US Influence in Latin America is on the Decline

Petro’s victory has meant the biggest setback for US influence on the continent

Jesus Inojosa, August 14, 2022
Influencia de EEUU en América Latina va en caída

The victory of Gustavo Petro in Colombia and his inauguration as President of the New Granada nation has set off alarm bells in the United States, where the possible end of the so-called “Washington influence” in Latin America is being visualized.

“It is time for a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has utterly failed, that it has left a million Latin Americans murdered, most of them Colombians, and that it leaves 70,000 North Americans dead from drug overdoses every year; none produced in Latin America”.

These words pronounced by Petro during the speech at his inauguration this Sunday, question head-on the US policy in Venezuela’s neighbor with the so-called “Plan Colombia”, which could mean the possibility of ending this agreement that has allowed the US install no less than nine military bases in Colombian territory and guarantee the free action of officials of the DEA, the CIA and the US Army, as well as the implementation of the extraterritoriality of its laws in this nation.

To this arrival of the first leader fully identified with the left to the highest office of the Colombian Executive in more than 200 years of republican life, is added what seems to be the imminent victory of Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva in Brazil, who has said publicly stated his intention to strengthen Latin American integration and who has been critical of US actions on the continent.  

“The truth is that Latin America does not have the right to be democratic and take care of its people, because the Americans threaten Latin Americans as if they were their own backyard,” Lula has said.

From Obama to Biden

When Barack Obama became president of the United States in 2008, a series of unity mechanisms sponsored by Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil were being forged in Latin America. It was between 2007 and 2011, when the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and later the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) were born, organizations that pointed towards a relationship of this region without the presence of United States and Canada.

The presence of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Felipe Mujica in Uruguay, Néstor Kirchner in Argentina, Lula da Silva in Brazil, Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, Leonel Fernández in the Dominican Republic, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela represented a correlation of forces where the left and progressivism led and promoted integration initiatives without the United States.

This was the scenario found by Obama, who after eight years of government and through actions that included military coups (Zelaya in 2009), legislative coup (Fernando Lugo in Paraguay in 2012 and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil in 2016), added to the victory of Mauricio Macri in Argentina (2015) and the betrayal of Lenin Moreno in Ecuador (2017), allowed the political map to be reconfigured and allied figures to be positioned in governments with great influence in Latin America due to their size. and economy.

By 2019, with Donald Trump as president of the North American nation, after the coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia, except for Venezuela in South America, presidents allied to the United States ruled, while in Central America the same thing happened with the exception of Nicaragua.

This correlation of forces made it possible to dismantle Unasur, which experienced a kind of disbandment of governments that expressed their decision to abandon this mechanism and found “ProSur” sponsored by Colombian President Iván Duque and his Chilean counterpart, Sebastián Piñera, thus decreeing what was visualized as the death of the South American Union of Nations.

The same fate was awaiting CELAC, where despite there being no announcements of withdrawal by the member states, it slowed down its actions, limiting itself only to annual meetings, where the proposals and actions were symbolic.

It was during this period that the Organization of American States (OAS), with Luis Almagro as secretary general, resumed its role as a political forum for the continent with a clear tendency to support the US strategy for Latin America, which was reflected in the isolation of Venezuela, Nicaragua,and Cuba.

Summit of the Americas in rebellion

This entire scenario began to reverse with the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico (2018), the subsequent arrival of Alberto Fernández to the Argentine presidency (2019), the triumph of Luis Arce in Bolivia (2020), the promotion to the Chilean Executive of Gabriel Boric and the conquest of the Honduran presidency by Xiomara Castro (Zelaya’s wife) both in 2022.

This wave of left-learning and progressive governments, which already denoted the loss of US political influence, became evident during the recent Summit of the Americas held in the United States, where the decision to exclude Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua unleashed criticism from a large number of the continent’s leaders who decided not to attend as a sign of protest.

The first to speak out was López Obrador , and he was followed by Bolivia’s Arce, Honduras’ Castro, and most of the prime ministers of Caribbean nations, who questioned the Biden administration’s decision.

In addition to these absences, there were those who did attend but objected to the exclusions, an issue that focused the debate at this Summit, which was described as a failure by the White House.

“We definitely would have wanted another Summit of the Americas. The silence of those who were absent challenges us. So that this does not happen again, I would like to state for the future that the fact of being the host country of the Summit does not grant the capacity to impose a ‘right of admission’ on the member countries of the continent”, questioned the Argentine president in his capacity as president pro tempore of CELAC.

Not Only From the Left

These questions and positions of “rebellion” against the policies of the United States and organizations such as the OAS, on this occasion are not limited only to leftist and progressive governments, as demonstrated by the position of Nayib Bukele of El Salvador and Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala, who have indicated their rejection of US interference in their internal affairs.

Both presidents have been frontal in their accusations against the United States, which they point to as the main promoter of the oppositions in their countries, as well as precursors in overthrow plans.

“What would the US government say if we were to finance their political opposition? Because that is what these NGOs do, and the whole world knows it,” said Bukele, while Giammatei said that “the US ambassador to Guatemala, William Popp, is meeting with indigenous leaders seeking to overthrow my government.”

Both Giammatei and Bukele also joined the voices of protest against US policies and were absent from the continental meeting.

This resurgence of nationalist and Latin American governments, added with “rebels” on the right, translates into greater numerical strength and a presence in key countries which, when compared to what happened in the past decade, represents the movement of rulers who are moving away from the “influence” of the United States in this region, which they considered as their “backyard”.

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