Latin America is under threat from an increasingly aggressive Trump administration, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE
FOR decades now, the US has sought to intervene and bring down progressive governments — or indeed just governments that seek to assert their national sovereignty — in Latin America, using a range of methods, from “soft coups” to military coups, from sanctions to blockades, and from international isolation to direct military action.
Any hopes that the US might become less interventionist under Donald Trump have been quickly dashed by his displays of belligerence in all directions and his apparent willingness to use military action to settle scores, as already represented by bombastic language towards Mexico when pressing ahead with his proposal to build a wall on the border, and his recent refusal to rule out military options when it comes to Venezuela.
Already, millions of dollars are channelled to organisations working against governments that are not to the US’s taste in order to reassert US control in the region.
Now, Trump is quickly escalating these attempts to push through “regime change” across the continent while maintaining a hypocritical silence when it comes to human rights abuses of more compliant regimes.
Trump’s increasingly interventionist approach has been particularly illustrated by his approach to Venezuela.
Along with Trump’s aforementioned refusal to rule out military intervention, new and wide-ranging sanctions have been introduced, against international law, seeking to cut off financial support to Venezuela.
The US had already imposed sanctions on Venezuela, starting under the Obama administration, but this has dramatically escalated under Trump.
The most recent sanctions prohibit financial institutions from providing US dollars to the Venezuelan government or state oil company PDVSA.
They also restrict PDVSA’s US subsidiary, Citgo, from sending dividends back to Venezuela and they restrict trade in government bonds.
Polls show that a majority of both government and opposition supporters are opposed to such sanctions.
This is not surprising in that these economic sanctions, which are likely to increase shortages of food, medicine and other essential goods, while limiting the government’s ability to solve the country’s economic problems, will hurt Venezuelans on low incomes the most.
The sanctions may also increase political polarisation, making much-needed dialogue less likely just at a time when more international voices are adding their support to such a process to move the country forwards.
The reality then is that these sanctions are not about helping the people of Venezuela or resolving the country’s difficulties, but rather at trying to force regime change.
But is not just Venezuela that is in Trump’s sights. Following the re-election of the Sandinistas last year, the US’s latest attack on Nicaragua is the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act, known as Nica.
It aims to block international loans to Nicaragua from the World Bank, International Development Bank and other institutions.
Nicaragua currently receives around $250 million each year in loans which are invested in education, social programmes, electrification, roads and other infrastructure initiatives.
As in Venezuela, if the Act is aimed at helping Nicaraguans, they certainly haven’t asked for it or welcomed it.
The Act has been condemned widely in Nicaragua, with critics as wide-ranging as business representatives, social movements, parliament and trade unions predicting damage to the Nicaraguan economy and its successful poverty reduction programmes.
Trump has also indicated a return to the hostile attitude of the George W Bush years when it comes to Cuba.
In June, Trump announced at a rally in Miami that he would roll back the modest advancements established under Barack Obama. Here he further strengthened the over 55-year-old US blockade of the island, despite the majority of Cuban-Americans favouring Obama’s path to normalisation.
With Trump lacking the support of many Republicans in Congress, he has established his bedrock of support from Marco Rubio and others, who are staunch anti-Cuba pro-blockade politicians.
In another move to appease the hardliners, Trump recently expelled 60 per cent of Cuban diplomats from the United States, following bizarre allegations of “sonic attacks” in Havana, despite the FBI and CIA finding no evidence to back up the allegations.
Cuba and Venezuela were among those Trump attacked in his recent UN speech and of course his interventionist agenda in Latin America is also linked to the growing concern that Trump will be a president for war around the globe.
The now disgraced and departed General Michael Flynn seemed to have had something of an axis of evil-style hit list early in the Trump presidency when he said: “We’re in a global war, facing an enemy alliance that runs from Pyongyang, North Korea, to Havana, Cuba, and Caracas, Venezuela,” adding that “along the way, the alliance picks up radical Muslim countries and organisations such as Iran, al-Qaida, the Taliban and Islamic State.”
Trump’s UN speech — and his accompanying threats to tear up the nuclear deal with Iran — shows that this is now the dominant outlook of the US administration and the world is now a more dangerous place for having Trump in the White House.
But we also need to be clear that there is an alternative to Trump’s agenda.
The opposition to Trump is growing in the US, Latin America and around the world, including here in Britain, on a range of issues.
In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn showed real leadership on this issue, being the first national political figure to call on Theresa May to withdraw her offer to Trump of a state visit, saying: “Let no-one be in doubt that I will oppose and the Labour Party will oppose all those who fan the flames of fear at home and abroad and that the Labour Party stands unequivocally with those demonstrating [against Trump] and will do so until we are victorious.”
Whatever problems countries in Latin America currently face, if you think intervention from Trump’s US is the answer then you’re asking the wrong question.
Progressives internationally must stand up to Trump’s agenda of hate and war, and for a better, peaceful future.
n Ken Livingstone is speaking at the Latin America 2017 Conference on Saturday December 2 at Congress House. Register and find more information at www.latinamerica2017.org.uk. You can follow Ken at www.twitter.com/Ken4London and www.facebook.com/KenLivingstoneOfficial.