BGSU Expert: U.S., Latin America relations strained, not broken
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Bowling Green: Relations between the United States and nations from Central and South America became more strained after an April 14-15, 2012 regional summit, but a Bowling Green State University professor believes the two sides need each other too much to let those differences fester into long-term rancor.
Dr. Francisco Cabanillas, a BGSU associate professor and former director of the university’s Institute for the Study of Culture and Society (ICS) and the Latin American and Latina(o) Studies Cluster, stated that Latin American countries are beginning to stand together in the global marketplace and challenge long-held political and socioeconomic policies of the U.S.
“Even the closest allies to the U.S., Colombia and Peru, have taken critical stances against U.S. positions in terms of foreign stands like drugs,” said Dr. Cabanillas.
The Organization of American States (OAS) summit ended earlier this month in Colombia with the leaders of Caribbean nations declaring there would not be another summit until Cuba is included within the group of nearly 30 western hemisphere nations. The U.S. and Canada are staunchly opposed to the admission of this island nation. The same two allies also balked at backing Argentina’s claims to the British-held Falkland Islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas.
“Peru even showed some solidarity with Argentina before the Summit of the Americas by not allowing a British fleet into port,” he explained. “South Americans believe that Argentina is the sovereign nation and has the right to the Islas Malvinas. If you put Falkland Islands, you are siding with the invaders.”
The drug war being fought by the U.S., particularly in Colombia and Mexico, also has played a strong role in those frayed relations. Latin American leaders have concluded there is a better way to stem the drug trade, such as legalizing or decriminalizing them, than allowing foreign military operations in their homelands.
“They contend the militarization of the problem is destroying their societies with violence,” said Dr. Cabanillas. “They are a big business in which everyone collects. You have narco-states all over the place. Guatemala and Colombia want to stop this nonsense.”
The OAS was strengthened in importance during the mid-1990s, as the Clinton administration, sought for the U.S. to become regional trading partners with Latin American countries. The U.S. hope then was to extend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) across the western hemisphere. But the OAS appears to be losing political and economic clout as other potential trading partners such as China are challenging American supremacy in the global marketplace.
“Particularly South America, it is right now at a point in which it is disputing U.S. power and it has created transnational organizations like CELAC, ALBA, and UNASUR, that attempt to replace the Summit of the Americas and the Organization of American States, both of which are clearly understood as organizations created by the United States to exert its power in the Americas and to benefit U.S. interests at the expense of Latin America.”
The next OAS summit is scheduled to be in Panama in 2015.
CELAC, ALBA, and UNASUR
CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), in particular, is seen as a replacement for the OAS. In July 2010, CELAC selected President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez and President of Chile Sebastián Pińera, as co-chairs of the forum that will draft statutes for the organization.
Dr. Cabanillas explained that South American nations are trying to cut out U.S. political and economic influence in the region, forcing it to establish trade agreements one-by-one with each Latin American country. Colombia became the most recent U.S. trading partner. The recent economic downturn in the U.S. is providing the catalyst for such an effort.
Some of South America’s leaders are seeking instead to establish a regional trade coalition similar to the European Union. Dr. Cabanillas explained that they believe NAFTA and trade agreements like it with the U.S. would leave their own nations destitute after watching neighboring countries slip deeper into poverty. Like the European Union, those leaders would like to escape the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) by establishing a common currency similar to the euro.
“Latin America is responding to the international redefinition of world capitalism by creating its own regional entities,” he said. “They have been quite active in trying to put together a regional network. There is a concept in the journalistic world, a radio station that is competing with CNN to give the Latin American point of view.”
That led to the formation of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), which was established in 2004. At its most recent summit in February, all member countries agreed to deposit one percent of their foreign currency reserves in the ALBA Bank, which was founded in 2008 as Latin America’s alternative and answer to the IMF. Another topic of that February summit was the common ALBA currency, SUCRE (Sistema Unitario de Compensación Regional). The currency was created as a means of promoting Latin American financial independence and minimizing foreign exchange risks.
UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) also is an attempt to unify and integrate Latin American countries outside U.S. influence. The combined population of the 12-nation, European Union-like organization is estimated at close to 400 million people. The South American transnational organization also has its own bank.
Latin American countries, at the urging of Venezuelan president Chávez, increasingly are trading both goods and services among themselves, even bartering oil directly for technical assistance or social service expertise. Dr. Cabanillas stated that Brazil even sees itself becoming a major world trading partner.
Part of the reason for the regional economic alliances is also social: to lift many Latin American countries out of poverty and establish a bigger middle-class population in those nations. In turn, more affluence means more influence in the global marketplace.
“There is definitely a space opened by the U.S. (economic) downfall, which South America has very actively occupied,” said Dr. Cabanillas, who was born in Puerto Rico. “Because it also knows that, ultimately, the U.S. is after the resources in South America is attempting to protect those resources.”
That regional economic coalition sees emerging economies elsewhere—China, Russia, India—that could become effective trading partners outside the influence of the U.S. Eventually, a South American union could cut out the United States entirely and trade directly with larger Asian and European counties, lifting up the economies of individual Latin American nations.
He explained that long-time U.S. allies, such as Colombia and Peru, are caught in the middle of the effort. While both countries have allowed the U.S. to increase the number of its military installations there, the aim is to not just strategically influence Venezuela, but keep Brazil in check as well.
Dr. Cabanillas further explained that multi-national corporations could get caught in the middle of those political and economic differences. For example, Argentina has close links with both the U.S. and Monsanto. The two countries are Monsanto’s largest exporters of soybeans. But Argentina sells some of its soybean crop to China, which presents political and economic concerns and challenges for both countries and the corporation.
“You have all those links that are connected which might be connected with other countries but are not completely disconnected with the United States,” he said. “Based on my historical knowledge of the area, I don’t think Latin America wants to completely break with the United States. The U.S. has always been part of the Americas.”
Part of the reason has to do with the exploding numbers of Latinos who now live in the U.S. The stateside Latino population also is beginning to influence U.S. foreign policy, such as the inclusion of Cuba in the OAS. Dr. Cabanillas stated that other Latinos in the U.S. are breaking with the Cuban-American population and have joined the Latin American countries to say ‘enough is enough’ on the long-time U.S. embargo of Cuba and the Castro family regime.
“The Cuban-American community has a lot of interest in keeping the fiction of friction against Cuba, but at this point, many people, even in the United States, are saying this does not make absolutely any sense,” he said. “So Cuba is united even those who are against communism—the conservative president of Mexico, the conservative presidents of Colombia and Peru. They are all saying enough—Cuba has to come back as part of the Americas.”
Despite all the economic rancor and political posturing of Latin American countries, Dr. Cabanillas believes leaders of those countries can never fully rid themselves of U.S. influence. He stated there are too many long-held ties and traditions—and a strengthening connection between Latino-Americans and their families and families back in their native countries.
“Latin America does not want to break with the United States,” Dr. Cabanillas said. “It only wants the United States to treat Latin America as an equal, which is an impossible proposition.”
Editor’s Note: While mainstream media has been focusing on the U.S. Secret Service and Colombian prostitution as it relates to the OAS Summit of 2012, La Prensa has been focusing on the summit’s successes and/or failures.
The United States has always had a “big brother” or superior attitude towards Latin American countries as exemplified by the U.S.’s Monroe Doctrine of 1823 [the Americas are off-limits to European nations], the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine [intervention by the U.S. in conflicts between European nations and Latin American countries, 1904], the Spanish American War and the U.S.-led “independence” of Cuba from Spain (1898), the U.S. creation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (1898), the U.S. purchase of the Virgin Islands (1916), the U.S. supported domination by the United Fruit Company of many of its “Banana Republics” [company now called Chiquita Brands International and is based in Cincinnati], el bloqueo—the U.S. ever-present boycott of Cuba, that began in 1960, the U.S. supported execution of Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia , the invasion of Panama and the arrest of its president Manuel Noriega (1989), the U.S. backing of General Augusto Pinochet when the Chilean military overthrew the democratic-elected president Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973, and the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada.
On the Internet: www.oas.org