• Why Guatemala?
• Brazil phase is rough
• Secretary of State Clinton and her Assistant Secretary, on this try, do not seem to perceive that it is a changed world in terms of inter-American relations and that traditional concepts of pan-Americanism may be crumbling.
On March 1, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embarked on her five-day tour of Latin America. The trip came in the wake of immensely destructive earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, the legacy of an ousted constitutionally-elected president in Honduras, and the first female president being elected in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, until these recent natural disasters grabbed the headlines, the United States’ presence in Latin American affairs had been reduced to a minor distraction by the Iraq war.
Beginning with the now all but forgotten Monroe Doctrine of 1823, and continuing with a constant assortment of invasions and covert operations, Latin America has long been considered the United States’ “backyard,” today an antique notion. However, coming with the presidency of Barack Obama, it seemed as if Washington would be turning its back on its legacy of manipulation and intervention. Sadly, up to this point, the Obama White House has not given the American people anything strikingly new or inspiring.
The Clinton trip takes place against a disappointing backdrop of prosaic rhetoric coming from the administration, whether directly from rambunctious Obama policy makers or State Department spin doctor P.J. Crowley and his tired and passé press statements, Secretary Clinton and her assistant Arturo Valenzuela also have been coming forth with unbecoming ideological cri de coeur statements bashing the region’s leftists as if the Cold War was still in effect, or that the Bush administration was still in office. Although this may reflect Obama’s realist approach to foreign policy, simple neglect, or wearing blinders, Clinton’s visit certainly did not do the job of substantially increasing U.S. engagement in Latin American affairs or bring “hope” or the prospect of “change” to the area.
Itinerary and Agenda
On February 26, in a special briefing on Secretary Clinton’s travels to Latin America, Valenzuela announced that Clinton would be traveling to Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Guatemala from February 28 to March 5. Thus far, the only travels to Latin America that the Secretary of State has taken part in was to Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, and Haiti twice for the OAS General Assembly. The Assistant Secretary declared that the goal of the trip was to “come up with common solutions to common problems,” stating that this is the next step in President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s pledge to seek a greater engagement with the countries of the Western Hemisphere. He then grouped the issues that are to be tackled into three “baskets:” (1) “competitiveness and issues of social equity and social justice;” (2) issues of public security, regarding issues such as crime, organized crime and the counterdrug effort; and (3) building democratic and effective governance to elevate quality of life in the region. While many of these countries share a history with common elements, it may be a detriment to the mission and effectiveness of the trip to depend on these similarities to an excess.
An Inauguration in Uruguay
Secretary Clinton began her trek in Uruguay on March 1 with the inauguration of President José Mujica. Mujica was a former member of a radical guerrilla group, the Tupamaros, and spent 14 years in prison. He was released in 1985 when Uruguay returned to democracy after a 12-year military dictatorship. Assistant Secretary Valenzuela pointed out the fact that this was the second time Uruguayans have inaugurated a president representing the left, indicating that it would be “an exciting time.” Mid-morning on Monday, Clinton and Arturo Valenzuela met with Mujica and his Vice President, Danilo Astori in Montevideo’s Legislative Palace. Later, they were joined by the leaders of the opposition, Luis Alberto Lacalle, Pedro Bordadbery, Ivone Passada (the president of the Lower House), and the new Foreign Affairs minister, Luis Almagro. Secretary Clinton, and former First Lady, was also able to meet with Senator Lucía Topolansky, who is also President Mujica’s wife. She later spoke with President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay.
During a brief press conference, Secretary of State Clinton praised Uruguay’s democratic system, values congruent with those of the U.S., and the country’s long tradition of international involvement. Uruguay has made significant contributions to the United Nations peacekeeping missions and aid in Haiti, giving relatively the second largest amount of aid coming from the region behind that of Brazil. Moreover, Mujica even directly acknowledged Clinton’s presence by referencing Latin American leaders present at the ceremony and those representing “great nations from far away.” Secretary Clinton later met with outgoing president Tabaré Vázquez who has long been known as an ardent ally of the United States, at Government House. In the ensuing press conference Clinton stated: “I’ve come to see the peaceful transfer of power and have visited president [Vázquez] and President-elect [Mujica] and both pledged [a] strong partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest. We are going to work close together.”
