Analysis: Latin America’s relationship with the USA

13 March 2011

The prospect of a new era in Latin-America dawns as the US rebuilds its military, in a desperate attempt to control the threatening development of its emerging powers.

“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

– W. Durant

A new age has begun, and with it new powers are emerging. What up until now has been an uncontested world leadership spearheaded by the US gives way to a wider geopolitical stage, where new protagonists come into play, interrupting the North-American discourse for a chance to speak.

To the east, India and the Chinese sleeping dragon awake at last, hungry for a stake of the world, while Iran still clutches its military fist in order to gain a voice at the international table.

On the other side of the map, new Latin-American players are eager to enter the pitch, among them Brazil and Argentina. Their relatively young and energetic populations, coupled with their industrial drive and openness to investments from foreign countries such as China pay testament to their economic potential.

Aligned with these developments, popular opinion has often looked upon the Obama administration as the apostle of a revised US policy, namely in the western-hemisphere. Through its rhetoric of diplomacy and mutual understanding, it is often considered that its policy of dialogue has become one of the precursors of Latin-America’s economic development. But how true is this?

Certainly, for the past two decades some Latin-American countries have become not as dependent on western powers as they were in the past, and a general move towards integration has been under way ever since.

The founding of the Mercado Comun del Sur (Southern Common Market – Mercosur) in 1991 and of the Union de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations – UNASUR) in 2008 are proof of that commitment.

Further symptoms of this lie, for instance, in the general Latin-American move towards recognizing Palestine as a sovereign and independent state entitled to its 1967 borders, ratified by Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and most recently Paraguay.

Other signs are latent in Brazil’s diplomatic approach towards Iran’s nuclear programs, expressed through President Lula’s refusal to subscribe to further sanctions to the country and his fostering of dialogue as the way forward.

These last two examples give a portrait of a policy which is far from aligned with proverbial US National Security interests.

However, a closer look at present US policy regarding Latin-America shows how this trend towards independence from and misalignment with foreign powers is far from being a by-product of a more tolerant northern neighbour. On the contrary, that same trend has set off the return of the US government not to Bush policies, but to one particular Reaganite mantra as it was enshrined by Henry Kissinger:

‘If we cannot manage Central -America it will become impossible to convince threatened nations in the Persian Gulf and in other places that we know how to manage the global equilibrium.’

In other words, if the US cannot put its supervising foot down a growing and economically threatening Latin-America (i.e. if they cannot uphold the Monroe Doctrine), other nations such as China and Iran, as is the case today, will be quick to contest its financial supremacy on the globe. It seems Henry Kissinger’s fears have come true, and the US under Obama has been quick to heed his warning and respond accordingly.

This response came early on, when Obama was still a Presidential candidate, as clues to his affinity with President Reagan’s ideology were already present in his discourse.

On 23 May 2008, while criticizing the Bush administration’s negligence of Latin-America as a consequence of its insistence in Middle-Eastern affairs, the President stated the following in a speech he delivered at the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, Florida:

‘The United States is so alienated from the rest of the Americas that this stale of vision has gone unchallenged, and has even made inroads in Bolivia, Nicaragua – and Chavez and his allies are not the only ones filling the vacuum. While the United States fails to address the changing realities in the Americas, others from Europe and Asia, most notably China, have stepped up their engagement.’

This shows that the Obama administration is prepared to react much more swiftly and directly than Bush’s to the political and financial ‘changing realities in the Americas’. In fact, the North-American military-industrial empire has already begun to do so, in the hopes of recovering its former dominion in the region and not letting it go astray.

When President Obama was sworn in and took the wheel of the nation in early 2009, one of his main executive acts that year was to thwart the demilitarization of US presence in Latin-America, which occurred mainly during the second half of the Bush administration.  A clearly square off stance was signalled by a US government taking its gloves off to its southern neighbours, and remilitarization skyrocketed almost reflexively.

Seven new military bases were established in Colombia, two others were created in Panama in late 2009, and as of mid 2008 the US Navy has begun the process of re-establishing its 4th Fleet.

