Upside Down World
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Obama Stays the Course in Latin America PDF Print E-mail
Written by Cyril Mychalejko   
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 17:34

ImageOn June 23 while hosting Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, President Barack Obama was asked by a Chilean journalist whether he would apologize for Washington's role in that country's 1973 military coup which overthrew the democratically elected government and replaced it with a dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet.

"I'm interested in going forward, not looking backward," said Obama, who refused to apologize. "I think that the United States has been an enormous force for good in the world."

At first I was disheartened. Former President Bill Clinton had the courage to apologize for Washington's role in Guatemala's civil war and the subsequent genocide campaign carried out by the country's succession of dictatorships and their security forces. Why not President Obama?

But if Obama had apologized we know now it may have given false hope to Latin Americans that he would break with the past and change the course of Washington's foreign policy in a region arrogantly referred to as "America's backyard."

But one need only look to recent events in Peru and Honduras to figure out that Obama's foreign policy in Latin America is a continuation of our historical role in the region marked by economic conquest, domination, control and intervention.

"That's not change, that's more of the same"

On June 5 one of Washington's strongest allies in the region, Peruvian President Alan Garcia, unleashed his military and security forces on indigenous demonstrators protesting against government reforms that would open the Amazon region to oil, mining, gas and timber development. Garcia steamrolled these reforms through Peru's Congress in order to accommodate a free trade agreement signed with the United States. Tear gas was fired into a crowd at a road blockade from three MI 17 helicopters, while police on the ground fired their automatic rifles at the indigenous demonstrators, whom Garcia described as "ignorant" and "savages." According to reports there were dozens of deaths, with potentially hundreds more injured and missing.

The United Nations
, along with numerous human rights organizations, called for an investigation into the massacre. President Obama's response was no response. His silence amounted to acquiescence. This fits Washington's historical pattern of turning a blind eye to violence and repression in the name of advancing our economic interests and free market ideology—a tactic employed regularly throughout the Cold War.

Now, with the current military coup in Honduras, the Obama Administration has again failed to act decisively on the side of human rights and democracy, and in this case against a de facto government whose members conspired with the military to overthrow the country's legal president, Manuel Zelaya. In a remarkable moment of candor, the Honduran army's top lawyer admitted to The Miami Herald on July 3 that the military broke Honduran laws when it kidnapped Zelaya and exiled him to Costa Rica. Yet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still refuses to officially recognize the coup for what it is—a coup.

The Organization of American States, whose members include every country in the hemisphere except Honduras (because of the coup), has called for the unconditional return of President Zelaya. Yet the Obama Administration has pushed for negotiations which could potentially include provisions limiting President Zelaya's term and presidential authority.

"It's supremely important that we not make any concessions to those who have perpetrated military coups. By doing so, we establish a dangerous precedent," said Dana Frank, Honduras expert and professor of history at U.C. Santa Cruz.

Frank is one of 35 Latin American scholars and specialists who sent a letter to Clinton on July 9 urging the Secretary of State to ensure that the United States defend Honduras's democracy by using its political and economic clout to demand Zelaya's immediate and unconditional return.

"Anything less than the urgent restoration of President Manuel Zelaya to office would be an usurpation of the will of the Honduran people," the letter states. "Each day that the illegal coup regime remains in office further jeopardizes the capacity for Honduras to enjoy free and fair elections in November, let alone in an earlier time frame. Elections currently would take place under a coup regime that has suspended civil liberties, and where the conditions for free elections do not exist."

In order to move forward, President Obama must look backward; the era when dictators and death squads ruled the region, often with our support and on our behalf, is not far removed. Only through understanding our shared violent past can the United States and Latin America ensure that we will not repeat it. Only then can we progressively move forward.

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at He also serves on the board of the Canary Institute, a transnational collective of individuals engaged in research, writing, teaching, solidarity, and action that address the problem of catastrophic systemic collapse.
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