Latin America Changes: Hunger Strikes in Bolivia, Summits in the Caribbean
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Grandin explained that in the 1960s and 1970s, security agencies in Latin America built up their relationship with Washington to "subordinate their interests to the U.S.'s cold war crusade." There was a willingness among the Latin American middle class to do this, Grandin explained, and the U.S. was also interested in building the infrastructure and networks to ensure that the region's new dictators' fanaticism could be led by anti-communism. "Now in South America, there has been a wide rejection to subordinate their military to the U.S.," Grandin explained. "In a 2005 defense meeting in Quito, Ecuador [former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld attempted to elevate the war on terror in the region [as a military priority], and it was roundly rejected. … As of now, I don't think there has been a willingness for Latin America to serve as an outpost of this unified war [on terror]."
Grandin wrote in a 2006 article that the Pentagon has tried to "ratchet up a sense of ideological urgency" in the war on terror in Latin America. but these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. "The cause of terrorism," said Brazil's Vice President José Alencar, "is not just fundamentalism, but misery and hunger."
However, the Latin America Obama will visit this weekend is already significantly different than the one Rumsfeld tried to convince in 2005. Obama's counterparts in the south are generally more independent and leftist than they were even four years ago. But all that can change, and at least some of it depends on how Obama works with -- or ignores - the region.
Outside of Obama's influence, one question remains: will changes made by leftist leaders in Latin America be irrevocable, even if the right regains power in the region in the next five years? Not according to political analyst Laura Carlsen of the Americas Program in Mexico City, "In order for that to happen it would take more than just a change in the government, and I find it unlikely for anything like that to happen in the short term. It took years for the left in power to build up these social movements and the development of alternatives. It was the result of that process that brought these governments into power, and to reverse it you would have to silence or repress these movements."
I asked Grandin the same question. "It depends," he said, "the changes seemed pretty irrevocable in the 1970s and with Reaganism and militarism… The failure of neoliberalism is certain, but it's hard to say what the response will be in the long term."
This weekend's summit, where Obama and Chavez will shake hands for the first time, might offer some glimpses into the region's future.
Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press, 2007). He is also the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a news website uncovering activism and politics in Latin America. Email BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com.