Argentina Almost Forgotten
Having almost forgotten Argentina on her tour of the Southern Cone, it took an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile to force Clinton to alter her plans. Originally planning to meet with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for a short time in Montevideo, Secretary Clinton instead met with Kirchner at the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires. When questioned during a press conference in Washington, Assistant Secretary Valenzuela stated they were “not going to be discussing just simply bilateral issues but also some of the international issues,” such as Iran and international terrorism. However, Valenzuela made it a point to say that the Falkland Islands issue would not be discussed: “this is a matter for Argentina and for Britain. And it’s not a matter for the United States to make a judgment on.”
However, what started as a last-minute change to the chief US diplomat’s schedule, Valenzuela’s earlier comments quickly became a major diplomatic flare up based on the Falkland Islands dispute. The British-held Falkland Islands are nearly 500 kilometers from the South American Coast. Argentina has long claimed sovereignty over the islands, last seizing them in 1982 for two months after a surprise attack, until they were reclaimed by force by Britain. During the two-hour meeting President Fernández de Kirchner had with Clinton, she ignored Valenzuela’s statement regarding the Falklands when she asked for help mediating Argentina’s dispute with Britain over the Falklands. Clinton responded by saying that the United States will encourage both nations to engage in diplomacy, but will not commit to being more involved. “We want very much to encourage both countries to sit down [and negotiate],” she said, but did not elaborate how the U.S. would help Argentina, who, as Fernández de Kirchner stated, simply seeks a negotiation “strictly within the framework of UN resolutions.” Nevertheless, Kirchner, who could use a win due to her domestic setbacks at home, and who recently criticized the Obama administration, called the visit a “success.”
Clinton’s Visit to a Shaken Chile
On Tuesday March 2nd, Secretary of State Clinton met outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet at the Santiago airport, which suffered some damage as a result of the February 27 earthquake. Clinton carried 25 satellite phones with her, the first tranche of U.S. aid after the devastating disaster left over 800 dead and losses exceeding $30 billion. After one of the greatest natural disasters Chile has witnessed since the 9.5 magnitude earthquake of 1960, the discussion of increased U.S. aid was one of the main topics on the agenda.
In a joint press conference, President Bachelet listed her requests for aid from Clinton to include field hospitals, portable dialysis machines, temporary bridges, plastic tarps to be used as tents, water desalination systems and more communications equipment. Secretary Clinton responded by announcing that the U.S. was preparing to send eight water-purification units, temporary bridges, and a field hospital, along with many other medical supplies. “We’ll be here to help when others leave because we are committed to this partnership and this friendship with Chile,” Clinton promised. Bachelet spoke of the “tens of thousands” of people without supplies of food, drinking water and shelter and continued cases of looting. When questioned about the amount of money needed to recover, Bachelet said “Chile has the capacity, but I think it’s going to take a long time, and it will mean a whole lot of money.” Often regarded as one of the world’s most earthquake-ready countries, Chile has suffered an immense amount of damage and will need massive. assistance to return to its previous status as an up and coming country in the region. March 11, less than two weeks after the earthquake shook the nation, President-elect Sebastián Piñera will take over the presidency from Bachelet–a transition that is expected to bring increased difficulty to the reconstruction efforts. In a later press conference, Clinton congratulated Piñera, who had previously invited President Obama to visit Chile “anytime.” While Clinton has promised a U.S. presence in Chile long after others have left, Washington hasn’t always done well by Chile in the past.
Brazil – Hillary left out in the rain
The last picture of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Brazil – walking up the stairs of her plane under a rain shower – sums up her less than brilliant visit to the regional powerhouse. Of course, Clinton knew that her stay in Brasília would be the most complex stop on her five-day long Latin America tour. As an emerging global player, Brazil confidently represents positions that with increasing regularity differ from those of the United States and the European Union. The meeting with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim had once again underscored Brazil’s growing willingness to go its own way.
