President Biden says that America is "opening a new era of relentless diplomacy." Apparently, that does not include Latin America. Recently, the US has unleashed a number of aggressive moves across the region.
American aggression against Venezuela has not lessened under the Biden administration. "There hasn’t been a single positive sign," Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says, "None." The Biden administration continues the Trump administration policy of recognizing Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, it continues its deadly sanctions and it continues to pursue “an effective policy that can restore Venezuela to democracy.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has aggressively called Maduro a "brutal dictator." Blinken called "Interim President Juan Guaidó," stressing the need for "free and fair elections." Blinken said that the US is working with their usual cast of "like-minded allies," like the OAS, to exert pressure on Venezuela. Maduro knows what pressure the US and the OAS exert.
The US policy of attempting to delegitimize Maduro’s victories by pressuring the opposition to boycott elections has failed. Maduro remains in power. Any support or popularity Guaidó ever had is gone, and Maduro’s party remains well ahead in polls for the upcoming state and local elections. So, the Biden administration has reversed strategy: they are pressuring the opposition to run in the upcoming election to try to defeat the party of Maduro.
Despite promises to the contrary, Biden has maintained Trump’s hardline on Cuba by voting against the near unanimous UN resolution to finally end the blockade on Cuba, and refusing to lift the restrictions on remittances to Cuba that make it impossible for Cuban Americans to send money home to their families. He has made moves toward keeping Cuba on the state sponsors of terrorism list by listing Cuba as a country “not cooperating fully with United States anti-terrorism efforts."
He has gone beyond preserving Trump’s moves by increasing sanctions on several senior Cuban officials in the military and police. Most significantly, Cuba expert William LeoGrande reports that the US embassy in Havana "has taken a leading role supporting dissident activists, pushing the boundaries of what’s normally allowed under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations." Cuban journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde reports that "in September, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) gave $6,669,000 in grants for projects aimed at ‘regime change’ in Cuba." LeoGrande says that "The United States and Cuba are on a collision course over U.S. diplomats’ support for "democracy promotion" programs."
This US intervention in Cuba is reminiscent of earlier bad times between the US and Cuba. In Back Channel to Cuba, LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh say that, under George W. Bush, funding for democracy promotion in Cuba not only soared, but it was the US Interest Section in Havana that "spearheaded this expanded support for regime opposition. Support for the dissidents supplanted diplomatic communication as the Interest Section’s principal mission." Castro poetically described the US Special Interest Section as "a breeding ground for counterrevolutionaries and a command post for the most offensive subversive actions against our country."
Castro’s complaint against the US two decades ago is echoed by Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel complaint that the US Embassy is "playing an active role in the efforts to subvert the internal order in our country." Biden’s democracy promotion and intervention in Cuban affairs has brought US Cuba policy back to the aggressive levels of pre-Obama times.
Set in a confusingly inconsistent picture of free healthcare, education, social programs and autocracy, Stephen Kinzer has described Daniel Ortega’s descent into an "absolute overlord [who] appears determined to rule until death." He says that prior to the November 7 elections, Ortega cracked down with "ferocity," including ordering the arrest of opposition leaders and imprisoning civic resistance leaders.
But the US wasn’t innocent of election meddling either. According to reporting by Ben Norton, major US social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, undertook a "politically motivated campaign" that "censored top Nicaraguan news outlets and hundreds of journalists and activists who support their country’s leftist Sandinista government." Norton describes the election interference as "part and parcel of the US government’s political assault on Nicaragua."
During the Trump administration, the US was supportive of, and participated in, a classic silent coup in which you ensure that the unpopular candidate that you want in power wins by barring the popular candidate that the people want to win from running. In a rare sign of foreign policy correction, the Biden administration seemed to break with Trump and put an end to support for the coup.
But the moment of non-intervention is over. The US is back to its aggressive behaviour in Ecuador.
In the end, the benefactor of the election interference was Guillermo Lasso. On October 18, Lasso declared a state of emergency. The people of Ecuador had their constitutional rights suspended and the streets of Ecuador were taken over by armed soldiers. According to reporting by Vijay Prashad and Taroa Zúñiga Silva, the justification given for the state of emergency was the killing of a child who got caught in the crossfire between police and an armed robber. Lasso explained that the state of emergency was necessary to combat Ecuador’s drug gangs.
While tragic, the child’s death does not justify the militarization of Ecuador and the suspension of constitutional rights. Nonetheless, the very next day, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken jetted into Ecuador to support Lasso. Shockingly, he said in his press statement that "we know that in democracies there are times when, with exceptional circumstances, measures are necessary to deal with urgencies and urgent situations like the one Ecuador is experiencing now. And as I discussed with President Lasso, we understand that, support that. . . ."
The Biden administration’s aggressive intervention into Ecuador’s domestic affairs in support of Lasso’s suspension of constitutional rights is equaled only by an earlier, similar act of aggression in supporting a state of emergency. In 1992, Boris Yeltsin declared a state of emergency in Russia and reassumed the temporary dictatorial powers that had been stripped of him by the people. Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled that Yeltsin was acting unconstitutionally, but the US supported Yeltsin. Intoxicated with American support, Yeltsin dissolved parliament and abolished the constitution. Shockingly, then, as now, President Clinton "praised the Russian President has (sic) having done ‘quite well’ in managing the standoff with the Russian Parliament,” as The New York Times reported at the time. Clinton added that he thought “the United States and the free world ought to hang in there” with their support of Yeltsin against his people, their constitution and their courts, and judged Yeltsin to be “on the right side of history.”
The US intervention is an aggressive act of support for Lasso’s suspension of constitutional rights and militarization of Ecuador. Lasso’s austerity program, in a country struggling under poverty and malnutrition, is deeply unpopular. Just as the call went out for the people mobilize against the austerity program and take to the streets, Lasso declared the state of emergency and took over the streets.
Lasso’s declaration of a state of emergency seems to be more motivated by the desire to protect his unpopular government from the people than by the desire to protect the people. American support is an invasive act of aggression that joins a growing list of new acts of aggression in Latin America.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.