Responding to Clinton Barb, Sanders Blasts US Imperialism in Latin America

Wednesday's debate raised questions about the Democratic candidates' records in Latin America. (Photo: YouTube)

Responding to Clinton Barb, Sanders Blasts US Imperialism in Latin America

'The key issue here was whether the United States should go around overthrowing small Latin American countries,' says Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton's interventionist record in Latin America is being called into question after Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debate saw her and rival Bernie Sanders sparring over the U.S.'s role in the region.

"Is Hillary Clinton a credible voice for condemning support for despots and human rights abusers?"
--Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

When asked about his past support for Latin American leaders Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Fidel Castro in Cuba, and to explain "the difference between the socialism that you profess and the socialism in Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela," Sanders declared:

What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to try to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that the United States was wrong trying to overthrow in 1954, the government -- democratically elected government of Guatemala.

Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America we've operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine, and that said the United States had the right do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America. So I actually went to Nicaragua and I very shortly opposed the Reagan administration's efforts to overthrow that government. And I strongly opposed earlier Henry Kissinger and the -- to overthrow the government of Salvador Allende in Chile.

I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get involved in regime change. And all of these actions, by the way, in Latin America, brought forth a lot of very strong anti-American sentiments.

[...] The key issue here was whether the United States should go around overthrowing small Latin American countries.

Clinton, on the other hand, "was at her all-out reactionary best, expressing contempt for the likes of Cuba and refusing to acknowledge her support for policies that have sown discord in the hemisphere," according to a TeleSUR analysis.

For the former secretary of state, the key issue was Sanders' past support for political revolutions in Latin America.

"I just want to add one thing to the question you were asking Senator Sanders," she said. "I think in that same interview, he praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves."

"I just couldn't disagree more," Clinton continued. "You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere."

In a series of intermittently sarcastic tweets Wednesday night, investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill blasted Clinton and her supporters for taking a revisionist view of Latin American foreign policy.

Writing at The Intercept on Thursday, Glenn Greenwald further explores Clinton's cynical attacks.

"Let's pretend for the sake of argument that the horror expressed by Clinton and her supporters over Sanders' 1980s positions on Latin America was all driven by some sort of authentic outrage over praising tyrants and human rights abusers rather than a cynical, craven tactic to undermine Sanders using long-standing right-wing, red-baiting smears," Greenwald writes. "Is Hillary Clinton a credible voice for condemning support for despots and human rights abusers?"

The answer, he says, is no--and he provides examples of her more recent support for "some of the world's worst despots and war criminals" as evidence.

"I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get involved in regime change."
--Sen. Bernie Sanders

Take the 2009 coup in Honduras, for example.

As Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, pointed out in 2014, Clinton has admitted "that she used the power of her office to make sure that [Honduran President Manuel] Zelaya would not return to office."

Clinton wrote in her review of Henry Kissinger's World Order: "In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot."

However, Weisbrot wrote at the time:

The question of Zelaya was anything but moot. Latin American leaders, the United Nations General Assembly and other international bodies vehemently demanded his immediate return to office. Clinton's defiant and anti-democratic stance spurred a downward slide in U.S. relations with several Latin American countries, which has continued. It eroded the warm welcome and benefit of the doubt that even the leftist governments in region offered to the newly installed Obama administration a few months earlier.

In addition to her bold confession and Clinton's embrace of the far-right narrative in the Honduran episode, the Latin America chapter is considerably to the right of even her own record on the region as secretary of state. This appears to be a political calculation. There is little risk of losing votes for admitting her role in making most of the hemisphere's governments disgusted with the United States. On the other side of the equation, there are influential interest groups and significant campaign money to be raised from the right-wing Latin American lobby, including Floridian Cuban-Americans and their political fundraisers.

Like the 54-year-old failed embargo against Cuba, Clinton's position on Latin America in her bid for the presidency is another example of how the far right exerts disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere.

It's a stance that is still having repercussions. Last week, in the wake of the assassination of Honduran activist Berta Caceres, The Nation's Greg Grandin wrote that Caceres "gave her life" to fight the "unity government" Clinton helped institutionalize.

Zelaya, while not perfect, "backed rural peasant and indigenous movements, such as the one Caceres led, in the fight against land dispossession, mining, and biofuels," Grandin said. "Since Zelaya's ouster, there's been an all-out assault on these decent people--torture, murder, militarization of the countryside, repressive laws, such as the absolute ban on the morning-after pill, the rise of paramilitary security forces, and the wholesale deliverance of the country's land and resources to transnational pillagers."

"I'm tempted to end this post with a call on Bernie bros and sisters to hold Hillary Clinton responsible and to ask, when possible in town halls and meet and greets, if she ever met Caceres, or if she is still proud of the hell she helped routinize in Honduras," Grandin concluded. "But, really, Caceres's assassination shouldn't be reduced to the idiocy of American electoral politics."

Instead, he wrote, "All people of goodwill should ask Hillary Clinton those questions."

As Honduran feminist artist Melissa Cardoza recently told TeleSUR, Clinton's policy in Central America "has shown her true colors as an instrument of empire representing patriarchal, not feminist, ideology."

"As is well known, she supported the coup d'etat in my country, which has sunk a very worthy and bleeding land further into abject poverty, violence, and militarism," Cardoza said of Clinton's legacy in Honduras. "She is part of those who consider only some lives to be legitimate, obviously not rebel women and women of color that live here and who do not, at least not all, fit in with imperial interests."

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