themcglynn.com

28 Apr

Not Just Trump: A Brief History of U.S. Hostility Toward Latin America

sa

Not Just Trump: A Brief History of U.S. Hostility Toward Latin America

The McGlynn: On Hillary Clinton’s compatriot, Henry Kissinger

In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here.
–Henry Kissinger to Augusto Pinochet, June 8, 1976

Henry Kissinger never gave a damn about human rights. “Cut out the political science lectures,” he once scrawled on a cable from the US Ambassador to Chile reporting on atrocities. Now, his proclivity for getting into bed with the most vicious of violators is exposed in a recently declassified secret memorandum of a private conversation with Gen. Augusto Pinochet that took place in Santiago, Chile, in June 1976.

Further:

Read :The secret memorandum

Henry Kissinger and Augusto Pinochet, 1976 (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile / Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve come a long way since Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign with these notorious words:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Over the last ten months, the rhetoric has only escalated. Trump has, for example, claimed both that the Mexican government is deliberately sending undocumented immigrants north, and that the U.S. federal budget funds them; he has called Argentina-born Pope Francis “disgraceful” and a “pawn” of the Mexican government; and he has, unforgettably, vowed that he will make the Mexican government pay for a new wall along the U.S. border. And that’s just what he has to say about Latin America—let alone Muslims and the Middle East.

Trump’s statements about migration and foreigners should not be dismissed as an anomaly of primary season politicking. From a historical perspective, they express broadly shared although largely implicit ideas about the relationship between the United States and Latin America.

The idea of a tall, magnificent wall along the southern U.S. border is not another real-estate sales pitch. Its explicit design is to exclude from the national territory a certain kind of people. The implicit argument is that a wall is a defense also against internal enemies—those groups that reside in the national territory but do not really belong. Beside the paranoia and not-so-coded racism of the project, the plan for the wall illustrates a lack of precision in U.S. debates about Latin America that extends well beyond Trump’s campaign and the right wing of the Republican Party. This deliberate ignorance has permeated U.S. policies toward the region long before immigration became one of its most salient issues.

The hypothetical wall will not add much to the deterrent that the desert already presents. Hundreds of people perish every year because of the extreme conditions they face when walking across the border. Many more suffer extortion at the hands of organized crime groups that use their resources and knowledge to benefit from heightened enforcement on the U.S. side and government corruption on the Mexican side. The anti-immigrant rhetoric that prevails in the Republican campaign largely ignores these facts and avoids recognizing the expansion of border security under Obama’s government, not to mention his unmatched record in terms of deportations. More than 2.8 million people have been deported, including a large number of unaccompanied minors, even as the net migration of Mexican nationals to the United States is close to zero.

The “Mexicans” that Trump accuses of being rapists and criminals are a vague designation that stands for all Latin American immigrants. A growing number of undocumented migrants entering the country in the last few years come from Central America and further south in the continent. Of the 11 million people to be deported by president Trump, more than 2 million come from Latin America but not Mexico. The lack of precision in the language is not just a result of the hasty generalizations of campaign rhetoric. It suggests that the distinction is unnecessary, the same way that “Arabs” and “Muslims” are used interchangeably when proposing to ban their entry. Like “Islam,” Mexicans represent, for Trump, the antithesis of the national self.

Latin America is best conceived, from the perspective of Trump and likeminded politicians, as a simple entity. Thus they can refer to “Latins,” “Latinos,” “Mexicans,” “Central Americans,” “South Americans” in the same breath, along with other, even less respectful, names. Understanding the differences would be unnecessary; on the contrary, it would undermine the stereotypes enforced by the Trump campaign. Although this could again be attributed to the simplifications demanded by electoral rhetoric, it reflects long-standing notions about political and cultural inferiority of those living south of the border—notions with often devastating consequences.

U.S. views of Latin Americans of all different nationalities and backgrounds have long been permeated with much of the same racism that fueled segregation between black and whites. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thousands of Mexicans were murdered by lynch mobs. And this behavior extended abroad: when the United States defeated Spain and took control of Cuba’s independence process in 1898, for example, occupying forces brought with them the ideas that shaped Jim Crow. Although these ideas met with strong resistance among Cuban pro-independence fighters, many of whom were of African descent, they left a heavy legacy that complicated the first decades of Cuba’s independent history.

This pattern of violence and intervention continued well into the twentieth century. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson invaded Mexico to remove Victoriano Huerta from power—a general who, ironically, had reached the presidency that year through a coup orchestrated by the U.S. ambassador in Mexico City. Wilson’s justification? “I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men!”

Half a century later, Henry Kissinger famously stated that “history has never been produced in the south.” Kissinger invoked this kind of prejudice to justify U.S. support for military coups against democratically elected governments, like the one of Chile, overthrown by a bloody coup on September 11, 1973, or the one of Argentina, on March 24, 1976.

There are far too many examples of U.S. presidents or other American officials justifying direct and indirect intervention in Latin American countries despite holding out negligible gains for U.S. national interests, and considerable loss of international prestige. It is easy to forget, counter Kissinger and Wilson, that Latin America was the region where republican institutions and the abolition of slavery were first paired, even at the cost of civil wars and great economic losses. The intervention of nations like the United States only undermined these gains. And it is these interventions that dominate historical memory across much of the region today. September 11 means something completely different in Chile than in the United States.