“It is not prudent to put Iran against a wall. Sanctions are the quickest route to military actions,” said Lula ahead of the one-hour meeting with Clinton, thereby laying out his reluctance to follow the American proposition of a confrontation with the Tehran strongman. “Peace in the world does not mean isolating someone,” said Lula at a regional summit in Mexico last week. Clinton’s visit did not change Brazil’s position. The Secretary of State failed to guarantee Brazilian support for the United Nation’s sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Lula defended Iran’s right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.
In November 2009, Lula hosted Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his reciprocal visit to Iran is scheduled in May. Lula wants to have frank talks with Iran’s President, acknowledging that Brazil is somewhat concerned about the lack of transparency on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. The United States and other countries hold deep suspicions that Iran’s program is not entirely peaceful. “It has been found to be in violation by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council,” said Clinton ahead of the meeting with Lula, “these are not findings by the United States. These are findings by the international community.”
Before her tour to Latin America, Clinton visited the Middle East, where she stressed the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran. Brazil would be an important ally to prevent this scenario from happening since Brazil and Turkey have a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Along with the permanent members China and Russia, which are in opposition to the U.S. strategy on the issue, along with the European Union, they have rejected the push for sanctions against Iran’s uranium enrichment program. During her visit to Brazil, Clinton expressed her understanding for Brazil’s position, saying that “the US sees an Iran that runs to Brazil, an Iran that runs to Turkey, an Iran that runs to China, telling different things to different people to avoid international sanctions.”
However, the differences between the United States and Brazil are not limited to Iran. Foreign Minister Amorim warned against the readmission of Honduras to regional institutions without a regulation for the return of displaced former President Manuel Zelaya, who is now in the Dominican Republic. Clinton wants the process of Honduran reincorporation into regional forums be preceded by a process guided under the auspices of the Organization of American States. “The United States is committed to supporting Honduras on its path to reintegration with the inter-American community. And we want to work with Brazil and others to strengthen to OAS so that it can more effectively advance our shared democratic values, respond when democratic order is subverted, and help to prevent political crises from erupting in the first place,” said Clinton.
Lula did not make any statement about the infliction of retaliatory trade tariffs against US imports, which were implemented in the first place in response to the US failure to eliminate domestic cotton subsidies worth over one half billion dollars. Furthermore, Clinton’s attempt to lobby for Boeing when it came to the giant company’s eagerness to have Brasilia consider the purchase of two squadrons of Super-Hornet Jet Fighters, was most likely unsuccessful. Lula already has announced his preference for the French firm Dassault for a new airforce jets deal. The only success of the meeting was a verbal agreement on a joint strategy for Haiti and support for a binding agreement at the next round of global climate change talks scheduled to take place in Mexico in December.
The failure to agree on important regional issues highlights the sharp ideological and methodological differences between the United States and Brazil which has grown in recent years. On the one hand, Brazil has offered both financial and diplomatic support to the Cuban regime as well as to Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. On the other hand, Lula opposed the U.S.-Colombian Defense Agreement. Further, Brazil has taken the lead in the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a diplomatic and security organization of South American countries. Such major policy indications suggest that Brazil seeks to reach global power status through multilateral foreign policy approaches, which will challenge the United States and Europe as well as its diversification and its willingness to discard old political forms.
Costa Rica – Economic opportunities for women
Since Obama took office in January of 2009, Hillary Clinton is the second high ranking official to visit Costa Rica. Her visit comes nearly one year after Vice President Joe Biden’s trip in March 2009. In the course of her trip, which was meant to focus on economic issues, Clinton met foreign ministers from 15 countries to discuss ways to improve access to open markets and to close economic gaps. The occasion was a “Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas” event that was started by President George W. Bush “to take stock of the significant progress we have made in our hemisphere through shared commitments to trade and investment liberalization, social inclusion, development, rule of law, and democracy.”
