The question of who inhabits the White House plays a major role in defining life not only for working people in the U.S., but the world over. Just examine the impact of President Obama’s foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Mexico and Colombia, for example, the administration has been busy funding militias to help corporations grab resources and smash unions. Meanwhile, Obama and his imperialist backers insist on “free trade” agreements that impoverish everyone except the elites.
In 2009, shortly after taking office, Obama received a warm welcome at the fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Hopes were high in Latin America for improved cooperation after the end of the Bush administration. But three years later, at this spring’s sixth summit in Cartagena, Colombia, the welcome was quite chilly.
The reason? Policy under Obama is more of the same: expanded free trade, increased funds for militarization, and continued opposition to reducing violence by legalizing drugs.
The real scandals in Cartagena. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa boycotted the gathering, citing Washington’s blockade of Cuba and “intolerable” exclusion of Cuba from the summit. Frustration with the Cuba ban was high among other Latin American representatives. A statement to make Cartagena the “last summit without Cuba” got the support of all participants but two: the U.S. and Canada.
Back in 2009, Obama pledged to initiate programs to cut demand for drugs in the U.S. However, at roughly the same time, the states slashed funds for substance abuse treatment. Given this situation, many leaders in Latin America have called for legalization of some drugs in order to slow U.S. demand and shut down the murderous cartels. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos repeated this proposal in Cartagena — and, once again, the Obama administration rejected it.
As during the Bush years, the free trade steamroller was in full operation at the summit. Obama and Santos announced that the Colombian agreement would take effect on May 15, in spite of lack of progress on required labor protections.
The sixth summit ended acrimoniously with protests and walkouts and none of the feel-good moments of the previous gathering. Over it all hung the sex scandal of the Secret Service party boys, exposed when one of them refused to pay for services rendered.
It seems the agents of imperialism will be rip-off artists from start to finish.
Militarizing a continent. Washington has historically poured billions of dollars into Latin America to protect U.S. businesses by arming repressive regimes. Now it is using the war on drugs as an excuse for renewed militarization, with the Mérida Initiative in Mexico and Plan Colombia as two prime examples.
In discussing the need to fight “narco-insurgency,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dishonestly erases the distinction between drug gangsters at war with governments and rebels who are fighting for land reform and workers’ rights. This provides cover for giving corrupt, right-wing governments the weapons to suppress political opposition.
Competition from increased Chinese and South Korean investment in the region is another spur for militarization, and the threat of terrorism another excuse. An example is the 2008 deployment of the U.S. Navy 4th Fleet off the coasts of Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean islands — a show of force as a reminder of U.S. strength despite involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Resistance in a war zone. Uncle Sam’s self-interested political and military support for inhumane governments means that millions of Latin Americans live in poverty and fear, in cities patrolled by tanks.
Lax environmental laws and low wages beckon U.S. factories, which sicken workers and pollute rivers and air. Then these maquiladoras close, moving where labor is even cheaper.
Women activists are threatened and sexually assaulted and crusading journalists are imprisoned and murdered. In Colombia, at least 54 labor organizers have been murdered since the start of 2011.
Meanwhile, in the Amazon, ancient rainforests are being clear-cut, destroying the villages and cultures of indigenous people like the Awa in Brazil.
In agricultural areas, the hand-over of public lands to corporations continues, forcing families into low-paid, unsafe jobs or flight from their home country to survive. This spring, over 3,500 Honduran campesino families seized 30,000 acres of public land given by the government to large landowners, demanding that the law giving small farmers the right to till this land be honored.
Women are prominent in protests across the region. Groups like Feministas en Resis-ten-cia in Honduras have led organizing against military occupation of their communities and held international conferences on human rights.
Solidarity is also being expressed across borders. Grass-roots support from the north for Latin American workers and farmers is long-standing. The U.S. AFL-CIO has also shown its support recently by joining with Honduran and Colombian unionists protesting labor violations of free trade agreements.
Getting at the root of the problem. The truth is, as long as capitalism survives, the resident in the White House will serve corporate interests first and foremost.
It is the U.S. working class that has the power to stop the U.S.-supported land grabs, military buildups, and human rights abuses — but only through making a socialist revolution here at home and ushering in democratic control by the working-class majority.
Organizing for that basic societal transformation is the heart of the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) campaign of Stephen Durham for president and Christina López for vice president. The campaign is a fight both for immediate changes to alleviate the suffering of workers in the hemisphere (see accompanying text) and a fight to end capitalism, the cause of that suffering.
Socialism would mean producing goods and services to meet human needs and solve global problems, not profit from them. Funding priorities would be healthcare and education, not militarization and war. And brutal competition among nations would be replaced by a new era of cooperation and mutual aid.
That is what Durham and López are working to bring about.
Durham-López 2012 on International & Immigrant Issues
Overturn trade and financial deals that impoverish workers worldwide. Open the borders so labor can move as easily as capital. Nationalize U.S. corporations that pollute, exploit, and support corrupt regimes. Close all U.S. military bases abroad. Legalize drugs under community control.
Also see: Freedom Socialist Party platform