization of American States to prevent there from being stronger actions on their part to put Zelaya back in office. And in fact, out of that came the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which the left governments created because of the U.S. manipulation of the OAS, and that includes all of the countries of the hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right Mark, there’s much more to talk about because Latin America is known as a laboratory of the United States, its policies, and I’m sure we are feeling those laboratory experiments and their are reverberations throughout the world. We don’t have time to get into all of that, and we also didn’t talk about the media strategies involved in these kinds of political policy maneuvers on the part of the U.S. and how the media is used in that way or how media complies with it. But we’ll have to leave that for another time. I thank you so much for joining us today, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT: Thank you, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.