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<h1 class="entry-title single-title" itemprop="headline">At the UN, a
Latin American Rebellion</h1>
<p class="lede print-yes">Latin American leaders are reclaiming a right
to differentiate their views from Washington's—and refusing to render
it diplomatic tribute.</p>
<p class="byline vcard"> <span class="sep">By </span><span
class="author vcard"><a href="http://fpif.org/author/laura-carlsen/"
title="Laura Carlsen" rel="author">Laura Carlsen</a></span>, <time
class="updated" datetime="2013-10-4" pubdate="">October 4, 2013</time>.
</header><section class="entry-content clearfix" itemprop="articleBody"><small><a class="moz-txt-link-freetext" href="http://fpif.org/un-latin-american-rebellion/">http://fpif.org/un-latin-american-rebellion/</a></small><br>
<p>Without a doubt, the 68<sup>th</sup> UN General Assembly will be
remembered as a watershed. Nations reached an <a target="_blank"
title="agreement on control of chemical weapons"
on control of chemical weapons</a> that could avoid a global war in
Syria. The volatile stalemate on the Iran nuclear program came <a
title="a step closer"
closer</a> to diplomacy.</p>
<p>What failed to make the headlines, however, could have the
longest-term significance of all: the Latin American rebellion.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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 <a title="espionage programs"
programs</a> revealed by former National Security Agency contractor
Edward Snowden that made friendly nations such as Mexico and Brazil
marks for political and industrial spying.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p><b>The High Price of Spying on Your Neighbors</b></p>
<p>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. <a target="_blank"
program</a> in Brazil targeted President Rousseff’s personal and
governmental communications as well as the state-owned oil company, <a
<p>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
<p>Brazil is an ally with no intention whatsoever of attacking the
United States. According to the Brazilian daily <i>O Globo,</i>
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 <a
target="_blank" title="Libra subsalt oilfields"
subsalt oilfields</a> 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.</p>
<p>Rousseff <a target="_blank" title="called the program"
the program</a> 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 future.</p>
<p>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 <a
target="_blank" title="some serious issues"
serious issues</a> about Latin American frustration with Washington.</p>
<p>Next up, Bolivian President Evo Morales not surprisingly <a
target="_blank" title="went even further"
even further</a>, 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.</p>
<p>Latin American countries recently rallied around President Morales
when his flight from Russia was denied airspace over Europe and <a
target="_blank" title="forced to land"
to land</a> in Austria, supposedly by U.S. orders on the suspicion that
Snowden could be on board.</p>
<p><a target="_blank" title="Ecuador echoed"
echoed</a> 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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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
<p>On September 30, Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability
Office read <a target="_blank" title="a statement"
statement</a> 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 <a target="_blank"
Snowden</a> for its highest human rights award.</p>
<p><b>Demands to End the Drug War</b><b> </b></p>
<p>Latin American leaders have grown increasingly discontent about more
longstanding U.S. policies as well.</p>
<p>“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 <a
target="_blank" title="Juan Manuel Santos said"
Manuel Santos said</a>, noting that his country “has suffered more
deaths, more bloodshed, and more sacrifices in this war” than almost
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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
<p>Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, a military man who has
somewhat ironically assumed the mantle of drug reform champion, <a
target="_blank" title="told the UN"
the UN</a>, “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.</p>
<p>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.”</p>
<p>Mexico’s minister <a target="_blank" title="used the same terms"
the same terms</a>, 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
<p>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 <a target="_blank"
<p><b>Listening to Latin America</b></p>
<p>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
<p>Tensions have been high between the United States and Venezuela
despite the death of U.S. nemesis Hugo Chavez. Maduro just <a
target="_blank" title="expelled U.S. chargé d’ affaires"
U.S. chargé d’ affaires</a> Kelly Kiederling and two others for
allegedly encouraging acts of sabotage against the Venezuelan
electrical system and economy in meetings with right-wing groups.</p>
<p>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
<p>Amid all this, the mainstream media paid little attention to Latin
<p>It’s time to listen to what they’re saying.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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 <a target="_blank" title="ATT"
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
<p>And once again, our generation is demonstrating a terrible
willingness to sacrifice rights that our ancestors fought for and our
children may never inherit.</p>
<p>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<sup>th</sup> Assembly, has been
steadily eroding in U.S. relations with Latin America as the Pentagon
dominates the agenda.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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
<p>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.</p>
<p>Was anyone in Washington listening?</p>
<div class="author-bio"><section itemprop="articleBody">
<div><em><a title="Foreign Policy In Focus" href="http://www.fpif.org/"
<div><em><a title="Foreign Policy In Focus" href="http://www.fpif.org/"
target="_blank">Foreign Policy In Focus</a> columnist Laura Carlsen
directs the <a title="Americas Program"
href="http://www.cipamericas.org/" target="_blank">Americas Program</a> for
the <a title="Center for International Policy"
href="http://www.ciponline.org/" target="_blank">Center for
International Policy</a> in Mexico City.</em></div>
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