Obama’s “New” U.S. Foreign Policy & Latin America

When U.S. President Barack Obama promised to start a “new chapter” with Latin America at the April 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, most of us were hoping for a more friendly and respectful U.S. foreign policy – a welcome departure from the aggressive warmongering of George W. Bush. The Norwegian Nobel Committee must have been just as hopeful when it awarded Obama with the Peace Prize in October of that same year.

Obama addressed all regional leaders with a conciliatory speech: “While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership.”

Then he added, “To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements… I believe … that we must learn from history, but we can’t be trapped by it.” He repeated similar words during his visit to Cuba just a few weeks ago. It is worth noticing that in the 2009 speech Obama also promised “over a trillion dollars for countries going through difficult times.” That was his idea of an “equal partnership”. What would he want in exchange? He didn’t say.

In the last 15-20 years Latin America has seen a steady shift to more progressive policies, largely inspired by the regional leadership of Hugo Chávez and his vision of socialism for the 21st Century. Some countries drafted new constitutions to reflect that vision. Solidarity with the poor and between poor countries has been the main guiding principle of national and international policies. Calls to more independent and sovereign domestic decisions have been made, helped by the creation of institutions like CELAC (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños; Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and UNASUR (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas; Union of South American Nations). Ultimately, Latin America has been trying to build truly equal regional partnerships.

The success and vitality of those autonomous actions did not go unnoticed by the U.S. In fact, we are witnessing the response, as a reversal of the Latin American political programs for Latin Americans, to a more U.S. centered formulation for the region. Some countries are forced to return to the old neoliberal dependency that has consistently created inequality, poverty and class struggle.

Countries that do not submit to the will of the U.S. regime are constantly harassed, as in the case of Venezuela. The majority of Venezuelans have supported the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro repeatedly in fair elections. The Venezuelan government has contributed greatly to the social and economic advances of the country by reducing poverty and illiteracy, and expanding healthcare to marginal communities. Yet, the level of aggressive and violent hostility of a small fabricated “opposition”, emboldened by U.S. support and encouragement, is far beyond what is acceptable in a democratic country. Their actions have manufactured “economic and political crises” that are further misrepresented and magnified to gullible readers by a willing corporate media.

Do we still need to explain why and how the U.S. promotes regime change? The track record that includes the CIA sponsored failed coup in Venezuela in 2002, and the interventionist history that Obama wants us to forget are sufficient evidence.

We should stop having to prove the obvious! The U.S. interventionist aspiration in Latin America is not just aspiration. It is tangible ill-conceived U.S. foreign policy. In country after country history is repeating itself with renewed and more blatant tactics. Legislative deposing and impeachments, based on alleged crimes, financial misconduct or corruption accusations, seem to be the new “tool” for regime change in Latin America.

The first coup d’état on Obama’s watch, with the loud silence of approval by his former Secretary of State and current U.S. presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton, was carried out in Honduras against democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Barely two months after Obama’s speech at the Summit of the Americas, Zelaya was removed by Honduras Supreme Court in what is recognized by many as a coup.

In June 2012, Paraguay’s President Fernando Lugo was ousted from office after being impeached by the country’s Congress. The wealthy banker Horacio Cartes replaced him. According to a Wikileaks cable, Cartes was the target of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigation into money laundering and drug trafficking.

In December 2015, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchener was ousted on allegations of money laundering. She was replaced by conservative Mauricio Macri. Obama visited the country after his historic trip to Cuba last March. The timing of the visit is interesting. Three months to prepare an official state visit would seem very short unless there was a “foresight” of events to come. Second, visiting Argentina at a controversial time of the 40th anniversary of the U.S. sponsored military coup and brutal dictatorship of 1976, was in bad taste to say the least. It is fair to say that in politics there are no coincidences!

Barely two months later, we learned the real urgency of the visit: Macri “signed an agreement on military cooperation with the United States, which entails the establishment of a U.S. military base in Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of the South American nation”. “Another military base in the border with Paraguay and Brazil” is to follow. These fresh new additions to the close to 900 U.S. bases in the world, further increase the U.S. presence and domination in the region. If Obama intends to stop “dictating terms” to Latin America this is certainly the wrong way to show it.

In May 2016, Brazil’s progressive President Dilma Rousseff, who was elected by an overwhelming 50 million Brazilians, is impeached by the Senate and suspended under allegations of financial misconduct. This was widely recognized as a “soft” coup. Right-wing Michel Temer, himself under investigation for more serious corruption charges, becomes interim president. Inexplicably, a few days later military troops cordon off Rousseff’s residence, putting it under a virtual siege.

It is distressing that while Latin America attempts to carry on its own independent and much needed struggle to fight poverty and imperialism, and to strengthen Latin American unity and institutions, the U.S. makes sure that a rollback of popular social policies takes place by triggering or supporting entrenched pro-U.S. neoliberal market oriented governments.

We can be grateful that we are not experiencing the establishment of the ruthless Augusto Pinochet dictatorship following the violent overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, or the brutal dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla in Argentina in 1976, or the devastating civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s. But that is of little consolation to the new generations of Latin Americans today who rightly aspire to a more peaceful, prosperous and stable region without foreign interventions.

In fairness we can only blame the U.S. government to a certain extent. For undemocratic regime changes to succeed, a great deal of treasonous participation from unscrupulous Latin American bureaucrats is required. They are what I call the “WWW leaders”; White, Wealthy and Wicked. This is certainly the case in Brazil where the coup government is composed of all white rich men with ill intentions. At the time of this writing the “interim” government of Temer, without an electoral mandate, is forcing neoliberal austerity measures on Brazilians and privatization of state assets, [11] [12] which will affect the poor and working class in general. This highlights the ideological issue of regime change and also the colonial, gender, class and race issues.

Together with the “new” U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, it is important to acknowledge that endogenous accomplices are ultimately responsible. This will indicate the path of resistance. History teaches us that for Latin America only two words suggest the necessary path of people’s resistance: unity and revolution.



Nino Pagliccia

Nino Pagliccia has two Master’s Degrees from Stanford University and is a retired researcher on Canada-Cuba collaborative projects at the University of British Columbia. He has published many peer-reviewed journal articles and has contributed chapters to books on topics about Cuba, the Cuban healthcare system and solidarity. He has been a long-time activist and has organized groups to do voluntary work in Cuba for almost 15 years.


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