The blockade against Cuba will likely be a hot topic of debate at this weekend’s Summit, and will be partly fueled by tension between Obama and Chávez. Explaining the failure of the Bush administration in the region, Obama once said, it is “No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chávez have stepped into this vacuum. His predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy offers the same false promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past.”
Yet a closer look at the region will show that the rise of leaders like Chávez is a result of more than just neglect on the part of the empire – it has to do with the disastrous impact of neoliberalism in the region, and a desire among Latin Americans to seek out alternatives. Considering the current economic crisis in the US, Obama could learn a thing or two from the policies of leaders like Chávez, who is incredibly popular in Venezuela, works in solidarity with many of the region’s leaders, and has developed successful economic policies in his country. At the upcoming Summit, Obama should put into action something he said when meeting with the G-20: “We exercise our leadership best when we are listening.”
Latin America Changes
Those expecting an end to the same old Cold War tactics toward Latin America from Washington may be surprised when Obama continues to treat the region as a backyard. Yet whether or not the perspective from Washington changes, Latin America is certainly a different place than it was 30 years ago.
I asked Greg Grandin, a professor of history at New York University and the author, most recently, of “Empire’s Workshop,” if another US-backed coup such as the one that happened against socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973 would be possible in today’s Latin America. He said, “I don’t think it would be possible. There isn’t a constituency for a coup. In the 1970’s, US policy was getting a lot more traction because people were afraid of the rise of the left, and they were interested in an economic alliance with the US. Now, the [Latin American] middle class could still go with the US, common crime could be a wedge issue that could drive Latin America away from the left. But US policy is so destructive that it has really eviscerated the middle class. Now, there is no domestic constituency that the US could latch onto. The US did have a broader base of support in the 1970’s, but neoliberalism undermined it.”
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