The main function of this maritime contingent before its dismantlement in 1950 was to patrol and maintain security in Caribbean and South-American waters. Announcing its re-establishment, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Gary Roughead seconded President Obama’s stance towards Latin-America in declaring that reassembling the fleet ‘sends a strong signal’ to the entire region.

More aligned with surveillance capabilities than military growling, whistleblower Wiki Leaks published in November 2010 an appalling document by the US State Department dated from 2008.

The document requested all US diplomatic officials in Paraguay to acquire ‘biometric data, fingerprints, facial images, iris scans, and DNA’ from politicians such as current President Fernando Lugo, former Vice President Castiglioni and Minister of Education Blanca Ovelar – all immediately prior to Paraguay’s 2008 elections.

This scandal may have done more good than harm for the reinstatement of US authority in Latin-America, since it temporarily restores the fear of an ever watchful United States.

Since October 2010, several Latin-American governments have begun deploying large military contingents in their borders, and the formal reasons for such manoeuvres are varied: protecting natural resources illegally exploited by foreigners (i.e. Bolivia); fighting the influx of illegal drugs and weaponry from Paraguay and Bolivia (i.e. Brazil); and reacting against Bolivia’s military-focused government (i.e. Paraguay).

It is likely that the US will find justification for its military presence in Latin-America due to these military moves, allied to the drug and weapons trafficking that take place between these three countries.

While the empire may be reacting militarily in a desperate attempt to maintain hemispherical dominance, to what extent is that reaction being successful to US interests? It is highly questionable that the old American principle of talking softly while carrying a big stick, now reinstated by Obama, is having any effect on emerging Latin-American powers.

It certainly has not stopped the continuance of democratically-elected governments with leftist backgrounds, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which are set on capitalizing their resources and maintaining their sovereignty. Apparently, the spread of the ‘Cuban virus’, as Kissinger called it, is not as threatening as it seems.

More threatening, however, is what is considered by many as the central nervous system of the region, Brazil. As the country scales the mountain towards becoming a future world superpower, foreign investments from across the Atlantic continue to flood its encouraging markets in the hopes of escaping Europe’s and the US’s frail economic sectors.

2011 promises a greater focus of international capital not only in Latin-America, but more specifically on the Brazilian giant. According to a recent study by IE Business School and Kreab & Gavin Anderson, three out of every four Spanish companies look to raise their stakes in its markets.

Speaking louder than any statistic is Brazil’s integration into the BRIC, the acronym group which also includes Russia, India and China as the countries with the most advanced economic development in recent years. Also known as the Big Four, BRIC are thought to become the major economic super-powers by 2050.

 In a world where financial prowess is outrunning the military big stick, Brazil has become one of the key wheels that drive the world’s economic engine, and the Monroe Doctrine whose voice of order was once heard in the western hemisphere may well become the Carioca Doctrine in the years to come.

In turn, this has given it geopolitical power, being currently one of the most heard protagonists concerning international affairs such as the Israel-Palestine conflict and Iran’s nuclear program.

On the other side of river, or of the hemisphere, lies an aging empire threatened by inner crisis and soaring debt, at odds to keep its old Egyptian ally and to maintain its military superstructure of over 900 bases worldwide and less credible in the international stage than it once was.

As the global tide begins to turn, and Europe’s old protector and supplier reveals the first cracks in the facade, the two-century old isolationism policy looms constantly in the horizon as a last resort for the economic maintenance of North-America. For the world at large, the race is on for the next leaders-to-be.

And just as the world was once divided between the Spanish and the Portuguese through a vertical axis that divided Latin-America, and later by the Americans and the Soviets through a wall that divided Europe, so in the future may Latin-America share the world with Eastern powers, but the axis which separates ideologies will cease to exist. One may even go further and embrace Oscar Guardiola Rivera’s prediction in his latest book, according to which Latin-America will indeed rule the world.

Sebastiao Martins

Image Credit: Stockvault.net