Obama's Latin America policy takes hard right turn

A banner at a March 12 demonstration in Caracas against new US attacks on Venezuela. It reads: "A lot of balls and ovaries are h

US hemispheric policy reached a new low on March 9 when President Barack Obama invoked emergency powers to declare “a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.”

Thanks to Obama’s action, the US has now blatantly rehabilitated its traditional imperial posture towards the South and challenged the continent-wide Bolivarian cause of Latin American and Caribbean independence and sovereignty.

With such a wreckless declaration, Washington has sent a green light to the ultra-right opposition that was behind the anti-government violence in Venezuela during the first quarter of last year.

This contravenes the efforts of a delegation sent to Caracas by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR, a regional bloc made up of 12 South American nations) to maintain the peace. It thereby further alienates a region committed to defending their national sovereignty and independence from any power bloc on Earth.

In regards to the specific issues Obama's decree raised to justify the decree, Venezuela has identified the issue of corruption, is prosecuting security personnel for human rights abuses, acknowledges the need to reform police training and practice, and is indeed in the midst of an economic crisis.

On these matters, Washington’s exceptionalism as applied to Venezuela may raise more than some scepticism. For instance, the US continues to grant aid to the regimes in Honduras and Mexico, which have engaged in well-documented systematic brutality and gross violations of human rights.

All human rights abuses merit attention and accountability wherever they occur, but selective indignation aimed at Caracas is bound to draw questions about the motives of US hostilities towards Venezuela.

Does the Bolivarian cause in Venezuela threaten US national security? Venezuela is not at war with any country, has declared the region a zone of peace, and has helped mediate talks between the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas to seek a negotationed solution to the hemisphere's longest-running civil war.

The base of support for the Chavista government of President Nicolas Maduro are not terrorists bent on destroying Western civilisation; they include the millions of formerly excluded and poor who now have proper nutrition, housing, access to health care, to a free education, and a voice in governing their country.

Times are hard for them too, but they prefer the ballot box as the means of settling political differences, not violence. The grassroots movements behind the cooperatives and community councils, as well as the many social movements that put people before profits, are not the enemies of US people.

They do not ask for intervention from the North. They expect to be left alone to pursue their own organised expressions of constituent power. It is up to Venezuelans to address their economic problems, to root out corruption and to implement police reforms in their country, just as it is up to the US people to address human rights abuses from Ferguson to New York City.

Polls conducted in Venezuela show a large majority of respondents oppose attempts at extra-constitutional regime change and prefer democratic procedures for resolving political differences. They also show that most Venezuelans oppose a US invasion of their country.

It is also important to note that campaigns for National Assembly elections in December are getting started. These elections, which include opposition candidates, do not pose a threat to US citizens either.

The Venezuelan Electoral Commission (CNE) is second to none. Both pro-government Chavistas and allied parties, as well as the opposition Roundtable for Democratic Unity (MUD) and its allies are using the CNE to run their primaries.

Allowing these elections to be held in peace, so that Venezuelans themselves, not an outside power, can decide who governs them, is a pro-democracy perspective. The opposition can use a recall referendum next year if they wish to try to recall Maduro by constitutional means.

Does the Bolivarian cause in Venezuela threaten US foreign policy? Venezuela has been at the forefront of regional integration ever since Hugo Chavez was first elected president in 1998.

Chavez argued that a necessary condition for any nation in the region to depart from the Washington Consensus and forge an alternative economic policy is the independence and sovereignty of the region from imperial domination.

He also promoted the idea that in a multi-polar world, the region would be more likely to diversify its trade relationships, experiment with complementary types of commerce and avoid political submission to any power bloc on the planet.

These ideas have actually been put into practice, bringing about an epochal change over the past 16 years. It has led to the formation of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (an 11-nation anti-imperialist politial bloc), UNASUR, Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR, a five-nation economic bloc in South America), and Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC, which unites all nations in the hemosphere except the US and Canada).

The CELAC-China conference in January is an example of this exercise of independence and multi-polarity. But none of this poses a threat to the US people or the state.

It does, however, challenge one of Obama’s major policy goals ― the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal involving 12 Pacific rim nations.

This free trade accord would be much easier to sell at the Summit of the Americas next month in Panama should the Maduro administration be ousted in time. But that would be a crude calculation.

The people of the US can benefit from a partnership with the new Latin America and Caribbean that complements each peoples’ needs and resources. But it must be based on mutual respect for sovereignty, and that means a US policy that does not resort to “arm-twisting” to impose free trade and neoliberal economic policies on its neighbours to the South.

This would take a re-evaluation of the overall US hemispheric policy and an immediate step back from the precipice.

[Reprinted from Counterpunch.]

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