[News] At the UN, a Latin American Rebellion
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 8 10:15:29 EDT 2013
At the UN, a Latin American Rebellion
Latin American leaders are reclaiming a right to differentiate their
views from Washington's---and refusing to render it diplomatic tribute.
By Laura Carlsen <http://fpif.org/author/laura-carlsen/>, October 4, 2013.
Without a doubt, the 68^th UN General Assembly will be remembered as a
watershed. Nations reached an agreement on control of chemical weapons
that could avoid a global war in Syria. The volatile stalemate on the
Iran nuclear program came a step closer
<http://fpif.org/irans-rouhani-makes-debut-world-stage/> to diplomacy.
What failed to make the headlines, however, could have the longest-term
significance of all: the Latin American rebellion.
For Latin American leaders, this year's UN general debate became a forum
for widespread dissent and anger at U.S. policies that seek to control a
hemisphere that has clear aspirations for greater independence. In a
region long considered the United States' primary zone of influence,
Washington's relations with many Latin American nations have gone from
bad to worse under the Bush II and Obama administrations. And judging by
the speeches at the General Assembly, they may be nearing an all-time low.
One after another, Latin American leaders came to the podium to denounce
the U.S. government and its policies. Most criticism was directed at the
revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden
that made friendly nations such as Mexico and Brazil marks for political
and industrial spying.
The other target for regional antipathy was the signature U.S. security
policy in the Western Hemisphere: the drug war. Even formerly stalwart
allies like Guatemala, Mexico, and Colombia came out against
Washington's drug war and called for alternative approaches.
*The High Price of Spying on Your Neighbors*
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff led the charge against U.S.
international surveillance activities on the first day of the general
debate at UN headquarters in New York City. Information from the Snowden
leaks revealed that the U.S. spy program
in Brazil targeted President Rousseff's personal and governmental
communications as well as the state-owned oil company, Petrobras.
This understandably infuriated Brazil. One can only imagine the response
in the United States if the tables were turned---"Brazil found spying on
U.S. government and companies through private Internet and
Brazil is an ally with no intention whatsoever of attacking the United
States. According to the Brazilian daily /O Globo,/ Washington has been
spying on Brazilian businesses and Petrobras to give a potential
advantage to U.S. companies bidding for oil contracts. This month,
Brazil is putting up a bid for oil development in the Libra subsalt
in the Santos Basin, with a reported 12 billion barrels of recoverable
oil. Chevron is reportedly in the running. Inside information fed to
U.S. companies by the leaks could favor them in the bidding process.
Rousseff called the program
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-24230069> a breach of
international law and an "affront to the principles that must guide the
relations among friendly nations." She added that the U.S. program
constituted "a grave violation of human rights and civil liberties; of
invasion and capture of confidential information concerning corporate
activities, and especially of disrespect to national sovereignty."
Rousseff vowed to take measures to protect Brazil from U.S. spying in
The Brazilian president had previously cancelled a state visit to
Washington over the revelation---to the chagrin of the State Department,
which had been carefully courting Brazil as the economic leader in the
region, as well as the most accessible member of the South American bloc
that challenges U.S. political and military hegemony. The White House
downplayed the incident, failing to seriously address the
allegations---despite the fact that the Brazilian chill raises some
about Latin American frustration with Washington.
Next up, Bolivian President Evo Morales not surprisingly went even
further <http://gadebate.un.org/homepage/2013-09-25>, questioning the
U.S. commitment to diplomacy and democracy as it spied on its allies.
"What kind of democracy is it when espionage services of the United
States violate the privacy and security of other nations, using private
companies. It turns out they not only spy on democratic governments, but
on their own allies, even on the United Nations itself. I think this
shows a lot of arrogance," the indigenous leader told the Assembly.
Latin American countries recently rallied around President Morales when
his flight from Russia was denied airspace over Europe and forced to
in Austria, supposedly by U.S. orders on the suspicion that Snowden
could be on board.
Ecuador echoed <http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2013/ga11432.doc.htm>
criticisms of the spy program, saying that confidence had been seriously
eroded by "the unlimited acts of the United States, through its spying
on global communications" and demanding that the United States explain
its surveillance programs.
Bolivia and Ecuador criticizing the United States is a common occurrence
since leftist parties took power in their respective capitals. But even
Mexico---normally submissive due to its high economic and geopolitical
dependency on the United States since NAFTA---used part of its moment in
the international spotlight to warn against violations of the "right to
privacy." Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade stopped short of
mentioning the United States, calling for a full investigation and
insisting that "the parties responsible be held accountable." Mexico has
been muted in its criticism, but sent a diplomatic note when the leaks
showed the NSA had targeted now-President Enrique Peña Nieto when he was
running for office.
The U.S. media has kept Edward Snowden, who has been granted temporary
asylum in Russia, out of public attention as much as possible. But the
UN statements showed that Washington is paying a high price for spying
on its friends and neighbors, and not just in the Western Hemisphere.
On September 30, Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Office
read a statement
from Snowden to the European Parliament as it takes up the issue of mass
surveillance. "The surveillance of whole populations," Snowden wrote,
"rather than individuals, threatens to be the greatest human rights
challenge of our time." As a sign of its indignation, the Parliament
recently nominated Snowden
for its highest human rights award.
*Demands to End the Drug War** *
Latin American leaders have grown increasingly discontent about more
longstanding U.S. policies as well.
"Right here, in this same headquarters, 52 years ago, the convention
that gave birth to the war on drugs was approved. Today, we must
acknowledge, that war has not been won," Colombian President Juan Manuel
noting that his country "has suffered more deaths, more bloodshed, and
more sacrifices in this war" than almost any other.
