Trump and Latin America
The election of Donald Trump as US president was received as a shock in Latin America. During his election campaign, Trump promised the Miami-Cuban exile community in Florida he would reverse Obama’s normalisation of relations with Cuba. He made threatening remarks against Venezuela’s Bolivarian government and met prominent members of that country’s extreme right. He used many of his public utterances to vilify immigrants as “rapists, drug traffickers and criminals”. And he promised to build a wall to keep illegal Latino immigrants out of the US, which he said –and still insists- Mexico will pay for.
Despite the obvious ideological affinities, Trump’s election has not been all good news for Latin America’s right. Macri, Argentina’s President, a committed neoliberal, was shocked when he found out that Trump was neither keen on a free trade deal with Argentina on its lemon exports to the US, nor interested in preferential tariff status for Argentina’s beef.
Michel Temer’s coup government in Brazil was also disappointed. Just two weeks into his new administration, the US president cancelled business talks about possible Trump projects there. Trump wishes to steer the US towards no free trade deals and undo, or substantially review, all existing ones, including NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In Latin America alone, the US has Free Trade Agreements of various kinds with Canada and Mexico (NAFTA), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru. However bad they may have been –and they have – the prospects of the US recoiling back into itself, in protectionist and isolationist fashion, is likely to have highly detrimental consequences on these nations’ economies.
The undoing of NAFTA especially is likely to have catastrophic consequences for Mexico – over 85% of its imports and exports are with the US. A US pull-out from NAFTA would lead to a disastrous economic collapse in Mexico. Some 48% of its people live in poverty, its society is engulfed in murderous turf wars among drug cartels which in a few years have led to the death of 170,000 civilians and its state institutions are riddled with corruption.
Nevertheless, if Trump’s policy towards the region was simply economic isolationism, leaving its southern neighbours to its own devices, it need not be too economically catastrophic. In the last two decades the whole of Latin America has been orienting towards Asia, primarily China.
In the last few years China’s economic links with Latin America have grown exponentially. The volume of its trade in 2014 was 24 times larger than in 2000. Its projected investment is US $250 bn, and through various agreements its bilateral trade can increase to $500 bn in the next decade. China, unlike traditional multinational capital, does not impose conditions such as the adoption of specific domestic policies by the recipient countries for any of these commercial and economic activities.
President Trump has given no signal that he intends to reduce, let alone abolish, US intervention against ‘hostile governments’ in its ‘backyard’. The US destabilisation machinery has scored substantial successes by ousting progressive governments: in Honduras (2009), Paraguay (2012), and Brazil (2016). Its destabilisation campaigns contributed to the victory of the neoliberal right in Guatemala (2013), Argentina (2015), and Peru (2016). It also orchestrated coup attempts in Bolivia (2008), Ecuador (2010) and Venezuela, a nation that has faced a permanent coup since 1999. All these ‘democracy promotion efforts’ emanate from the US State Department and its various subordinate institutions, notably, the National Endowment for Democracy, the US Agency for International Development, the CIA, and their ‘sister’ organisations in the Pentagon, notably the US Southern Command.
Furthermore, Washington’s security agenda is organised around the militarisation of anti-drug and counterinsurgency programmes which Trump has inherited and which he is unlikely to alter. If anything, given his recent decision to increase US military spending by a wacky 10%, he might end up strengthening it. Plan Colombia, for instance, has contributed to thousands of deaths of innocent civilians and the displacement of millions with almost no impact on cocaine production. In fact, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that in 2016 there had been an almost 40% increase in Colombia’s coca crop cultivation, giving organised crime a serious cash injection. Hillary Clinton and Obama saw Plan Colombia as a model to apply to Mexico, whose drug cartels currently control the US cocaine market.
Trump’s appointments of General ‘Mad Dog’ Mathis as Defense Secretary and General John Kelly, former head of the US Southern Command, at Homeland Security give a worrying content to Trump’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. The US Southern Command has repeatedly expressed deep concern about an alleged collaboration between ‘radical populists, drug traffickers and Middle East terrorists’ in Latin America. The US has over 40 military bases in Latin America, including Guantanamo.
No country is exempt from the US long reach, but it is Venezuela that sustains the most intense imperial aggression. In March 2015, Obama signed an executive decree declaring Venezuela ‘an extraordinary and unusual threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States’, a decree which he renewed in 2016, thus laying the basis for US military intervention. There is currently a US-led, offensive against Venezuela’s government, centred on the Organisation of American States, seeking to create the conditions for external intervention.
Latin America, especially its progressive and radical governments, notably Venezuela, are going to need solidarity from progressive people in Britain and the world more than ever.
For more information: www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk