Convention Discussion: Imperialism enters the 21st Century: Latin America

March 8, 2010

This article is part of the discussion leading up to the Communist Party USA’s 29th National Convention May 21-23, 2010. takes no responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article or other articles in the pre-convention discussion. All contributions must meet the guidelines for discussion. To read other contributions to this discussion, visit the site of the Pre-Convention Discussion period.

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After one year of the new administration, high hopes for a significant improvement of relations between the United States and Latin America have been disappointed.

This is a shame. During the 2008 election campaign, Obama promised a new start in which he would meet U.S. adversaries, including Raul Castro Hugo Chavez “without preconditions”. He was fiercely attacked for this by Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

In March 2009, the Obama White House pointedly refused to interfere in presidential elections in El Salvador, won by the left’s candidate. This was a welcome break from the practices of the Bush administration and its threats against Salvadoran immigrants.

At the Summit of the Americans in Trinidad in April, Obama’s conciliatory speech was  well received. Raul Castro offered to take Obama up on his offer to meet without preconditions, and hinted that Cuba would consider exchanging the “Cuba 5” for jailed so-called “dissidents”.

When president Zelaya of Honduras was overthrown in June 2009, Obama said that the United States opposed the coup and considered Zelaya to be the legitimate president.  There was heavy U.S. involvement in preparing the coup, but many thought maybe Obama would now turn things around.

Then things began to go downhill.

  • When the Organization of American States called for sanctions against the coup regime in Honduras, Secretary of State Clinton broke with majority opinion and ran a diplomatic sideshow with Costa Rican president Oscar Arias as “mediator”. Although Zelaya felt he had no choice but to accept this, the coup regime used the “mediation” as a mechanism to run out the clock so that elections scheduled for November 29 would take place with an illegal regime still in power, repressing Zelaya supporters.  The U.S. then, at the last minute, found a pretext to announce that it would recognize the results of the election no matter what happened.  It failed to refute a boast by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) that it had dumped Zelaya in exchange for Republican approval for two State Department appointments.
  • A bigger shocker was the announcement that the United States would be leasing 7 military bases in Colombia. The Columbian government is a far right-wing, narco-mafia infiltrated regime which breaks all records for human rights violations against workers and peasants.  There is fear that the continuation of the Bush administration’s close alliance with Colombia represents a danger to the stability Colombia’s neighbors. The U.S. move undermines efforts to promote a peaceful settlement to the Colombian civil war. As a senator, Obama had opposed the planned Colombia free trade agreement because of concerns about human rights, but in his State of the Union message he hinted he would now push ahead with it.
  • Initially, the Obama administration made minor adjustments to the U.S. blockade of Cuba but has not moved an inch since. In the fall U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice made a speech against the annual General Assembly vote against the Cuba blockade which was full of misinformation and an insult all the 185 countries that voted “yes”.
  • Bush remobilized the Fourth Fleet to patrol Latin American waters and the Obama administration has not reversed this. The United States has continued to harshly criticize and pressure the left wing governments of the region.

This has led to a general rise in tensions between the U.S. administration and the left and left-center governments. This is why there was so much suspicion of the U.S. move to send 20,000 troops to Haiti after the earthquake.

There is much at stake. Since the election of Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela in 1999, there has been a steady movement to the left in the region. Particularly important has been the creation of new mechanisms of horizontal integration, including the left-wing Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of America (ALBA). ALBA has been very successful in initiating a dynamic whereby countries of the region can escape from imperialist hegemony and dump the “Washington Consensus” of “free” trade, privatization and austerity.  

The group of left-center and left leaders who have come to power is heterogeneous, and their roots are not “Marxist-Leninist”. However, the changes have been brought about by enormous mass mobilizations at the base, and thus have deep roots. This may be the best news for the left worldwide since the fall of the USSR.  

We can’t expect Obama to become an “anti-imperialist” president. This is not his orientation. Besides, imperialism is not a policy but the way the world is organized today and it can’t be stopped by flipping a switch in the Oval Office.

But we have a responsibility to demand a more realistic attitude on the part of the administration, which would entail talking to the left-wing governments and blocs with a tone of equality and respect, rather than bullying and destabilization.

The Obama administration has not so much continued Bush policies as returned to those of Bill Clinton. No bombing or invasion, but heavy handed economic and diplomatic pressure to isolate the left and maintain U.S. corporate dominance. Bush was so awful we sometimes forget how bad Clinton was, especially on Cuba.

Our Party has generally embraced Lenin’s concept of imperialism and believed that it is our duty to fight against it in solidarity with the masses in the countries it victimizes. This is central to working class internationalism, and, for us, bedrock principle.

In the late 40’s our Secretary General, Earl Browder, wrongly concluded that the U.S.-Soviet-British alliance in World War II would continue indefinitely and promoted the idea that U.S. corporate penetration in Latin America was benign. But post-Roosevelt administrations initiated a phase in which hundreds of thousands died at the hands of U.S. supported right wing regimes. The CIA ran amuck.

Since then, the CPUSA has played a vital role in all the anti-imperialist solidarity movements.  Though our numbers are small, we often provide the only real links to the working class and masses.  Recent advances in U.S. labor on peace and international affairs are partly a result of our patient work over decades.

So what we do is vitally important.

We must not let the fact that we must support Obama on many domestic issues confuse us as to what his and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy actually is. This could weaken our anti-imperialist solidarity work.  In this respect, the “Main Discussion Document: U.S. Politics at a Transition Point” is overly sanguine in its characterization of the Obama/Clinton foreign policy. 

Further, mass opinion clearly supports a peaceful, cooperative policy toward our neighbors. The pressure to keep trying to isolate Cuba and intervene in Colombia comes from the corporations, not the grassroots.

Yes, the Republicans are worse, and no doubt pressure from the right affects Obama foreign policy. But if there is no counter-pressure from the left, what will be the logical result?

There can be no letup on our part in opposition to U.S. military bases and other forms of intervention, in Colombia and elsewhere, and support for a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and other countries that want to strike out on a new course without asking Uncle Sam’s permission.

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