Santos, as he has done before, called for changing tracks rather than
intensifying the war. He noted that he led the effort in the
Organization of American States to study "different scenarios" (meaning
alternatives to the drug war approach) and commissioned studies that
will be made available to the public and evaluated in a UN Special
Session in 2016.
He concluded with a jab at the U.S.-led drug war. "If we act together
with a comprehensive and modern vision---free of ideological and
political biases---imagine how much harm and how much violence we could
avoid," he said.
Central American nations repeated the need for a new model. Costa Rica's
Laura Chinchilla cited a regional agreement including Mexico and
Guatemala "to reevaluate internationally agreed-upon policies in search
of more effective responses to drug trafficking, from a perspective of
health, a framework of respect for human rights, and a perspective of
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, a military man who has somewhat
ironically assumed the mantle of drug reform champion, told the UN
<http://gadebate.un.org/68/guatemala>, "Since the start of my
government, we have clearly affirmed that the war on drugs has not
yielded the desired results and that we cannot continue doing the same
thing and expecting different results." He called on nations to "assess
internationally agreed policies in search of more effective results" and
urged approaches based on public health, violence reduction, respect for
human rights, and cooperation to reduce the flow of arms and illegal funds.
Perez Molina openly praised the "visionary decision" of the citizens of
the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana, and
heralded "the example set by [Uruguayan] President Jose Mujica in
proposing legislation that regulates the cannabis market instead of
following the failed route of prohibition."
Mexico's minister used the same terms
<http://gadebate.un.org/68/mexico>, quoting the regional agreement and
placing a priority on prevention, arms control, and opening a global
debate. Bolivia's Morales noted that according to UN data, his country
has made more progress on fighting drug trafficking "after liberating
ourselves from the DEA," referring to his decision to expel the U.S.
agency from Bolivia.
This onslaught of drug war opposition is not welcome in Washington. The
Obama administration has been actively trying to divert or dilute Latin
American calls to reduce its militarized counternarcotics operations,
concerned more with maintaining and expanding the U.S. military presence
in the region than eliminating drug trafficking, which a recent report
again shows has not diminished
*Listening to Latin America*
Spying and the drug war weren't the only criticisms. Venezuelan
President Nicolas Maduro cancelled his UN participation altogether,
citing "provocations" against him and fears for his safety were he to
visit the UN's New York City headquarters. His demand to move UN
headquarters out of the United States was reiterated by other Latin
Tensions have been high between the United States and Venezuela despite
the death of U.S. nemesis Hugo Chavez. Maduro just expelled U.S. chargé
Kelly Kiederling and two others for allegedly encouraging acts of
sabotage against the Venezuelan electrical system and economy in
meetings with right-wing groups.
Criticisms of inaction on global warming were also aimed northward.
Mujica of Uruguay lashed out at U.S. consumer culture, saying, "If
everyone aspired to live like the average U.S. citizen, we'd need three
Amid all this, the mainstream media paid little attention to Latin America.
It's time to listen to what they're saying.
This is a bold new Latin America speaking. Not only are these nations
reclaiming a right to differentiate their views from those of the global
superpower and refusing to render it diplomatic tribute---whatever your
views, a step forward in self-determination---they are also standing up
in defense of rights we should all be defending far more vigorously.
Brazil and its allies sounded an alarm that should be heeded by all
nations and by U.S. citizens especially: it is not acceptable to assume
that in the modern age we no longer have the basic right to privacy.
U.S. government eavesdropping on President Rousseff and others---thanks
to the global reach of ATT <https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/faq#8>,
Microsoft, and Google, and their unprincipled compliance with the
unprincipled requests of the NSA and other spy agencies---affects
everyone. The spy-versus-spy scenarios that made for intriguing novels
have given way to a spy industry vs. common citizen reality on a global
And once again, our generation is demonstrating a terrible willingness
to sacrifice rights that our ancestors fought for and our children may
The evident anger in the words of these Latin American heads of state
shows just how far Washington's relations with the region have
deteriorated. It demonstrates the growing gap between rhetoric and
reality since Obama promised the region a relationship based on "mutual
respect" and "self determination" at the beginning of his first term.
Diplomacy, reaffirmed in the 68^th Assembly, has been steadily eroding
in U.S. relations with Latin America as the Pentagon dominates the agenda.
Does it matter for the United States to have good relations with Latin
America, including the left-leaning leaders? Apparently, Washington has
decided it doesn't. Its defensive response to the spy scandal, its
efforts to pit its free-trade allies against countries that have turned
away from neoliberal economies, and its use of regional allies like
Colombia and Mexico as proxy militaries has sought to create rifts
rather than mend them.
The U.S. government continues to play the neighborhood bully long after
the kids on the block have grown up. The flurry of state visits to the
region have generally aimed to reinforce unpopular policies, including
the drug war and free trade, rather than listen to the calls for change.
In-the-box Washington pundits view the hemispheric outburst in the UN as
a PR problem. But the Obama administration doesn't need to work on its
niceties or polish its Spanish. What it needs to do is ditch the
offensive policies and practices that stirred up regional ire. The
voices of outrage from the South brought an important lesson to the UN
floor: Deception and strong-arm tactics eventually backfire.
Was anyone in Washington listening?
/Foreign Policy In Focus <http://www.fpif.org/> columnist Laura Carlsen
directs the Americas Program <http://www.cipamericas.org/> for the
Center for International Policy <http://www.ciponline.org/> in Mexico City./
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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