Of note, during her stay in Costa Rica was a discussion on how to back female entrepreneurs: “We are supporting women entrepreneurs across the hemisphere. We know that women still today are often overlooked or excluded, especially when they go for credit,” said Clinton. She vowed to organize exchange visits in order to transplant the US model of small business development centers where people obtain information and advice about launching a business.
During her visit, Clinton met with president-elect Laura Chinchilla, who is to become Costa Rica’s first female president. On May 8, President Oscar Arias, whom Clinton met separately, will hand over his executive position to Chinchilla.
Guatemala – Drug War
Hardly any event could have been better to highlight Guatemala’s problems than the arrest of its national police chief and the country’s top anti-narcotics official in connection with drug trade and a shooting last year that left five police officers dead. Baltazar Gómez, the civil police chief and anti-drug tsar Nelly Bonilla were arrested on Tuesday after an investigation was conducted by the Guatemalan and United Nations-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity authorities, just two days prior to Clinton’s scheduled arrival in the country. This event made it fully apparent that corruption in Guatemala is thwarting the battle to stop the flow of drugs north through Central America.
On Friday, March 5, Clinton was to voice her concerns about the destabilizing effects of drug trafficking in Guatemala and crime in Central America and Mexico. The topics of her visit to Guatemala are the fight against drugs, migration reform, security, justice and climate change.
Honduras-The Missing Stop
While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped in Argentina at the last minute, she failed to visit what should have been one of the main stops on her five-day tour of Latin America—Honduras. On June 28, 2009 the government of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown by the Honduran military. Roberto Micheletti, then-Speaker of Congress and next in the presidential line of succession, was confirmed as Interim President. Following heavily contested elections, Porfirio Lobo Sosa was sworn in as the 30th constitutional president of Honduras. While President Obama condemned the coup, he was hesitant to make any brash moves closely following his declaration that the era of U.S. unilateralism in Latin America was over. Instead, Washington looked to then-Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to mediate the resultant dispute. When unsuccessful, the U.S. began to freeze aid and insist on the reinstatement of Zelaya. The U.S. government then responded to the election of Lobo by recognizing its legitimacy.
Not only did Secretary Clinton fail to visit Honduras but, while in Buenos Aires, she carelessly stated “The Honduras crisis has been managed to a successful conclusion…it was done without violence.” This is being labeled as a misguided statement considering the physical violence including murders, beatings, torture that the coup government used in order to repress the opposition. Many of these tactics are still being used. This diplomatic stumble is expected to draw significant attention to the multiple errors in the U.S. approach to guaranteeing a return to legitimacy in Honduras.
While a visit would have had a decisive go either way, Secretary Clinton did acknowledge the situation in Honduras by announcing that the Obama administration will restore aid that had been previously suspended, a political decision that once again may have served to isolate the U.S. from much of Latin America. While in Costa Rica on Thursday, Clinton said the post-coup government, which took office earlier this year, was, in fact, democratically elected. She also spoke of the steps the Honduran government was taking to reconcile the rift that had formed between significant parts of the population following the coup. She declared that it was time for the regional countries to accept the new government and allow Honduras back as a member state of the Organization of American States.
During the early phases of the Obama presidency, many key administration officials already have travelled to the region, including the President, the Vice President and now the Secretary of State. After years of neglect during the Bush administration, the Obama administration is at least placing a higher priority to the region by including Latin America on the agenda, which deserves to be praised. Some Latin American newspapers are referring to Clinton’s tour as “un tour exitoso,” a tour of success. She met with recently elected presidents in Chile, Uruguay, and Costa Rica – three countries with close political and economic ties to the United States and emphasized its backing for democracy in the region. Nonetheless, Clinton’s visit failed to achieve many concrete results, and the selection of states to be visited rather odd. Why did Clinton visit Guatemala, one of Central America’s most corrupt states, deserving more of her rebuke than praise for its many lapses in democratic standards, rather than the attention of such a high official?
Undoubtedly, Brazil was the centrepiece of her stay. However, she failed to guarantee its support for anti-Iran UN sanctions against Iran. Once again Brazil’s independent political agenda became obvious as one that differs from that of the US, thereby challenges the United States’ and European diplomatic hegemony.