“The peoples of the Americas are rising again, saying no to imperialism, saying no to fascism, saying no to intervention – and saying no to death.”Hugo Chávez
Dr Francisco Dominguez, Head of Latin American Studies at Middlesex University, shows why internationalists should join the Latin America Conference – Adelante! ’21 on December 4th for workshops and sessions building solidarity with struggles across the region.
The ‘credit crunch’ crisis of 2008 furnished the United States and its European and Latin American accomplices with an opportunity to launch a brutal offensive against progressive and revolutionary governments of continental proportions. The historic dependence of the region on the export of commodities greatly facilitated US plans. The objective was ‘regime change’; the method was destabilisation and economic warfare that went well beyond the ‘normal’ US economic blockade technique. It brought US imperialism substantial successes.
Left-wing Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was overthrown by a coup d’état in 2009, and Paraguay’s president Fernando Lugo was ousted by a ‘constitutional’ coup in 2012 after a well-orchestrated provocation organised around a peasant protest. US ‘regime change’ machinery was behind the violent effort by extreme right-wing elements of Bolivia’s elite to both oust Evo Morales and break the country into two in 2008. It also played a central role in the nearly-successful coup against Rafael Correa in Ecuador in 2010, which the president was lucky to survive.
Hugo Chávez’s premature death in March 2013 gave Washington a promising chance to oust the Bolivarian government: Barack Obama imposed a nasty regime of economic warfare that would reach feverish levels with Donald Trump. Capitalising on the economic woes that were created, Venezuela’s right managed to score a sizable electoral victory in the 2015 parliamentary elections. This brutal aggression, the intense worldwide media demonisation of Chavismo, and Guaido’s self-proclaimed ‘interim presidency’ in 2019 have kept Venezuela under asphyxiating pressure, greatly reducing its beneficial and progressive regional influence. Additionally, the US was, or is heavily suspected to have been, behind a series of further interventions. In August 2018, a drone was detonated at a military parade in Caracas, aimed at decapitating the Venezuelan political and military high command; in February 2019, on the back of a Richard Branson-compered ‘Live Aid concert’, there were attempts to force ‘humanitarian aid’ by military means through the Colombian border; in March 2019, a cyber-attack on the nation’s electricity system led to total blackout; in April 2020 there was a televised coup attempt led by Guaidó and the fugitive, extreme right-winger Leopoldo López; and in May 2020, mercenaries attempted to assassinate president Maduro and other officials. Furthermore, the US weaponised Guaido’s ‘internship’ and froze and/or confiscated Venezuelan assets in the US and elsewhere to the tune of over US$60 billion, plus slapping well over 400 economic sanctions on the country.
Brazil, Latin America’s economic giant, was not spared. Through the persistent use of lawfare, the country’s elite managed in 2016 to ‘constitutionally’ indict and eventually impeach Dilma Rousseff, the nation’s first ever woman president. The caretaker government of Michel Temer violated the constitution by imposing a 20-year freeze on social expenditure on health and education, privatised large swathes of state assets, handed over precious national assets (such as the pre-salt oil) to US companies for a pittance, and viciously reversed the Workers’ Party’s progressive social policies, especially anti-poverty programmes. Lawfare was also deployed against former president Lula who, under utterly false charges, was both banned from participating in the 2018 election as presidential candidate and jailed, in an attempt to destroy him not only politically but personally. The consequence was the election of fascist Jair Bolsonaro as president.
Argentina was not spared the long US ‘regime change’ arm either. The left government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-15) was subjected to years of destabilisation, including US court decisions against the country for refusing to accept stratospheric interest over US$1.3 billion in ‘vulture funds’ (Argentina debt bonds sold in financial markets). A verdict in 2012 by New York judge Thomas Griesa in favour of ‘vulture funds’ holders ruled that Argentina had to pay the debt and accumulated interest (about 1500 per cent), adding a precondition that prevented the country from paying all the creditors until the ‘vulture funds’ were paid in full. This financial piracy and the negative effects of the 2008 credit crunch created the conditions that led, by narrow margin, to the election in 2015 of right-wing Mauricio Macri as president, who immediately imposed brutal neoliberal policies and adopted a staunchly pro-US foreign policy.
In Ecuador, despite intense US pressure with local accomplices, the candidate supported by the Citizen’s Revolution (Rafael Correa’s coalition), Lenin Moreno, defeated neoliberal banker Guillermo Lasso in the 2017 general election. However, Moreno, in a crescendo of betrayal, broke completely with Correismo and shifted his administration sharply to the right in a strong pro-US stance. Resorting to lawfare, Moreno charged with corruption his own vice-president, Correista Jorge Glass, who is serving six years in prison. Moreno also witch-hunted ex-president Correa with about 30 lawsuits aimed at banning him from being a presidential candidate for good. Moreno’s neoliberal policies wrought economic disaster, his performance during the pandemic was criminally catastrophic, and his brutal repression of protesters in 2019 was reminiscent of state violence in Chile. Furthermore, not only has he aligned Ecuador firmly with the US, he reneged on its commitment to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and ALBA. Moreno’s politics paved the way for the electoral victory of Lasso in April 2021.
