From Socialist Voice, December 2010

Wikileaks and Latin America

Over the last couple of weeks we have been given a very disturbing view of the world of US diplomacy and its operations abroad. The documents published by Wikileaks show the views of the US diplomatic corps and the government it represents.
     Many of these documents are related to US operations in what it regards as its “own back yard” in Latin America. They give a very good insight, even if it is very worrying at times, into the mind of US diplomats and the information they were sending to Washington. The picture that emerges does nothing to change the predominant view of US activities and interference in Latin America and in particular in opposing the rise of the region’s left-wing presidents.
     A number of the files from 2005 describe the massive efforts carried out by the United States in Brazil in doing everything possible to stop the country from moving to the left under President Lula. The United States saw Brazil as the key to its struggles against the rising tide of the left throughout the continent. In 2005 it was under pressure. Hugo Chávez was proving to have mass support, and it were becoming increasingly worried about Evo Morales winning the presidential election in Bolivia. The United States was intent on trying to end Brazil’s support for Hugo Chávez and Venezuela. It was trying to create a common US-Brazilian arrangement, while accusing Venezuela of funding Morales in Bolivia.
     The US ambassador to Brazil, John Danilovich, held a meeting with a Brazilian general, Jorge Armando Felix. Danilovich used this meeting to make many accusations against Chávez and to attempt to undermine the position of the Brazilian government. The cable does not clearly say what the Brazilian general’s response was, but it hints that he may have been leaning towards opposing his own government’s support for left-wing presidents in the region.
     It is not clear whether other “diplomatic” approaches were made to high-ranking military officers and what exactly the United States hoped to achieve. It should be noted, however, that Washington has long had a close relationship with the Brazilian military, which has traditionally been viciously anti-communist and responsible for previous coups in the country.
     The Wikileaks cables also show us how the US government viewed Argentina’s move away from being little more than a US colony. They show the difficult relationship between the United States and the new presidents, Nestor Kirchner and then his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. While the United States seems to have believed that it knew Nestor Kirchner well, it was quite in the dark regarding his wife. The Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, requested information on her. Amazingly, and again quite disturbingly, she wanted to know how Cristina Fernández de Kirchner managed “her nerves and anxiety,” as well as whether she was taking any medication. Clinton repeatedly requested information on her psychological and emotional profile.
     This raises massive questions. Why would a senior member of Barack Obama’s government need this information—especially after he had claimed that his presidency was a chance for a new beginning in relations between the United States and Latin America? Was this just more empty rhetoric from Obama? Was Clinton trying to uncover information that they could use to undermine and to manipulate the Argentine president?
     Some of the most interesting files relate to the coup in Honduras in 2009, which led to the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya. On 24 July 2009, less than a month after the coup, the US embassy in Tegucigalpa sent a cable to Washington regarding the power grab that had taken place on 28 June. The cable outlined the views of the US embassy on what had happened and declared that “there is no doubt” that what had happened “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” After listing the arguments being used by the perpetrators, the cable declared that “none has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.” The embassy went as far as to describe the military’s actions as an “abduction” and a “kidnapping.”
     This cable was sent to a number of high-ranking American officials, including Tom Shannon, then Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Harold Koh, legal adviser to the State Department, and Dan Restrepo, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the National Security Council. From there it was forwarded on to the White House and to Hilary Clinton. This confirms that there can be no doubt that all members of the US government were aware of this assessment of the coup that had taken place. There was no confusion in the corridors of power.
     This again raises many important questions. Despite knowing what had just happened, why did the United States try to confuse the situation by publicly stating that it was not clear what had just happened in Honduras and what the legal implications were? They claimed it was clear whether what had happened was in fact a coup. This allowed the United States to continue providing aid to the new illegal regime in the immediate aftermath of the coup, thus evading full compliance with their own laws, which would have demanded that all aid be cut off immediately.
     The likely reason for the attempt to confuse the events in Honduras are that the US government supported the coup leaders. They supported the removal of President Zelaya from power and an ending to the political direction Honduras was taking. The United States did not want another Latin American country in its “back yard” to reject US control and domination and instead look towards its Latin American neighbours for a better and more equal way forward.
     The coup in Honduras was successful for US interests in Latin America. They got rid of a president who opposed US imperialism. What the Wikileaks documents show is that the United States knew that the coup was illegal and unconstitutional but decided to give it what was tantamount to support, in order to ensure that it succeeded.
