U.S. Intervention in Latin America: the Bush Years


by BurkeStansbury, CISPES Executive Director 

In March President Bush made ahigh-profile visit to Latin America.  Throughout the tripto Brazil, Uruguay,Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico he ironically spoke thelanguage of social justice in an apparent attempt to counter the Leftist tidein the region.

In the end, it was clear thatBushs trip was a failure and that Hugo Chavez and the progressive tide of newleaders in Latin America maintain the upperhand.  Yet the mainstream U.S. media chose a telling twist for the storyof Bushs visit: Latin Americans, they said, were concerned about the U.S. ignoringthem, and yearned for the days of American presidents showering attention ontheir plight.  The media seemed intent onsetting the stage for a return to the fabled Good Neighbor policy, mostrecently idealized in the multilateralism of former president Bill Clinton.Once Bush is out of power, the assumption goes, the U.S. will finally get back tocoddling its less-fortunate Latin American neighbors.

However, the idea that the BushAdministration has been disengaged in Latin Americais flat out false; in fact, political and military intervention in the regionhas continued throughout his presidency. Moreover, it is a demeaning and racist assumption to imply that LatinAmericans are lost without their more advanced neighbors kindly offeringassistance and aid.  The truth is thatmost people in the Latin America, like the rest of the Global South, wouldrather that the U.S.government either truly disengage in the region, or drastically change itsforeign policy.

Political Intervention during the Bush years

A quick look at events over thepast six years shatters the myth about Bush Administration neglect in Latin America.  Oneof the earliest and most blatant U.S.intrusions into Latin American politics came in April 2002 with the attemptedcoup in Venezuelaagainst President Hugo Chavez.  There,the State Department funded Venezuelan groups that ultimately lead the coup,primarily through the ironically misnamed National Endowment for Democracy(NED), which has become the primary tool of U.S. soft intervention over thelast decade.  The U.S. quicklybecame one of only two governments to acknowledge the interim coup government,and after Chavez returned to power due to a popular outpouring of support inhis favor, the Bush Administration continued to fund other failed attempts todispose the democratically elected government.

Next up was Haiti, where president Jean Bertrand Aristidewas pushed out in early 2004 after the NED and other quasi-non governmentalinstitutions supported by the U.S. State Department bolstered the brutalanti-democratic opposition in Haiti.  Violence and repression ensued, yet the U.S. neveracknowledged its role in the coup and the bloody events that followed.

A story well-known by CISPESmembers and supporters is the tragic intervention that occurred in El Salvadoraround the same time as Aristide was disposed. There, State Department officials and Bushs own brother Jeb stepped into undermine the FMLN campaign and its candidate Schafik Handal, who was in a close race for the presidencywith the right-wing candidate Antonio Saca. Old cold warriors like Otto Reichand Roger Noriega retreads from the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations stepped in to fuel fears about El Salvadorlosing its status as a U.S.ally should Handal take the presidency. Underhanded threats about Salvadorans immigration status in the U.S. and the cutting off of remittances one ofthe primary sources of wealth for El Salvador helped turn the tidein Sacas favor.

In recent years the U.S. has alsosided with conservative candidates in Bolivia (against leftist indigenousleader Evo Morales), Nicaragua (against Sandinista Daniel Ortega), and inMexico, where conservative canidate Felipe Calderon narrowly won the presidencyin July of 2006 after a widely questioned and protested squeaker victory.

Militarization, Policing, and the Drug War

As if such political interventionwere not enough, the Bush Administration has directly funded the constructionof new military bases and police schools in Latin America, while increasingoverall military funding to the region, most prominently through Plan Colombia.  The U.S.maintains numerous military bases in Latin Americaand has steadily increased military aid during the past 6 years.  The opening of the ILEA police trainingacademy in El Salvador also marks an important shift in U.S.-funding ofrepressive regimes, now focusing on police and anti-gang intelligence as muchas much as military.  Indeed, theincreased links between US institutions like the FBI, the DEA, and ICE (theimmigration authority under Homeland Security) and their counterparts in LatinAmerica does not bode well for a region that has suffered decades of brutal USintervention.

Moving forward: A United Solidarity Movement to confront US Militarizationin Latin America?

The leftist shift in Latin America continues, and Bushs visit to the regionproved to be a failed response.  Overall,this trend gives hope to millions of people in Latin America whose dependenceon the United States will betransformed into an increasingly autonomous, and integrated, LatinAmerica.

In April CISPES and dozens of otherLatin America solidarity groups came together to assess the current state ofpolitics in Latin America and strategize abouthow to better confront US military and economic intervention (see related article).One priority that emerged is the need to challenge all US military aid and training in Latin America,be it through the School of the Americas,the ILEA, Plan Colombia,or the various military bases.  Upcomingelections in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Paraguay are also seen as a greatopportunity to continue the tide of leftist leaders coming to power.  Key to that effort will be countering US interventionin those elections so that the US-preferred right-wing candidates are unable touse fraud and manipulation in beating back the Left.

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