Saturday, April 18, 2009

Let's Hear it for New Beginnings


President Obama is spreading a little North American good will and cordiality among former sworn enemies of the criminal Bush regime in South America. It's all part of the President's exceedingly successful effort to mend frayed relations between the United States and the rest of the world. This weekend it's his "good neighbor policy" with our friends to the South and the Caribbean, one that could actually be worth more than the irony and suspicion such slogans have been met with in the past by Latin Americans. The first glimmers of a thaw in relations with Cuba are in the offing, a recognition that nearly 50 years of a U.S. embargo against that tiny island nation has done nothing to improve the lives of Americans or Cubans over the decades, much less our relationship with the rest of the hemisphere's nations, all of whom have normal relations with Cuba.

And so, the President made the first gracious gesture by approaching Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, and shaking his hand. President Chavez returned the gesture by making a beeline for Mr. Obama, who was seated at the other end of the room, and presenting him the book, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. The 1971 book details centuries of exploitation of Latin America by Europeans and the United States. Unlike the moron who preceded him, President Obama is a student of history and well aware of the centuries of U.S. exploitation of Latin America, which began in earnest with the Monroe Doctrine. Significantly, Chavez's gesture was indicative of just how much this craven history is ingrained in the psyche of Latin Americans. To say Latin Americans have ambivalent feelings and a love-hate relationship with the United States is to put it mildly, in many cases. In fact, one reason Fidel Castro remains popular in the democratic republics of Latin America is that he's been thumbing his nose at the mighty U.S. imperialist behemoth to his north from his tiny island-state of Cuba for the past 50 years. Such anti-American chutzpah trumps ideology every time with Latin Americans.

Besides, let's face it, Hugo Chavez articulated what plenty of politicians around the world and in this country were feeling but dared not say, when he told the UN General Assembly in 2006 that "the devil came here yesterday," referring to George W. Bush. "It still smells of sulphur today," he added, waving his hand as if to dissipate the odor.

If he called George W. Bush the devil, perhaps he has cause, ya think?

Here's a leader who was elected president of Venezuela in 1998, twice reelected in 2000 and 2006, and in 2002 foiled a CIA coup attempt authorized by Bush and Cheney against him. Hugo Chavez has replaced Fidel Castro as the American right's Latin American boogieman, now that Fidel is languishing in a Cuban hospital wearing a Nike track suit and blogging entertaining anti-American screeds (not so much now since Obama became president). Despite the right wing's hysterical anti-socialist/communist phobias aimed at President Chavez, the fact is the leader of the "Bolivarian Revolution" has never committed a single hostile act against the United States. That is, unless the wingnuts consider -- which they did -- giving poor people in the U.S. home heating oil at affordable, subsidized rates, a sinister Chavez plot to undermine this country from within. As we witnessed in those bizarre Teabagging protests a few days ago, it seems the spirit of McCarthyism and unbridled xenophobic paranoia is never far below the surface in this country.

Finally, President Obama respectfully greeted the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who had the audacity to harshly condemn the imperialism of foreign capital, mostly American, that had been plundering his country -- the poorest in South America -- for centuries until he was swept into office by a populist democratic uprising and put an end to the gringos' chokehold over Bolivia's rich natural resources. For one thing, Bolivia sits atop the world's largest reserves of Lithium, the essential mineral for the batteries that will fuel the cars of the future, holding forth the promise of a bright future for the long-suffering Bolivian people.

And so let's hear it for new beginnings, and a rekindling of friendships among peoples that should never be enemies. Today, Lucifer resides in Dallas and that stink of sulphur is indeed finally dissipating, to be replaced by the competing aromas of a delicious Latin American churrasco and, dare I say it, a good ole Texas barbecue?





PatEsposisto said...

Nicely said. Yes, seeing relations opening like this gave me a rush of hope.

Regarding just how much this craven history is ingrained in the psyche of Latin Americans, yes, and I wonder how long it will take to mend that. More than his two terms, so how do we keep the U.S. on the path Obama's begun? We've got to continue on it.

Carlos said...


On our shared history, LA has made enormous strides and has turned a new page. During the Cold War, the U.S. was an enabler of military dictatorships in LA and used the CIA extensively to destabilize democratic governments. The 1973 coup in Chile, which led to thousands of innocent people being killed and tortured, was only one of the more notorious examples. Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet was herself a victim of Pinochet’s torture.

At least the monster Pinochet lived to see Michelle Bachelet become president of Chile, and Henry Kissinger will not be traveling to Europe -- Britain or Spain -- anytime soon. That the CIA coup against Chavez in 2002 failed is a testament to how much stronger democratic institutions have become in LA.

LA economies, in the main, are thriving and debt-free. Brasil, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela are such examples. For the first time, Secretary Clinton and President Obama recognized a shared U.S. responsibility, as the market for illicit drugs, in the narco-trafficking that has plagued Colombia and Mexico.

Aside from his positive statements on Cuba and Venezuela, President Obama made two important points in his OAS press conference. One, regarding a recent coup attempt in Bolivia the President asserted: “I just want to make absolutely clear that I am absolutely opposed and condemn any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments, wherever it happens in the hemisphere. That is not the policy of our government. That is not how the American people expect their government to conduct themselves. And so I want to be as clear as possible on that.” Second, President Obama said: “We showed that there are no senior or junior partners in the Americas; we’re simply partners, committed to advancing a common agenda and overcoming common challenges.”

Just as a matter of culture and values, the United States and Latin America are natural friends and allies. Once the unnatural impediments are gone, that relationship will blossom very quickly.

PatEsposisto said...

I remember talking about our relations nearly thirty years ago in college, and there was more a feeling of necessity, a recognition of what should be, without much hope . Now ... potential feels not only within reach, but right there in a handshake.