Obama’s Latin American Policy

Change? Not In America’s Backyard! Barack Obama’s Reactionary Stance Towards Latin America
By Chris Carlson / March 23, 2008

As progressives in the United States are riding a wave of excitement about Democratic hopeful Barack Obama and his promise of change, the people of Latin America have much less to be excited about. In fact, given some of his recent comments, Latin America might expect an even more aggressive policy from Barack Obama than what they saw under the Bush administration.

Latin America has long been regarded as America’s “backyard” by both US policymakers, and critics of US imperialism. Nationalist and revolutionary movements in Latin America have long expressed their desire to break away from being the “backyard” of the United States, and achieve their own independent economic development.

But US policymakers, from the Monroe Doctrine to the Truman Doctrine, have long seen Latin America as a strategic region with vast natural resources and lucrative markets which must remain inside the US sphere of influence, regardless of the desires of its people.

Barack Obama apparently feels the same. A few weeks ago he said as much, even using the infamous “backyard” label.

“We’ve been so obsessed with Iraq and so obsessed with the Middle East, we’ve been neglecting Latin America even in our own back yard,” he said at a campaign speech in Alexandria, Virginia. [1]

And he’s right. The Bush administration’s focus on the Middle East has given Latin America some breathing room from the usual US subversion and intervention so common throughout Latin America’s history. In the meantime, leftist leaders have come to power across the region like never before in a series of democratic revolutions dubbed the “Pink Tide.”

Many on the left have seen these developments as an enormous flowering of popular democracy and mass participation, and a clear break from the elitist democracies of the past. The masses have been relatively free to choose leftist and nationalist leaders in democratic elections, without them being toppled by US intervention, with some exceptions. [2]

But Barack Obama does not see it that way. In fact, he apparently views these developments as a problem that has been neglected by the Bush administration, as he warned recently:

“China has been sending diplomats and economic development specialists and building roads all throughout Latin America. They are securing trade agreements and contracts. And we ignore Latin America at our own peril.” [3]

In other words, US neglect of its “backyard” has allowed Latin America to have more freedom to trade with other countries, such as China; a certain threat to the interests of US corporations. Indeed, Latin America’s leftward sweep could prove threatening to US economic interests as the nations of the region seek to take control of their natural resources, diversify their economies, and break away from their dependence on US imports.

It is, of course, the right of any sovereign nation to do these things if it so desires, and Latin American leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa would argue that they are absolutely essential for the region’s development.

But Barack Obama views this as a problem; a result of US neglect of the region, and apparently hopes to roll back these democratic changes in Latin America. During a recent debate appearance in Austin, Texas he implied that US neglect of the region has allowed leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to have too much freedom.

“We’ve been diverted from focusing on Latin America… Is it any surprise, then, that you’ve seen people like Hugo Chavez and countries like China move into the void, because we’ve been neglectful of that,” he said. [4]

And Venezuela’s Chavez appears to be a particular problem for Obama; one that has led him to include Venezuela on a list of “rogue states,” along with Cuba, Iran and Syria, and to express his opposition to the Venezuelan president in a recent speech:

“I don’t actually agree with Chavez’s polices and how he’s dealing with his people,” he said. [5]

It apparently doesn’t matter that the Venezuelan people do agree with Chavez’s policies, and have repeatedly shown their widespread support of him in open democratic elections. And Obama evidently sees Venezuela as a “rogue state” not because it is a security threat, but because “[Chavez] has been using oil revenue to stir up trouble against the United States,” as he said recently. [6]

Indeed, many Latin American nations have recently gotten the “crazy” idea that they can use their own natural resources the way they want, and do not need to respect the interests of the United States. Venezuela’s Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales are among those who have nationalized their natural resources, and have begun to use the revenue the way they see fit.

Chavez especially has used Venezuela’s oil revenue to finance joint projects with other countries and to increase regional trade among Latin American nations. The policies have the goal of diversifying Venezuela’s economy, and severing the region’s dependence on the United States. [7]

If this is what Obama refers to as “stirring up trouble,” he is correct that these policies are not in the interests of US corporations that seek to maintain control of the markets and resources of Latin American countries. But shouldn’t the people of Latin America get to decide how the revenues from their resources are used? Or is this a decision that should come from Washington?

Read all of it (including missing references) here.

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