"People don't give one shit [about Latin America]."
- Richard M. Nixon -
"Well, I learned a lot. You'd be surprised. They're all individual countries."
- Ronald Reagan -
"[Latin America] is a dagger pointed at the heart of America."
- Henry Kissinger -
Gone are the days we could smugly consider Central and South America "ours." The arrogance and ignorance which led then-Vice President Nixon to dismiss Cuba's Fidel Castro as "a communist" after meeting with him for only one hour in 1959 (and for President Eisenhower to blow off that meeting altogether to play golf), and for President Ronald Reagan to assume that Latin America was monolithic, was as fatally flawed then as that condescending attitude is today. Nixon and Reagan would shit hemorrhages if they could see the state of Latin America at present. For what was once an entire region wholly dominated by the United States is now one acting completely independent of, and often contrary to, the wishes of Washington. Nixon, Reagan, corporate America, and even Bush never realized it, but their short-sighted and self-centered policies have pushed nearly all of our southern neighbors into the varying degrees of anti-Washington frenzy they are now in. Unless we soon alter our course and apractice, we will feel negative consequences from this for many years to come.
One might assume that our current dicey scenario in Latin America is all the fault of Republican rule. That is not the case. Democratic Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson also contributed, albeit with GOP pressure and influence never far removed. The Cuban embargo, begun under Eisenhower (but tightened under Kennedy) remains in force to this very day. The ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion (another Eisenhower/CIA gem) was foolishly followed through upon by Kennedy. Both actions pushed Cuba further away from us and firmly into the outstretched arms of the Soviet Union. Johnson sent American troops into the Dominican Republic in 1965 to "restore order," but the end result was the same it has always been: The overthrow of a democratically-elected leftist government and its replacement by a military junta or repressive right-wing dictatorship beholden and subservient to the United States. There is a shamefully long list of countries in this region we have directly or indirectly interfered with just in my lifetime: Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Grenada, Panama, and Haiti. Our business interests and CIA have also worked diligently and clandestinely in Honduras and Mexico to influence their economies and politics. These actions have not spoken well for our supposed desire to spread freedom and democracy all across the globe, our moral and ethical standards, or our credibility. For, in much of Latin America (as in Iraq) we have often attempted to forcibly install democracy at the point of a gun. In extreme cases, we haven't even attempted to install a democracy, but have instead overthrown governments we felt would threaten our business or strategic interests, and then accepted whatever new, U.S.-friendly group came in to fill the power vacuum. In 1973, for example, our CIA (with Nixon White House backing) even directed the coup in Chile which resulted in the death of the first democratically-elected Marxist President, Salvador Allende. No matter that he won fair and square, or that he was committed to democracy and a free press: He threatened our business interests and was too friendly with Cuba. His replacement? The brutally repressive and murderous military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Shameful indeed. But, at last, there are clear signs today that Latin America as a whole is finally throwing off the burdensome yoke of Yankee domination in favor of radical reform designed to greatly reduce our influence and relieve longstanding, widespread poverty.
Since 1959, Fidel Castro's Cuba had been a lonely voice repeatedly calling out for an end to U.S. domination of Central and South America. In 1999 it was finally joined by Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. Both countries nationalized American and foreign-owned companies and subsidiaries and began a long series of radical reforms designed to aid their poor and end the poor's exploitation by big business interests. Regrettably, Cuba's revolution evolved into a dictatorship, with murder and imprisonment of opponents and political prisoners, as well as suppression of press freedom. But Cuba now has universal education and a literacy rate of 96%, compared with an ILLITERACY rate of 95% when its 1959 revolution began. It also has universal health care in many ways superior to that received by the "free" citizens of many other Latin American countries! Thankfully, subsequent change in Venezuela and other Latin American nations has not been as brutal or undemocratic. In the past few years, Cuba and Venezuela have been joined by a tsunami of popularly-elected leftist governments dedicated to similar reforms. Their degree of radicalism varies from Cuba's, Venezuela's, and Bolivia's to more moderate forms found in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. The extent of this wave of change is phenomenally widespread, from Daniel Ortega's Nicaragua, to Evo Morales' Bolivia, to Rafael Correa's Ecuador, to Fernando Lugo's Paraguay, to Argentina's Cristina Fernandez De Kirchner, to Michelle Bachelet's Chile, and beyond. These are indeed monumental and exciting times south of our border! ALL of these governments are leftist, which would give both Nixon and Reagan severe indigestion. In fact, a recent conference of Latin American countries held in Costa Do Sauipe, Brazil, was attended by 33 like-minded nations and included our neighbor, Mexico. They called for a regional union of these countries (to EXCLUDE the United States), and for the U.S. to end its unnecessary 49 year embargo against Cuba. A number of these governments are now even courting direct Chinese investment. Such occurrences would have been unthinkable even 15-20 years ago!
Naturally, little of this amazing transformation has been covered in much detail by our corporatist, sensationalist media. They have been far too busy dazzling us with stories about the excesses of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, Sarah Palin's clothes and calendars, Barack Obama's beach physique and basketball prowess, and Joe the phony Plumber's attempts to secure a country music recording contract. They have severely underreported the breadth and scope of Latin American change. The overwhelming majority of Americans are as painfully ignorant about events in our own back yard as Sarah Palin is about foreign affairs generally. Unforgivable. Our media provides us with more info on the planet MARS than it does on our southern neighbors! This is disgraceful and cannot serve us well long term. For the days are gone where we can immorally prop up corrupt and friendly Latin American regimes doing our bidding and representing only the 1-2% wealthiest elite while the rest of the population struggles and suffers. Our government, media and people MUST begin developing a better knowledge and understanding of our southern neighbors. Continued ignorance and benign neglect of these countries is inexcusable and cannot continue.
We are NOT the center of the universe! Readers of this blog, and ALL Americans, can take the lead by Google-ing each Latin American country and each leader and learning more about them. Hopefully, with a new and more enlightened administration set to take office soon, our CIA will finally be directed to keep its nose out of Latin America's private affairs and will begin to aim its focus where it should, as in defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The incoming Obama administration can work wonders in Latin diplomacy right off the bat by ending the ridulous Cuban embargo. ALL of our friends and allies alike, including Canada, Mexico, and the European community, trade with Cuba. So does China. And so, at long last, should we. Our new administration can also encourage new and greatly expanded cultural, educational, and trade relations with Latin America. Properly doing so will restore good will and may also limit China's penetration and influence in our own neighborhood. We can even learn from these countries and gain from their experience, but not if they hate us or we have blinders on. Brazil, for example, took only about a decade to become fully energy independent, and achieved this long ago. Rather than fight the forces of change, as we have so often done in Latin America in the past, we now have a golden opportunity to embrace and ride the crest of this exciting new wave of Central and South American independence. Doing so will benefit all nations in this hemisphere immeasurably!
NEXT WEEK: AN END TO DIVISIVE WEDGE ISSUES!