The US war on democracy in Latin America

Progressive forces need to learn the lessons of history and stand strong against Trump’s intervention agenda in Latin America, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

THIS week marks the republication of a 2008 pamphlet by Richard Gott entitled The US War on Democracy in Latin America, which I have written the introduction for.

In three concise chapters Gott explains how United States intervention in Latin America has taken “many forms… appearing in different disguises… sometimes diplomatic persuasion… sometimes economic pressure… and on occasion military invasion.”

The clear intent of all these methods is to bring freely elected democratic governments to heel and ensure that any radical ambitions are curtailed.

Since Gott first wrote the pamphlet 10 years ago, there have been examples where only the lightest of US touches was necessary to help ensure that local right-wing elites brought about the same result.

In Honduras, for example, a military coup in 2009 ousted the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya.

Coup leader General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez received training at the infamous School of the Americas, a US army facility dubbed “a school for dictators, torturers and assassins.”

The coup against Zelaya, who had been pursuing a range of progressive policies, was widely condemned by governments across Latin America, the European Union, the Organisation of American States and other regional blocs. By contrast, president Barack Obama refused to label the political crisis a military coup.

Several US officials — notably then secretary of state Hillary Clinton — played an important role in preventing Zelaya’s return to office, enabling the junta to consolidate its hold on power despite massive non-violent protests.

Now, that coup government is holding on to power and leading a viciously repressive regime, refusing to rerun elections widely seen as illegitimate internationally.

Much to the Tories’ shame, it has been exposed that Britain has sold spyware to the illegitimate Honduran government in recent years, doing Trump’s bidding internationally yet again as the US seeks to prop up the discredited Honduran regime.

Three years later, in 2012 in Paraguay, progressive president Ferdinand Lugo was impeached and removed from office in a parliamentary coup by the Paraguayan Senate.

Dominated by his right-wing opponents, it used as a pretext a land eviction in which both police and campesinos had died.

This change of government didn’t displease the Obama administration, which similarly failed to back the reinstatement of the ousted president, and the Trump administration today enjoys close relations with the right-wing Paraguayan government.

And, most recently, the architects of the parliamentary coup in Brazil that removed president Dilma Rousseff through impeachment benefited from the tacit support given by the US.

As a result, the right-wing opposition, which had been defeated at the ballot box, was able to install Michel Temer as president to enforce a neoliberal programme, turning the clock back on the Workers Party’s social programmes.

Recently, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — who I had the privilege to meet when he was president and I was mayor of London — has said he believes the US played a role in the coup against Dilma and that the Trump administration is among the international forces that wishes to stop him being re-elected later this year.

Additionally, the US has used economic pressure against progressive governments in Latin America.

As part of a continuous hostile campaign against Venezuela since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, the US has been applying a series of increasingly severe sanctions to put a chokehold on the Venezuelan government and its economy, particularly designed to designed to cut off financing by prohibiting Venezuela from borrowing or selling assets in the US financial system.

In a similar ploy, right-wing US senators and congress members are currently pushing the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act to effectively to block all loans to Nicaragua from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank.

The effect of these sanctions — illegal under international law — is extremely damaging to both countries, and is aimed at forcing “regime change” rather than helping their populations.

Nor has the US overlooked the potential use of military invasion. President Donald Trump has stated that he is not going to rule out a military option against Venezuela, and in a warmongering speech to the UN has said he was prepared to take further action.

President Evo Morales of Bolivia has been among those to criticise recent US-backed military exercises in the region, saying that only “without interference, without military bases, is it possible to free ourselves.”

The reissue of Gott’s pamphlet must act for all of us as a timely reminder of how the United States ruthlessly functions to protect and advance its ambitions and interests in Latin America — and why we must redouble our solidarity efforts to help sustain what Gott calls “hopes of change… and new dreams of independence.”

First published by the Morning Star.

To order a copy of Richard Gott’s pamphlet, send a cheque for £4 and your address to Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, c/o Unite, 33-37 Moreland Street, London EC1V 8BB.