The US push for ‘regime change’ in Nicaragua mirrors what it has tried elsewhere in Latin America. Between 2014 and 2017, USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) disbursed well over US$35 million to anti-Sandinista groups who in April 2018, using a social security reform as an excuse, launched a violent coup attempt. As in other Latin American nations, well-trained and well-armed thugs went on the rampage and attacked anything associated with Sandinismo, including public buildings, health centres and hospitals. They set light to houses with people inside and tortured and killed known Sandinista supporters – filming many of these brutalities themselves. As in other ‘target countries’, the US-led coup had the support of the Europeans and the enthusiastic news-fakery of the world corporate media. Though the people of Nicaragua defeated this, the US are busily imposing sanctions and issuing threats, seeking to prevent the results of the November 2021 election.
In Bolivia, following a well-planned plot led by Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), supported by the European Union, the UK, and the US, the domestic right refused to accept Evo Morales’ victory at the 2019 November election and, on the back of a vile wave of racist violence, carried out a coup d’état that led to the de facto, illegal government of Jeanine Áñez. In 11 months in office, the Áñez government perpetrated hundreds of crimes against humanity (including massacres), persecuted and imprisoned opponents, privatised as much as it could, imposed neoliberal policies against the people in the middle of the pandemic, and engaged in vast amounts of corruption. Áñez, of course, aligned foreign policy slavishly behind the United States.
One of the latest (sadly not the last) US-led and US-financed ‘regime change’ efforts was in Cuba. On top of the 60-year-old US blockade, Trump foisted 243 extra sanctions against the socialist island, aimed at outlawing US tourism, remittances, and all manner of trade – with devastating consequences. Since Trump’s inauguration in 2017, USAID and the NED have jointly disbursed between US$17 and US$40 million (officially declared) to fund over 50 counterrevolutionary groups in Cuba aimed at ‘regime change’. The groups were activated on 11 July 2021 to stage violent demonstrations in several key cities in Cuba, involving attacks on government buildings, setting cars on fire, and – as in Venezuela and Nicaragua – attacks on health centres and hospitals. They enjoyed the absolute support of the world corporate media. Thankfully, the Cuban people came out onto the streets in force to defend their revolution and the nation’s sovereignty.
It is extraordinary that in the face of this intense US aggression against progressive and revolutionary governments, the region has not only resisted the ‘regime change’ juggernaut but has inflicted important defeats upon it.
Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela have survived and their leaderships have grown politically stronger, while their US-funded antagonists have been substantially weakened. In Mexico, López Obrador won the presidency in 2018, getting a majority in Congress, Senate and governorships setting the country on a positive course of strengthening links with progressive forces in Latin America, including Cuba and Venezuela. Peronismo was returned to office in 2019 with the election of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández as president and vice-president respectively. The people of Bolivia forced Áñez and Co to reluctantly hold elections in October 2021, leading to the victory of Luis Arce as president, heading the same political coalition as Evo. Though the left was defeated in 2021 in Ecuador, it managed to win 47 per cent of the vote, leaving it in a strong position to oppose Lasso’s neoliberalism.
The major pleasant surprises were the election of the former primary school teacher Pedro Castillo in Peru and the social explosion in Chile. The latter led to the election of a Constitutional Convention with a female indigenous Mapuche activist, Elisa Loncón Antileo, as president – an event without precedent in the country’s 211-year constitutional history. Both developments have the explicit aim of burying neoliberalism.
In other words, the regional relation of forces has noticeably shifted in favour of social progress and democracy and against US imperialism, its accomplices and neoliberalism. Furthermore, a key US instrument to intervene in the region, the OAS, is thoroughly discredited after Luis Almagro’s criminal actions in Bolivia. This led Mexico to head the revival of the Commonwealth of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in its Spanish acronym), a regional inter-governmental coordination of all countries that explicitly excludes the United States and Canada and has actively included presidents Maduro and Díaz-Canel. They are seeking to substitute the OAS with CELAC. The US extreme right has gone ballistic. Furthermore, the US-led Lima Group, set up with the sole objective of ousting the Maduro government, has effectively ceased to exist.
As we all know, Joe Biden’s government cannot and should not be trusted to reverse Trump’s policies. Thus the road ahead will be bumpy and filled with threats and dangers. There will be important elections in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Honduras on November 7, 21 and 28 respectively, with strong prospects for the left. There will also be general elections in October 2022 with Lula as a presidential candidate in Brazil. The US, its accomplices, and us, understand the significance and weight of Brazil. And the struggle of progressive forces against homicidal Uribismo in Colombia is being met with massacres and assassinations that must be challenged and defeated so peace can prevail.
So our solidarity with the forces of good and progress in Latin America will remain as important as ever. There will be no better forum and opportunity to debate this than the Latin America Adelante conference to be held in London on 4 December 2021, where the plight of the whole continent will be discussed with a broad range of Latin American speakers, specialists, and solidarity activists. Be there – your solidarity is needed!
- The Latin America Conference – Adelante! takes place on Saturday December 4th – Register and see what’s on here!
- Dr Francisco Dominguez is the head of Latin American Studies at Middlesex University.