A Good Yankee Conquered Latin America

The judgement of the first hundred days of the Obama administration might have had all the attention in the US, it is, as a matter of fact, a global affaire. The foreign policy of the Bush/Cheney administration was ruinous in its approach to and contacts with Latin America. Bush’ few visits to Latin American countries were always characterized with massive, sometimes even violent protests and demonstrations. Neither the Latin American leaders nor the people expected anything positive from Bush/Cheney, and as a consequence any American initiative, commercial or charitable, was met with mistrust and suspicion. Exponents of this disastrous foreign policy were the dubious American interventions in local affairs in Venezuela, Bolivia and Paraguay and the re-instalment of the 5th US Navy Fleet in the Caribbean. The US, personified by George Bush, was “el diablo” as Hugo Chávez stated openly and with which statement many a Latin American government leader silently agreed.

Although the 5th Summit of the Americas, sarcastically called the G-34 (the number of countries attending the meeting of three days in Trinidad and Tobago) as part of a soup of letters and numbers in which leaders dive, was distinguishably unimportant, it was, however, the perfect event for the new president of the USA to meet efficiently with all government leaders of Latin America, notably the Left-Wing leaders with anti-American feelings, among them Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay) and Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua). But it was also crystal clear that the meeting in a country once a haunt for pirates and smugglers had to offer some thrilling bids and a bit of suspense.

The Summit was created in 1994 by the then US President Bill Clinton. The initial objective was to create a single trading system, the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) for the whole region. After several dead ends, especially between the United States and Mercosur, the initiative was buried after the last meeting in Mar del Plata.

But this time, it was the Latin American and Caribbean debutante ball for prince Barack Obama, and you never could know whether Hugo Chávez would try to spoil the party and steal the show (he anticipated that he might veto the final declaration) and the absence of Cuba was remarkable since the island of the Castro brothers was the predominant theme of this picnic.

Several Latin American leaders agitated as usual against the financial shenanigans perpetrated by Big Brother America, albeit knowing they need to work with Obama. You just had to observe the body language and juggling rhetoric of Lula in relation to Obama. Again, as in the G-20 summit in London, we had the flawless performance of the US president stating that he was here to listen, to recognize flaws and trimming edges, but let’s remember the obvious: the US is still the indispensable superpower, maybe weaker, more limited and less arrogant, but still the No. 1 Superpower.

There were also limits to achieve necessary change. Before the trip to Trinidad and Tobago, Washington broke some ice in relations with Havana, allowing more travel and financial remittances from Cuban-Americans to the island. But not enough to make an immediate reversal of the economic embargo, in force for 47 years, the age of the President. This will depend on tortuous negotiations with the anti-Castro lobby in Congress, and positive gestures of the Castro brothers.

Who was to know, that Chavez, supported by his vassals, might lay an ambush, but what fun could there be with “el diablo” George W. Bush not present? It should have been difficult to repeat the waves of protests and bullshit targeting Bush during the 2005 summit in Mar del Plata.
Before the Summit started Itamaraty, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, released a statement: “President Obama is new in office and it makes no sense to create a “negative” situation during the summit”, and continued to say that the Cuban government itself would have no interest in a confrontation with the Obama government, because of its willingness to a “dialogue.”
“President Lula goes to Trinidad, aware that neither Obama, nor Cuba are interested in transforming the embargo in a big controversy during the summit.”
For many, the US remains an imperialistic country, but Obama is a good Yankee.

Before the summit started The New York Times published a sombre toned article, emphasising the erosion of the US influence in Latin America and the deeper engagement of China in the hemisphere, but it is ridiculous to imagine that one day the “Emerging Asian Superpower“ will have a hegemonic role in American’s backyard.

The veteran “Brazilian-expert” Abraham Lowenthal, professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, said that Obama’s trip to Latin America during its first 100 days of government is prove of the importance he gives to the region, given the alarming economic crisis and geopolitical challenges in other parts which consume all attention of his administration. Latin America, however, is not a priority of this government. The urgent national issues, like the economic crisis, drugs and immigration, dominate his domestic agenda.

What is the importance of the summit for Brazil? And can somebody tell me how many summits President Lula has already participated in during the four months of this year? Since the summit in Mar del Plata, Brazil is more prominent and influential. For Lula, it is great to be charmed by Obama. But in the words of Rubens Barbosa, former Brazilian ambassador to Washington, the summit is a “non event” because it was originally initiated to stimulate a dead FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), against which Brazil resisted. FTAA is not any longer, but there is Hugo Chávez’ Alba. Leaders can always find a reason for another summit.

Although heavily criticized in the US, Chavez friendly handshake and gesture to present the new US president with the book “Las venas abiertas de América Latina” (or in English: “Open Veins of Latin America”), written by the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano in the seventies of the last century, was one of the most remarkable public expressions of seeking a rapprochement with the US and at the same a signal to the ‘imperialist’ that the future had to be laid out with mutual respect. Remember, the book – which is arguably Galeano’s best-known work, analyzes the history of Latin America as a whole from the time period of European contact with the New World to contemporary Latin America, revealing what he views as European and later US economic exploitation and political dominance over the region – is clearly a signal of the Latin American leaders to Obama, that continuation of this loathed policy can not and will not be accepted any longer.

Whether US policy to Latin America will change dramatically in a positive direction requiring mutual respect, we have to see. But for the time being “A Good Yankee Conquered Latin America”.