March 13, 2010
The Real News Network: Clinton’s Latin American tour
Mark Weisbrot: Clinton tries to repair US image while urging recognition of controversial Honduran gov’t
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Last week Hillary Clinton did a tour of Latin America, trying to repair American relations with Latin American countries, especially after the events in Honduras. Many Latin American countries refused to recognize the new president of the Honduras, saying the election that brought him to power was really the result of an illegal coup. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, says that the situation was well managed in Honduras in a nonviolent way. Helping us to make sense of her trip to Latin America and what’s going on in Honduras, we’re now joined by Mark Weisbrot. He’s the codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC, and he also has a regular column in the Guardian newspaper. Thanks for joining us, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT, CODIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ECONOMIC AND POLICY RESEARCH: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
JAY: So what’d you make of Hillary’s statement about the nonviolent Honduran elections?
WEISBROT: Well, it was certainly ignoring a lot of violence. I mean, even in the last few weeks there’s been several activists killed, including a trade union leader, other people who were opposed to the coup itself. And this has been a big sore point between Washington and most of the region, most of the hemisphere, because the rest of—you know, South America, especially, but most of Latin America throughout the six months that took place after the coup in June, where the military overthrew the democratically elected government of Honduras—.
JAY: And just to remind viewers who might not know—I think most people know the story, but the Honduran military captures the president, actually flies him out of town late at night, I believe still in his pajamas.
WEISBROT: That’s right. They took them to Costa Rica. And, you know, you could actually predict the US policy just from the first day, because the first statement that came out of the White House didn’t announce the coup at all. It just said that all parties should try to work together. And this is a military coup against a democratically elected president. And they knew it was coming, too. They said that they were talking to the military, that is, US officials were talking to the Honduran military, right up to the day of the coup. And so they knew about it in advance. So this statement was, you know, not a surprise, that they had to make a statement about it.
JAY: Now, the significance of this is that the whole restoration of democratic process in Latin America after decades of dictatorships, one of the most important principles was no coups, and supposedly all the Latin American countries and the United States and Canada had signed on to this idea of no coups. So now you have a coup, and within no time the US seems to be compromising on it.
WEISBROT: Yes. And, you know, that has meant a lot, especially to Latin American leaders, because, you know, Lula, for example, the president of Brazil, he spent time in jail under the military dictatorship there. You had other leaders as well that were very worried. Fernando Lugo, the president of Paraguay, had to get rid of some of his top army officers not long after that coup because there were rumors of plots against him. So everybody saw it as a threat to democracy in the region, everybody except the United States. So it was a real sore point, and I think Hillary Clinton was trying to patch up relations to some degree with this trip.
JAY: So did she succeed?
WEISBROT: No, I don’t think so at all. In fact, I think it was as bad as George W. Bush’s trip there in 2005. The only thing missing were the street protests and the riots, and I think that’s because, you know, President Obama still has a good media image in Latin America.
JAY: But how long can that last if the US actually—if I understand it correctly, the Americans have not yet recognized the new Honduran government, but they seemed poised to. Is that correct?
WEISBROT: Well, no. At the very end of the trip, Hillary Clinton actually said that not only would they recognize them, but they were restoring aid to the government, and then the IMF followed suit immediately.
JAY: So where are we at in terms of Latin American countries’ recognition of the new Honduran government?
WEISBROT: Well, you know, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela—most of South America has still not recognized it. But, you know, at some point they will. But they want at least some kind of—something in return, you know, for example, if President Zelaya gets to go back to his own country. That was something that was suggested by both the Brazilians and by the Venezuelans. So they want something or—.
JAY: He gets to go back to Honduras without being arrested.
WEISBROT: Yeah, exactly. And, of course, the human rights issue is a really big thing, again, to the rest of the hemisphere as well. You know, when our secretary of state says that this was nonviolent, when they had—. You know, people are still getting killed. Throughout the electoral campaign there were massive human rights violations. You have Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch—everybody has complained about this. In fact, in the middle of Secretary Clinton’s trip, nine members of Congress sent her a letter—these were all Democrats, too, including some leadership—and asking her specifically to make sure that she got something in terms of human rights before restoring aid to the government of Honduras. And she completely ignored that letter and announced the restoration of aid the next day.
