As very few celebrate the anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, most of the world recognizes Bush’s compulsion to mass violence as an act of pre-medieval arrogance and ignorance. Like Vietnam and Korea before it, the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences have sapped imperial resources at home.
Far from dead, however, imperial axioms rein supreme in US politics. The Monroe Doctrine continues to provide guidance to policy makers. This 1823 statement of chutzpah, viewing European interference in Latin America “as dangerous to our peace and safety,” came long before Washington could enforce it. The US vitiated the Doctrine’s other clause -- US out of Europe – when it entered World Wars I and II.
By the 1890s, and through the 20th Century, Washington dictated policy to the Hemisphere. No longer! Compare Latin American relations today to its bondage 50 years ago. In 1958, Washington called all the shots. Latin American nations wouldn’t dare vote against US interests in the OAS or UN, or disagree with US economic policy. The CIA removed the few who resisted, like reform minded Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954.
In 1959, under Fidel Castro’s leadership, the Cuban Revolution forged long term resistance. In retaliation, the United States launched an exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs, instituted assassination and terrorism as official policies and enacted an embargo, while maintaining a a US naval and now torture base on Cuban territory. All this, plus imposed diplomatic isolation and possibly chemical and biological war fare, didn’t deprive Fidel of a meal or a conjugal opportunity. It hurt Cubans, but failed to raise even a small welt on the Comandante’s back. Officials in Washington still tell you -- off the record -- restoration of relations with Cuba must wait until Fidel gets properly punished.
While Cuba averted US destabilization, the CIA ensured no other “upstarts” would challenge its hegemony. They ousted Brazilian President Joao Goulart in 1964, helped destabilize Chilean President Salvador Allende’s regime for a coup in 1973, and waged a 10 year long covert war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. US troops prevented noncompliance in the Dominican Republic in 1965 and in Haiti in the 1990s. Independent minded Presidents Omar Torrijos of Panama and Jaime Roldos of Ecuador died mysterious deaths in 1981 airplane crashes. No cause has yet been determined for the “accidents.”
In 2008, noncompliance has become widespread. Washington had to rely on Alvaro Uribe’s dubious regime in Colombia as a “model” and a platform state to do its bidding. In 2008, such “obedience” costs US taxpayers some $600 million to buy that loyalty. (Anastasia Moloney 15 Feb 2007 World Politics Review) Uribe presides over a kleptocracy that routinely violates human rights. Labeled a democracy by the three monkeys at the State Department, Colombia’s government continues to encourage its super rich to not pay taxes; a place where poverty and injustice coincide with violence and corruption. These very material reasons stand behind the Colomobian government’s inability to stifle an insurgency – a cruel and cynical one – that has endured for more than four decades.
During that period, Colombia’s government has not stifled an insurgency that has gained a bad reputation even with revolutionaries for its narco-trafficking and kidnapping policies. Indeed, the FARC and other insurgent group still control an estimated 20 percent of Colombia’s territory.
Desperate to show hemispheric clout after suffering setbacks in the Middle East and electoral reverses for its candidates in Latin America, Washington – in the name of the war on terror -- provided intelligence to Colombia to target the position of FARC guerrillas in Ecuadorian territory. On March 1, Colombia’s military, with US tactical, logistic and weapons support, attacked a guerrilla camp inside Ecuador and assassinated Raúl Reyes, FARC’s international spokesman and some 16 other guerrillas.
Not wanting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to claim prestige for having helped free captives kidnapped by the Colombian rebels, Washington surreptitiously encouraged this extraterritorial operation. Ecuadorian Defense Minister Sandoval more than implied that when he said the Colombians dropped explosives “that are normally known as smart bombs which the US has.” Sandoval explained that to locate the target, FARC leader Reyes’ “equipment was used that Latin American armed forces do not possess.” Troops and aircraft moved in to assassinate FARC guerrillas, and ironically delay the
As war clouds gathered over Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, the Latin Americans settled the dispute themselves, without US or OAS intervention when they met under the auspices of left leaning Dominican President Leonel Fernandez. Uribe apologized to Ecuador and swore never to repeat such aggression. Behind the scenes, US officials tried unsuccessfully to pressure certain governments at the summit to condemn the victims.
Latin American governments viewed US efforts to provoke violence using Colombia as its agent as threating to their fragile sovereignty. Indeed, citizens of most Latin American countries would have mocked their President had they backed Colombian aggression in the name of fighting terror.
By late 1986, US failure to provide a sensible policy for Latin American and the Caribbean for so many decades -- unless one includes looting as sensible – led leaders of the region to create the 18 member Rio Group (meeting in Rio de Janeiro). Although it excluded Cuba, it also barred the US from membership. It became in a kind of alternative to the OAS and reflected the first stages of collective disillusionment with US policy in the region.
Latin Americans can celebrate their quiet emancipation from The Monroe Doctrine, which remains axiomatic in official Washington circles as its coincidence with reality diminishes.
Whom to credit for sidelining this seemingly eternal Doctrine? Ironically, Fidel Castro, has played a lead role in making the Doctrine -- well, so last century. As Washington officials condescendingly predicted –and waited expectantly –Castro’s death, they failed to see the terminal illness in their own policies.
Neither the political class nor the media have acknowledged the new reality. They continue to ridicule the policy dragon slayer as he sits in his hospital suite in Havana writing analytical essays. Four of his ideological sons run Latin American governments: Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Fidel’s ideological cousins govern Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Honduras. And, all of them won free and fair elections –more than Bush can say. More cousins or even closer relatives might soon emerge victorious in Paraguay, El Salvador and Peru.
The left should celebrate cautiously. The US has risen before from imperial ashes, as it did after defeat in Vietnam. And Cuban socialist achievements in health, education and social welfare, notwithstanding, stand second to the example of Fidel’s Guinness Wolrd Record status as King of disobedience to empire.
Without his defiance, would Security Council members Chile and Mexico have dared challenge the United States during the 2003 Iraq War resolution? Would Brazil and Chile have casually switched major trade partners from the United States to China?
One additional reason for declining US influence relates to the fall of the dollar. Latin American countries export coffee and cocoa, but receive approximately the same price as they did 50 years ago, when, as Fidel Castro noted, “the dollar had a few dozen times the purchasing power it has today. Simple trade, increasingly unequal, is crushing the economies of many Latin American countries.” (Cuban News Agency March 8, 2008)
Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador show how citizens could elect governments to represent their interests, rather than those of “free traders.” As Cuba struggles to adjust its order to meet popular grievances ranging from more freedom to buy to greater liberty to speak, its government benefits from the fact that the United States arrogantly imported Fidel’s enemies. These Miami-based exiles cause problems in the United States. They have governed the “autonomous republic of Miami” for decades. Men in their 70s continue to “train” in the Everglades with guns or continue to proclaim as did Miami radio screamer Armando Perez Roura that “the only way to overthrow the Communist tyranny is through arms.”
Some older members of Perez Roura and his listeners’ generation still dream of returning, reclaiming their wealth, power and prestige on the island. They invoke the good old days, when the Monroe Doctrine meant Batista and the Mafia, that brutal security blanket that made them happy.
The “good old days” in Cuba like the Monroe Doctrine have died. In Miami, younger generations of Cubans and other Latin Americans populate the city, making the old guard seems stale and stifling, just as when it ruled Cuba. As the 50th anniversary of Cuba’s revolution approaches, in some nine months, a few Miamians will acknowledge the importance of the event that helped bury the Monroe Doctrine and allowed Latin Americans to forge a more independent path in the 21st Century.
Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies Fellow. His new book is BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD. His award winning film is WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE, available on dvd (firstname.lastname@example.org