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Clinton's Lack of Respect for Latin America
Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
CIP Americas Program -
Clinton's Lack of Respect for Latin America
by Tom Barry
Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)
"A great nation must command the respect of others," writes Hillary
Clinton in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. But what about showing a
little respect? In her infatuation with U.S. power and the transcendent
"American idea," she forgets that international cooperation is not just
about winning respect, it's also about respecting other nations.
In her outline of her foreign policy agenda, titled "Security and
Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century," Clinton laments that the
Bush administration "has squandered the respect, trust, and confidence
of even our closest allies and friends." As president, Clinton promises
to introduce America to the world, and to demonstrate that the "United
States is committed to building a world we want, rather than simply
defending against a world we fear." That world, says Clinton, will be
"a world of security and opportunity."
But Clinton's cursory review of Latin America policy won't win much
respect in Latin America. In the one paragraph devoted to Latin America
in her 18-page essay, Clinton focused more on U.S. fear of new
political developments in the region than on ways to increase human
security and opportunity.
According to Clinton, the Bush administration neglected "at our peril"
the new political developments in Latin America. Without naming names,
Clinton asserts, "We have witnessed the rollback of democratic
development and economic openness in parts of Latin America."
Rather than applauding the new willingness of an increasing number of
elected governments to tackle the structural obstacles that have
marginalized the poor and indigenous populations, Clinton evokes a
picture of a region threatened by retrograde forces. Blaming the Bush
administration for its negligence, Clinton implies that a more engaged
U.S. policy could have obstructed the rise of democratically elected
left-center governments, such as those in Venezuela, Bolivia, and
"We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement: this is too
critical a region for the United States to stand idly by," asserts
But what kind of "vigorous engagement" is she talking about? Past forms
have included intervention in national elections, financial and
military support for illegal opposition movements, propaganda campaigns
to carry the message of pro-U.S. forces and vilify others. Any "return"
to policies like these is not likely to be regarded kindly in Latin
America. With few positive examples to cite recently, U.S. engagement
to protect "critical" U.S. geopolitical and economic interests has too
often been synonymous with intervention.
Priorities in the region, according to Clinton, include supporting the
"largest developing democracies in the region, Brazil and Mexico";
deepening "economic and strategic cooperation with Argentina and
Chile"; and combating "the interconnected threats of drug trafficking,
crime, and insurgency" in Colombia, Central America, and the Caribbean.
After establishing this aggressive agenda for U.S. involvement in
security issues she concludes, "We must work with our allies to provide
sustainable-development programs that promote economic opportunity and
reduce inequality for the citizens of Latin America."
In short as president, Hillary Clinton's Latin American policy would
likely be very similar to that of the Bush I, Clinton I, and Bush II
administrations before her"with the only notable difference being that
her administration may take stronger measures to counter governments
that dare to determine their own trade, development, and foreign
In laying out her policy, she fails to mention the need to overhaul the
monumentally flawed Cuba policy, and in fact has said elsewhere that
she wouldn't lift the trade embargo until there is a "democratic
transition." Apparently she has no intention of modifying the strategy
of the failed drug wars either, even though U.S. policies of drug
interdiction, drug eradication, and counterinsurgency have not slowed
the flow of illegal drugs and have caused enormous problems of
displacement and environmental destruction.
Candidate Clinton offers a U.S. policy that promotes economic
opportunity to reduce inequality. But her solutions"economic "openness"
and foreign aid"are the standard formulas that have increased
inequality and prompted the search for alternatives among the nations
she criticizes for "rolling back economic openness" in an effort to
provide basic needs to their citizens.
While the Washington political establishment is stuck within a narrow
band of policy options, Latin American nations, particularly in South
America, are experimenting with new policies aimed at setting their
nations on sustainable development paths. Establishing national control
over energy resources, sponsoring agrarian reforms, and breaking free
of the economic reforms imposed by the international financial
institutions are among the policies that have antagonized the Bush
To win the respect of Latin Americans, Clinton doesn't need to endorse
these policy alternatives. But she does need to respect the right of
Latin Americans to set their own directions.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt set out to build cooperative
relations in Latin America after three decades of imperial
interventions and occupations, he promised that his "policy of the good
neighbor" would be founded on "mutual respect" and self-determination.
While the FDR administration did not always follow its own good
neighbor principles, it did go a long way to building respect for the
United States and a culture of cooperation in the Americas.
Clinton asserts that respect can be won by a leadership that "draws on
all the dimensions of American power" and reestablishes the authority
of the "American idea." But to regain respect for U.S. leadership,
whether in Latin America or elsewhere, the United States will need to
return to basic good neighbor principles. Rather than relying on its
power and ideas that have largely lost credibility in the hemisphere,
she needs to let Latin Americans set their own policy agendas. Some new
thinking is long overdue, but Hillary Clinton isn't offering it.
Clinton fails to recognize that the United States must acknowledge that
U.S.-Latin America relations are imperiled much more by U.S. arrogance
and its misdirected "engagement" than by negligence or inaction in the
face of imagined threats to U.S. interests. Moving forward, the
foundation of improved relations and sustainable development in the
Americas must be "mutual respect."
If Clinton wants respect for U.S. foreign policy, then she will need to
show more respect for our southern neighbors. As a start, Clinton
should tell Latin Americans that she respects their right to decide for
themselves what is needed to ensure "security and opportunity."
[Tom Barry is a senior analyst with the Americas Policy Program
) of the Center for International Policy.]
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