Bernard Regan looks at Donald Trump’s neoliberal vision for the Americas ahead of this year’s crucial Latin America Conference
On 25th September 2018 President Donald Trump addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. In his speech he invoked the nineteenth century doctrine of President Monroe which asserted that the United States of America had a right to assert its control over the countries of the region and that the US would not tolerate any expansionist foreign power encroaching on the Western Hemisphere.
Once again the US administration is asserting its ‘right’ to dictate what happens on the whole of the continent of Latin America. In his interventionist threats to Cuba through the continuing blockade, and on Venezuela through increased sanctions, Trump is behaving like many of his predecessors such as President Richard Nixon who backed the assassination of elected President Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973.
The speech spelt out a simple message that economic sanctions would be used anywhere in the world to win compliance with US policy. Those who resisted would be punished, whilst those who acquiesced would be rewarded.
He made a clear threat that the USA would use its wealth to get its own way and would use trade and aid to push all recipients into submission.
His speech revealed the extent to which the growth of trade between China and Latin America has become an obsession of his administration, claiming that his recent ‘trade war’ tariffs against Chinese imports were creating jobs in the US.
Trump used his speech to launch an all out attack on socialism blaming it for all the evils of the world. His demagoguery however was shredded the following day by the Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel who described the consequences of capitalism and the inequalities that it has created in
“a world in which the richest 0.7% of the population owns 46% of all the wealth, while the poorer 70% of the population can access only 2.7% of it. 3.460 billion people survive in poverty, 815 million go hungry, 758 million are illiterate and 844 million lack basic services of drinking water. These realities, Madam President, are not the result of socialism, like the President of the United States said yesterday here. They are the consequence of capitalism, especially imperialism and neoliberalism, of the selfishness and exclusion that is inherent to that system, and of an economic, political, social and cultural paradigm that privileges wealth accumulation in the hands of a few at the cost of the exploitation and dire poverty of the large majorities.”
At the end of October, Cuba will for the 27th year in a row, present a motion to the UN General Assembly calling for an end to the illegal and inhumane blockade of Cuba by its powerful neighbour to the north.
Last year 191 countries, including the UK, voted with Cuba against the Blockade and only the United States of America and its ally Israel cast votes opposing the Cuban motion. The vote this year will undoubtedly be similar. However things have not stood still. In the last year alone the blockade has cost Cuba $4.3 billion. All told in toady’s prices the blockade has cost Cuba over $134,559,800,000.
Trump has in fact ratcheted up the attack on Cuba putting into reverse even the modest changes introduced by President Obama. One result of these policies has seen the number of US citizens visiting the island falling by over 41% in the last year alone. In 2018 dozens of foreign banks decided to close down relations with the island and even Cuban embassy accounts abroad have been closed. This tightening of the measures against the financial sector threaten Cuba’s trade with third parties, delays supplies to the island and threatens the development of many sectors of industry.
Trump made it clear at the UN that he saw Venezuela as a key target. Over recent months his Vice President Mike Pence has been whipping up hostility in the Organisation of American States against the government of President Nicholas Maduro. The Venezuelan President took his opportunity at the General Assembly to call on President Trump to enter into dialogue with him rather than issue threats. The true intentions of the White House however are clearly exposed. The day before Maduro’s appearance, five countries, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Paraguay, urged on undoubtedly by the USA decided to call for him to be indicted by the International Criminal Court.
This move follows the attack in Washington launched by Vice President Michael Pence at 7th May Conference of the Organisation of American States in which he called on Venezuela to cancel the then 21st May elections. This was reinforced in June by Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who called for Venezuela to be suspended from the OAS and for further sanctions to be applied.
Many have warned that this ramping up of hostility towards Venezuela could be a pre cursor to some kind of military aggression against the country. Indeed Trump himself has openly suggested that US military action has not been ruled out. Suffice to say that the White House is determined to impose its will on that country, either by consent or by coercion. President Maduro has made it clear that the Venezuelans are not going to capitulate.
Trump’s actions are following a familiar path in Central and Latin America to that pursued by previous US Presidents. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed an order authorising covert operations in Nicaragua. Money, arms and training was provided to the contras who engaged in acts of sabotage, assassination and intimidation. In the following years Reagan upped support for the reactionary forces in the country leading to thousands killed, including the murder of Nicaraguan teachers who took part in the campaign to end illiteracy in the country. Today the United States is once again coordinating a campaign of violence across Nicaragua in an effort to force destabilisation and regime change.
“They think that with it (the Nica Act bill) the Nicaraguan people are going to get down on their knees, and they do not realize that these are people that do not sell or surrender,” Ortega proclaimed amid chants by the attendees.
Increasingly the US is supporting quasi judicial attempts to block progressive politicians from winning power. In Brazil the hugely popular Lula has been incarcerated on trumped up charges blocking his efforts to stand for president in the upcoming elections. There are similar type threats against Cristina Kirchner in Argentina and even against former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. It is clear that the US and its proxies will stop at nothing to ensure that sovereign countries of the region are made ripe for the introduction of US neo liberal policies that favour the rich and the multinational corporations. Any country that tries to assert control over its own natural resources and direct its economy towards its own populations will be targeted.
Recent years have seen some defeats for progressive forces across the continent. Pence’s ability to coordinate some Latin America countries into an anti-Venezuelan coalition is evidence of some success in this strategy. However the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often referred to as AMLO) as President of Mexico demonstrates that this trend in the continent is not all one way. He won with 53% of the vote winning the leadership in 31 out of the 32 of the country’s states. AMLO, a friend of Jeremy Corbyn, is pledged to a programme which seeks to address the problems of poverty, unemployment and crime in Mexico.
He will be inaugurated on 1st December, the very day of the Latin America Conference, where a number of sessions will be dedicated to learning about, and celebrating his presidency.
The mainstream media in the USA are spending a lot of time speculating on the likely trajectory of events in Mexico. Some of them are hyperventilating the fear that Mexico will become the next Venezuela or Cuba in the hemisphere. Whatever happens, AMLO has confirmed that the USA cannot bank on winning its way throughout the continent. It is safe to assume that Mexico led by AMLO will not endorse the blockade of Cuba nor the sanctions against Venezuela, and will provide a counterweight to many of the aggressive interventions within the region.
Trump may want to impose the Monroe doctrine and its associated neo liberal agendas on the countries of the continent. But the Latin America of 2018 is not that of 1823. It is clear that the people of the region and their mass organisations including the trade unions and social movements will continue to resist. While US hegemony over the continent over the past 200 years has left millions poor and illiterate, we are sure that progressive and indeed socialist policies will continue to be fought for.
The Latin America Conference will provide an excellent opportunity to reflect on these developments and provide real solidarity to the peoples of Latin America in their struggles to defend their national sovereignty and build a better and fairer world for their citizens.
Bernard Regan is National Secretary of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign
The Latin America Conference will take place on Saturday 1st December at Congress house and features over 50 speakers from Cuba, Latin America and the UK including: Tariq Ali, Dr Mariela Castro from Cuba, Chris Williamson MP and Guillaume Long, the former Foreign Secretary of Ecuador amongst others
Further details and tickets £10/£8 http://www.latinamericaconference.co.uk/