Latinos in the U.S. enthusiastically support Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Unlike her opponent Donald Trump, she does not speak ill of immigrants or of the national character of those south of the U.S. border. Latin Americans also would prefer to see Clinton elected over Trump. Clinton has not promised to build a wall along the Mexican/American border; nor does she evince the same sort of strong opposition to international trade deals as Trump does. All of this suggests that Latin Americans would be much better off with a Clinton win. However, there are reasons to be skeptical about just how good a Clinton presidency would be for Latin America. Two events last week alert us to what the nature of U. S. foreign policy could be like should Clinton become President: U.S. support for regimes that are harmful to democracy and inclusive development.
Republican Hawks and Support of the Right in Latin America
On August 11th, President Obama released 1,078 pages of formerly secret U.S. documents largely accumulated during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) on policy towards the highly repressive military rule in Argentina. During this period of military rule (1974-1983), large numbers of left activists, trade unionists, and journalists were arrested and tortured; as many as 30,000 people may have “disappeared.” Living standards also dropped precipitously as the military government embarked on draconian adjustment and market liberalization. The release of these documents by the Obama administration was the first tranche of documents to be released under the government’s program of declassifying intelligence reports from the CIA, FBI, and the U.S. Defense Department. One of the key revelations arising from them involves former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who, in 1978, attempted to sabotage President Carter’s efforts to improve the human rights situation in Argentina. In a meeting with then Argentina President Videla, Kissinger repeated high praise for Argentina’s actions in wiping out terrorism. As National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during the Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford administrations, Kissinger had carried out an interventionist foreign policy supporting brutal regimes in an effort to combat what he regarded as Soviet influence abroad. U.S. documents made available under the Freedom of Information Act clearly indicate Kissinger’s strong support for the human rights abuses of the Argentine generals.
Clinton’s Alliance with Republican Hawks
During the same week as these documents were released, Hillary Clinton, a friend and longtime admirer of Henry Kissinger, sought his endorsement for her presidential campaign. Indeed, it would appear that Clinton is determined to win endorsements from prominent Republican foreign policy hawks in a strategic political move to take advantage of the fact that fifty Republican foreign policy leaders have stated that they will not vote for Donald Trump. As if association with Kissinger were not sufficiently disquieting, Clinton’s website also displays endorsement by other hawish Republican notables. One of these is John Negroponte, a five-time US ambassador, deputy national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan and director of national intelligence and deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush. As ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, Negroponte supervised the creation of the notorious Battalion 316, an army intelligence unit founded, funded, armed, and trained by the United States and Argentina. Battalion 316 assassinated and tortured students, academics, labor unionists, clergy, and others thought to be a threat to the Honduran dictatorship. Clinton has also sought endorsement from Condoleezza Rice.
Clinton’s Latin American Record
Clinton’s outreach to Republican hawks is not be surprising given her own record. As Secretary of State for the Obama administration, she backed the 2009 military coup in Honduras, which overthrew the popularly elected government of José Manuel Zelaya. Although starting out as a right leaning politician, once elected, Zelaya moved leftward instituting measures in support of the poor, including subsidies for small farmers, an increase in the minimum wage, guaranteed school meals for 1.6 million of poor families, and free education for all children. Poverty declined by 10% in the years he was in power (2006-2009). The fact that the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs was in Honduras a week before the coup, consulting with the military and civilian groups later involved in the coup, is strongly suggestive of the State Department’s complicity. Honduras’ poor protested the coup and it was widely condemned throughout Latin America and Europe. The U.S., however, remained silent and then moved quickly to recognize the new government replacing Zelaya. Repression and human rights abuses followed.
On the one hand, pressure from Democratic candidate contender, Bernie Sanders, has pushed the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton leftward on domestic social issues. However, the enthusiasm with which Clinton has built alliances with some of the most hard-line interventionists among the U.S. foreign policy elite, individuals with little understanding of what drives Latin American left popular movements, does not augur well for the region. This is especially so because while Latin America is currently experiencing a move to the “right” with the election of right-leaning political leaders, it is probably only a matter of time before social conditions produce a reversal of this current cycle and the political left makes a resurgence.