JAY: So in terms of the relationships with the Latin American countries and their recognition of Honduras, how serious an issue is this for the United States? Are they going to just kind of get over this eventually? Or are Latin American countries going to stick their heels in and actually make a real issue out of it?
WEISBROT: Well, there’s a limited amount they can do at this point about Honduras per se, but I think what is going on is you see more and more of the kinds of institutional changes you’ve seen over the last decade, where the Latin Americans organize their own institutions and their own policies without the United States and Canada.
JAY: So what’s an example of that? ‘Cause there’s a new formation that’s going to kind of rival the OAS [Organization of American States].
WEISBROT: Well, that’s a very good example of it. They formed a new organization of all Latin American and Caribbean states, and excluding the United States and Canada, and the reason is exactly this. You know, in September, for example, the United States blocked the Organization of American States from taking a position that they would not recognize elections in Honduras that took place under the dictatorship. So you have—the US for years has been able to block things like this with Canada and a few other right-wing governments. It’s always right-wing governments.
JAY: And the new organization, if I understand it correctly, includes Cuba.
WEISBROT: That’s right.
JAY: Which is a clear demarcation with decades of US policy.
WEISBROT: That’s right, and that’s another sore point between Latin American and the United States. They all—you know, they have this first, this founding meeting of the new organization. One of the things they called for was an end to the embargo on Cuba, which is something that, of course, the US would block within the OAS. So this is the kind of thing you’re going to continue to see, a separation, Latin America becoming more and more independent, pursuing its own economic and foreign policy as well.
JAY: Well, speak about that, because one of her missions was to get Lula of Brazil on board, to do with sanctions on Iran?
WEISBROT: Yeah, this was a terrible failure too, and it was done very clumsily as well. I mean, if she really wants Brazil to change its position on Iran and support further sanctions, you would think she would do it privately instead of announcing that this is what she’s trying to do and thinking that that’s going to somehow build pressure. And, of course, both the president and his foreign minister were very strong and forceful; and, in fact, the foreign minister, Celso Amorim, actually said, “We don’t bow down to anyone.” And so it was very clear that this was a failure as well.
JAY: So what is the US response to this? The Monroe Doctrine seems to be done. I think China’s already surpassed the United States as the major trading partner for several of the major Latin American economies. India and Russia are making inroads into Latin America. On the other hand, the US is building a big base in Colombia. So does the US kind of let this all go, or do they try to get it back to where it was?
WEISBROT: They’re trying to get it back. I think one of the things they’re hoping for is more right-wing governments being elected, as in Chile that was a big victory for them—first time in half a century that a right-wing government was actually elected in Chile. They’re hoping, perhaps, for a reversal in Brazil in the upcoming elections this year, and that’s how they’re, I think, looking at it. They don’t seem to understand that these are changes that took place for real structural reasons. You know, the failure, for example, the growth failure, economic growth failure, that’s taken place over the last 38 years is the worst economic performance in more than a century.
JAY: Economic policy more or less led by the IMF and World Bank under US leadership.
WEISBROT: That’s right. And so you have big structural reasons for these changes, and it’s not going to be reversed. I think it was symbolic, too, that this new organization that they created, Mexico, the right-wing government of Felipe Calderón, actually played a leading role in it, and the next meeting is going to be in Caracas. So it was a demonstration that on certain things there is quite a bit of Latin American unity. The Washington kind of opinion here that you see is always that, oh, no, they’re too divided and this is temporary; it’s because George W. Bush ignored Latin America, didn’t pay enough attention; he was busy in the Middle East; and they have all these kinds of superficial reasons that they think are the real reason that Latin America has become, over the last decade, more independent of the United States than Europe is; but they really don’t get it at all, and Hillary’s trip is just another example of that.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
WEISBROT: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network