LATIN AMERICA DIGESTJohn Kerry’s ‘Monroe Doctrine’ speech draws yawns; Maduro goes after business to bolster failing economy

Nov 22, 2013

When U.S. Secretary of State proclaimed an end to the centuries-old Monroe doctrine earlier this week, the collective response of Latin American governments was a less-than-deafening “so what.” Few governments, in fact, bothered to comment.US secretary of state John Kerry

In what the U.S. called a major speech to the Organization of American States, Kerry said, “The era of the Monroe doctrine is over,” and said the U.S. needed to “re-engage” with Latin American countries. Even his call for “America for Americans” seemed to ring hollow among heads of state.

A Brazilian diplomat at the meeting who asked not to be indentified said the Kerry speech only served to reinforce the wide-spread feeling in Latin America that the U.S. has limited interest in the region and is out of touch with most of the Western Hemisphere. “He was not telling us anything we don’t already know. The Monroe Doctrine has been a dead letter for years. The U.S. must act with deeds, not words, to recuperate its relationship with Latin American countries.

Two centuries ago, President Monroe had presented his doctrine as the obligation for Americans to prevent new colonisation attempts by European powers in the western hemisphere. For generations, most Latin Americans simply interpreted the doctrine as meaning that the Americas would informally, and sometimes formally, live under the control of the United States.

The latter view was, in fact, a very perceptive reading of the record of the United States in the region. In the 19th century, the United States acted as “protector” of so-called smaller nations in the Caribbean, Central America and beyond. In this role it went along with other European nations (France, England and Germany), with the difference that it generally stressed indirect rule rather that outright occupation. The Mexican war and the brief occupations of Cuba and Nicaragua in the early 20th century were exceptions to this pattern, although they had important effects for the overall perception of U.S. policy in the region. According to the historian John Coatsworth, the United States brought down 41 Latin American governments between 1898 and 1994. The most famous cases include Panama (the U.S. was a key promoter of Panama’s secession from Colombia and its creation as a country), Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Bolivia. All of these cases of regime change happened before 1944.

Later, the U.S. shifted from an anti-fascist to an anti-communist policy under Franklin D. Roosevelt, supporting authoritarian rule in Latin America. Despite the shift, the U.S. intention remained the same and Roosevelt is rememebered by many Latin’s for his comment to an aide. The aide had told Roosevelt that a Latin American dictator the U.S. supported was a “son of a bitch,” to which Rooselvelt replied, “Yes, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

During the cold war, U.S. support of Latin government seemed to be consistently on the side of  criminal dictatorships, from Chile and Argentina to Guatemala and Brazil. In the 1990s, the U.S. actively supported highly contested neoliberal regimes as part of the so-called Washington consensus. More recently, the constant harassing of Latin American immigrants and the nativist overtones of the immigration debate in the U.S. do not boost its image in the region. There is a need for the U.S. to care about Latin American positions, searching for true democratic integration rather than simply promoting military-anti-drug related alliances, cyber-security and industrial espionage while showing sporadic episodes of interest.

Given the long list of acts of intervention in Latin American politics during the 20th century – none of them justified by the actual threat of a European invasion – Kerry’s announcement on the end of the Monroe doctrine should be celebrated. But the real issues that separate U.S. policies from Latin American interests today are no longer found in overt political and military intervention.

And the real concerns of U.S. policy in the region were all but ignored in the speech. There was merely a passing mention to drugs in Colombia, when billions of dollars and active collaboration with armed forces in the region support US prohibitionism against increasing opposition from Latin American societies and even politicians. The steep human cost of drug enforcement in Latin America, all for the benefit of U..S public health, was not even acknowledged. Nor was migration mentioned by Kerry, maintaining the fiction that immigration policies that harass and, during the Obama administration, deport record numbers of Latin Americans back to their countries of origin are not also a matter of foreign policy.

Perhaps the fiction is necessary considering the human rights cost of prolonged detention, expulsion and the separation of families that those policies entail. And Kerry also failed to mention the elephant in the room: the growing interactions of the region’s most dynamic economies with China, a customer for raw materials but also an investor that competes with US companies in several sectors. The Monroe doctrine, after all, only referred to European influence. It is not surprising that such a short-sighted, predictable speech has not elicited any reactions.

Credit: Parts of this article are from The Guardian; Photo credit: John Kerry

Venezuela’s Maduro cracks down on business

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is taking advantage of newly granted emergency powers to extend grip over the inflation-plagued economy.

Maduro on Thursday signed a decree limiting the profits of companies to ensure they don’t overcharge consumers and another that gives the government greater control over imports to make sure dwindling dollar reserves aren’t misspent.

Maduro had promised to enact both measures in the run up to Tuesday’s vote by congress, which granted him the authority to pass laws without consulting lawmakers for a year. It’s unknown how he’ll use the mandate next though. Opponents say the thinly-disguised power grab will further weaken Venezuela’s democracy after 15 years of socialist rule.

The president this month slashed prices on appliances to recover support eroded by 54 percent inflation and mounting shortages.

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