     In Paraguay the US ambassador, Liliana Ayalde, was summoned concerning Wikileaks documents that showed that there is US spying within the country as well as prying American eyes on the country’s oil reserves. The Minister for External Relations, Héctor Lacognata, spoke on behalf of his government when he advised on how concerned they were over the Wikileaks files that showed numerous spying efforts by the United States. The files stated that there was a coherent attempt at spying on the 2008 presidential candidates, in particular the successful left-wing candidate, Fernando Lugo, as well as the then vice-president, Luis Castiglioni.
     Perhaps an even more sinister element of US policy that was exposed in Paraguay was its interest in the people’s natural resources. US officials were trying to get information on the large oil reserves in the Chaco region and information on corruption within the country as well as on the country’s possible ties with states that the United States accuses of backing terrorism. It is easy to see why this information might have been so important to the United States, and how it could have been used in its attempts to get access to these oil reserves.
     Perhaps most interesting are the Wikileaks documents relating to Bolivia. These give a very interesting insight into the US stance against the Bolivian government, as well as its general view of the people of the country. While it is common knowledge that the United States is extremely hostile towards the Bolivian government led by Evo Morales, the files reveal the extent of hostility of the US embassy and its biased opinion of Evo Morales’s government. It also shows that they severely underestimate the support that Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) have within the country and just how removed from the reality of Bolivia the United States is.
     Disgustingly, the Wikileaks documents also show how the United States sees Latin Americans, in particular indigenous people, as being uneducated and incapable of making up their own minds about how their countries should be run. They paint a picture of Bolivians doing as they are told by Morales without question. A cable sent in January 2009, in the days before the adoption of the new constitution on the 25th of that month, speaks about how the majority of community leaders and their supporters had not even read the new constitution. They claimed the reasons for this were out of “disinterest, blind faith to Evo Morales’ political project, and illiteracy.” They add that this was particularly the situation in indigenous areas such as the Antiplano, the high plains of western Bolivia, where Morales holds a lot of support. The cables said the people there “take their marching orders from the MAS and vote for the constitution.” They went on to claim that Morales and MAS had “cheated” and “fooled” the people into believing that they cared about indigenous issues and even raised doubts about whether Morales himself was really indigenous.
     These are, of course, inaccurate views on the Movement Towards Socialism but even more so of the Bolivian people. Support for the new constitution did not come from illiteracy and ignorance: the constitution was the result of many years of discussion, debate and consultation with the Bolivian people. The MAS worked with and mobilised the people for many years and gained their support, as they understand the needs of the people and bring the marginalised inside the political processes of the country.
     Of course this sort of people’s democracy, and allowing the poor and marginalised to have a say, goes against US interests, as it is a dangerous challenge to their political and economic interests.
     The files spoke of electoral fraud being carried out by MAS. This was a strange view, as official international inspectors found none. These international inspectors were provided by the European Union, United Nations, and the Carter Center, among others. The cable took a lot of its information from a group called the Santa Cruz Civic Committee. This is closely aligned to the Bolivian business elite and violently opposed to Evo Morales. It has been implicated in attacks by racist youths and acts of violence against indigenous and MAS activists. Why was the United States taking information from an organisation completely unrepresentative of the common view in Bolivia as its main source?
     The danger that can be created by the misinformation that the United States was peddling was clearly shown in the department of Pando in September 2008. In that month, right-wing forces in Bolivia mobilised against Morales and his MAS government. They ransacked human rights offices, attacked indigenous people and MAS supporters, and destabilised the country. In Pando, paramilitaries under the control of Leopold Fernández, the town prefect, fired on unarmed campesinos who were marching in support of MAS.
     The picture painted by the US embassy was very different and was made up of a complete rewriting of the facts. According to the cable, “MAS deliberately fomented unrest in Pando” as a cover for “deposing Leopold Fernández and arresting opposition-aligned leaders.” They accused MAS of doing this to cause “hundreds of opposition supporters to flee to Brazil while importing 2000 new security forces,” who were probably MAS voters.
     This was pure fiction. Morales expelled the US ambassador to Bolivia as a result of this, as the embassy had been supplying money to the right-wing opposition groups and conspiring with them against President Morales.
     While much of the information in these files is not surprising, because we are very much aware of the policies of US imperialism within Latin America, it does show just how far the United States will go to undermine sovereign states and their governments. It also shows that Obama has not marked a new departure in US-Latin American affairs but rather just more of the same.

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