For the first time in twenty years, Cuba attended the Summit of the Americas currently underway in Panama. The US had long opposed their participation but increasingly other nations in the region had said that they would not attend if Cuba were still barred. Rather than the Cuba being isolated, as the US intended, US policy against Cuba had resulted in the US becoming isolated.
President Obama’s attempts at normalizing relations with Cuba are being portrayed in the US as a change of heart by the US government but Latin American leaders see it as less of a genuine conversion from a wrong policy and more of a recognition that it has failed to achieve its goals. But as Mark Sappenfield writes in the Christian Science Monitor, they are still suspicious of the US and see it as still trying to meddle in the internal affairs of countries in the region, with Venezuela being the prime example.
For decades, Cuba was a central fault line in US-Latin America relations precisely for this reason. Within the region, Cuba was seen as the one nation that had had the gumption to stand up to the United States – and had been punished comprehensively for it.
But it is clear that Latin American leaders think America’s shift on Cuba could be more a change of convenience than a change of heart.
But Latin American leaders look at Washington’s recent sanctions on Venezuela and see the shadow of the more intrusive America of old.
The goal of the sanctions was to punish Venezuelan officials seen to be at the center of human-rights violations. Protests against Venezuela’s leftist government recently left dozens of people dead, and while there were casualties on both sides, most were protesters.
But not a single Latin American nation, including allies such as Colombia and Mexico, backed the sanctions. The US had hoped that the normalization of relations with Cuba would create enough goodwill to win regional support on Venezuela. But to many, the Venezuela sanctions are seen little more than a ploy to unseat a regime America doesn’t like and replace it with a more compliant one.
“It’s the same story as always,” said Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. “What the United States is trying to do is destabilize the progressive governments in the region.”
In an interview with Michael Albert, veteran journalist John Pilger talks about the many ways that the US has been destabilizing Venezuela because it committed the cardinal sin in Washington’s eyes of asserting its political independence and ignoring its dictates.
It doesn’t matter who has been in the White House: Barack Obama or Teddy Roosevelt; the U.S. will not tolerate countries with governments and cultures that put the needs of their own people first and refuse to promote or succumb to U.S. demands and pressures. A reformist social democracy with a capitalist base – such as Venezuela – is not excused by the rulers of the world. What is inexcusable is Venezuela’s political independence; only complete deference is acceptable.
Pilger says that the US and British press have been part of the propaganda efforts.
In 2006, Britain’s Channel 4 News effectively accused the Venezuelan president of plotting to make nuclear weapons with Iran, an absurd fantasy. The Washington correspondent, Jonathan Rugman, sneered at policies to eradicate poverty and presented Chávez as a sinister buffoon, while allowing Donald Rumsfeld, a war criminal, to liken Chavez to Hitler, unchallenged. The BBC is no different. Researchers at the University of the West of England in the UK studied the BBC’s systematic bias in reporting Venezuela over a ten-year period. They looked at 304 BBC reports and found that only three of these referred to any of the positive policies of the government. For the BBC, Venezuela’s democratic initiatives, human rights legislation, food programmes, healthcare initiatives and poverty reduction programmes did not exist. Mission Robinson, the greatest literacy programme in human history, received barely a passing mention. This virulent censorship by omission complements outright fabrications such as accusations that the Venezuelan government are a bunch of drug-dealers. None of this is new; look at the way Cuba has been misrepresented – and assaulted – over the years. Reporters Without Borders has just issued its worldwide ranking of nations based on their claims to a free press. The US is ranked 49th, behind Malta, Niger, Burkino Faso and El Salvador.
Venezuela is particularly dangerous because of its extensive oil reserves and the US and Saudi Arabia have sought to neutralize that advantage by driving prices low. He says what many in the US don’t seem to have realized as yet, that the US is a nation now run by those who used to be on the fringes and referred to contemptuously even by people within the government as ‘crazies’.
It’s important to understand that Washington is ruled by true extremists, once known inside the Beltway as ‘the crazies’. This has been true since before 9/11. A few are outright fascists. Asserting U.S. dominance is their undisguised game and, as the events in Ukraine demonstrate, they are prepared to risk a nuclear war with Russia. These people should be the common enemy of all sane human beings. In Venezuela, they want a coup so that they can roll-back of some of the world’s most important social reforms – such as in Bolivia and Ecuador. They’ve already crushed the hopes of ordinary people in Honduras. The current conspiracy between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to lower the price of oil is meant to achieve something more spectacular in Venezuela, and Russia.
In his statements at the summit, Obama invoked the familiar refrain that he does whenever he wants to avoid coming to terms with awful past acts, that ‘we need to look forward not backwards’. It is what he said to avoid taking action on the torture and other crimes of the Bush-Cheney regime. That tactic tries to wipe clean its many past crimes without acknowledging responsibility, or bringing the guilty to justice, or otherwise making amends.