President Obama only seemed to confirm this lack of awareness about the region when he visited Buenos Aires on March 24 and in a speech blandly admitted, “There’s been controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days,” before continuing on to Patagonia. The administration has made some progress in recognizing past crimes, however, chiefly a recent pledge to declassify U.S. documents regarding Argentina’s 1976 coup. This would certainly signal a departure from the template set by the Republican administrations of Presidents Nixon and Ford, and a welcome rebuke to the current Republican candidates’ foreign policy instincts. But it is long overdue. Just as many American politicians expected Donald Trump to immediately reject the support he gathered from the KKK, many Latin American had long expected that the Obama administration would disavow U.S. support for the fascist-inspired Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s and ’80s.

Correcting the historical record is one thing. Another much-needed step toward correcting America’s contested past with Latin Americans would be to overturn the current bipartisan consensus on border enforcement and deportations. The partial restoration of normal relations with Cuba is a good sign, although the initiative starts from a very low baseline (and the counterproductive trade embargo imposed decades ago has yet to be lifted). The last fifty years of U.S.-Cuban policy have only solidified Castro’s power and alienated many in Latin America. But the greatest concern today for the U.S. government in its relation to many countries of the region is drug enforcement, as the costly and ineffective war on drugs rages on. Building a wall and deporting millions back to violence-torn places are not such a departure from the enormous resources the United States already devotes to supporting armed forces in the region that are routinely accused of human rights abuses.

Perhaps this helps explain why Latin American governments’ responses to the rise of Trump have been tepid, at best. Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, took more than six months to denounce Trump’s insults against Mexicans. The assumption seems to be that nothing has yet changed that would justify a stronger diplomatic reaction. The Mexican government’s mistake, a misperception it shares with many of Trump’s critics in the United States, is to think that the racism of Trump and some of his followers is not connected to broadly shared stereotypes about Latin Americans.

Stereotypes have concrete effects. Trump expresses views about the region and its peoples that have long been present in American politics, at the level of foreign and domestic policy alike. Reactions to Trump’s campaign rhetoric demonstrate that these stereotypes can be overcome. Yet it would be naïve to say that they are no longer there, and that they do not have the potential to once again surface in U.S. foreign policy.


Federico Finchelstein is professor of history and department chair at The New School in New York and author, among other books, of The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War. Fascism, Populism, and Dictatorship in Twentieth-Century Argentina and Transatlantic Fascism: Ideology, Violence and the Sacred in Argentina and Italy, 1919-1945.

Pablo Piccato is professor of history at Columbia University and author of The Tyranny of Opinion: Honor in the Construction of the Mexican Public Sphere and City of Suspects: Crime in Mexico City, 1900-1931.

Further:

CHRONICLING INTERVENTIONS

Source: United States Interventions, ReVista, Harvard University

U.S. DIRECT INTERVENTIONS 
Military/CIA activity that changed governments

COUNTRY

YEAR

EVENT SUMMARY

Cuba

1898-1902

Spanish-American War

1906-09

Ousts elected Pres. Palma; occupation regime

1917-23

U.S. reoccupation, gradual withdrawal

Dominican Rep

1916-24

U.S. occupation

1961

Assassination of Pres. Trujillo

1965

U.S. Armed Forces occupy Sto Domingo

Grenada

1983

U.S. Armed Forces occupy island; oust government

Guatemala

1954

C.I.A.-organized armed force ousts Pres. Arbenz

Haiti

1915-34

U.S. occupation

1994

U.S. troops restore constitutional government

Mexico

1914

Veracuz occupied; US allows rebels to buy arms

Nicaragua

1910

Troops to Corinto, Bluefields during revolt

1912-25

U.S. occupation

1926-33

U.S. occupation

1981-90

Contra war; then support for opposition in election

Panama

1903-14

U.S. Troops secure protectorate, canal

1989

U.S. Armed Forces occupy nation

U.S. INDIRECT INTERVENTION
Government/regime changes in which U.S. is decisive

COUNTRY

YEAR

EVENT SUMMARY

Bolivia

1944

Coup uprising overthrow Pres. Villaroel

1963

Military coup ousts elected Pres. Paz Estenssoro

1971

Military coup ousts Gen. Torres

Brazil

1964

Military coup ousts elected Pres. Goulart

Chile

1973

Coup ousts elected Pres. Allende.

1989-90

Aid to anti-Pinochet opposition

Cuba

1933

U.S. abandons support for Pres. Machado

1934

U.S. sponsors coup by Col. Batista to oust Pres. Grau

Dominican Rep.

1914

U.S. secures ouster of Gen. José Bordas

1963

Coup ousts elected Pres. Bosch

El Salvador

1961

Coup ousts reformist civil-military junta

1979

Coup ousts Gen. Humberto Romero

1980

U.S. creates and aids new Christian Demo junta

Guatemala

1963

U.S. supports coup vs elected Pres. Ydígoras

1982

U.S. supports coup vs Gen. Lucas García

1983

U.S. supports coup vs Gen. Rios Montt

Guyana

1953

CIA aids strikes; Govt. is ousted

Honduras

1963

Military coups ousts elected Pres. Morales

Mexico

1913

U.S. Amb. H. L. Wilson organizes coup v Madero

Nicaragua

1909

Support for rebels vs Zelaya govt

1979

U.S. pressures Pres. Somoza to leave

Panama

1941

U.S supports coup ousting elected Pres. Arias

1949

U.S. supports coup ousting constitutional govt of VP Chanís

1969

U.S. supports coup by Gen. Torrijos

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
The O'Leary

And Hillary, Kissinger’s friend and admirer. will continue his “interventions” and his destruction of human rights across the globe.

© 2021 themcglynn.com | Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS)

Global Positioning System Gazettewordpress logo