Obama’s Latin America Team

Arturo Valenzuela, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said on 30 April that governments should not criticize the electoral candidates of other countries because it constitutes “intervention in the internal affairs” of nations.

Of course, this never applies to the US government, which routinely interferes in the internal affairs of countries everywhere in the world including Latin America.

It doesn’t matter if the White House is in Democratic or Republican hands. Former President Bill Clinton invaded Haiti, and former President George W. Bush invaded Iraq. Both invasions were officially meant to overthrow despots and create democracies.

Both countries are still basket cases, but Iraq has oil while Haiti has millions of potential “balseros” who’d be rowing to Florida right now if they could find any wood.

Before Clinton’s nation-building adventure in Haiti, there was Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980s, and Chile back in 1973. But life was simpler during the Cold War.

Sure, Republican US administrations of the past 50 years historically have interfered all over the region more than the Democrats, but partisan arguments about which US political party is more guilty of interventionism in the region than the other is like debating whether the egg or the chicken came first.

The history of US relations with Latin America always has been interventionist, especially in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. The Monroe Doctrine, the Marines in Nicaragua and Haiti in the 1930s, Teddy Roosevelt’s decision to steal Panama from Colombia so he could build his Canal.

So it’s hilarious when Valenzuela says that countries should not interfere in the presidential elections of other countries.

Valenzuela and his colleague Dan Restrepo at the White House have done nothing but interfere in the internal electoral affairs of Honduras since former President Mel “Stetson” Zelaya was constitutionally/legally ousted by decision of the Supreme Court and Congress of Honduras.

Zelaya, with the eager assistance of President Hugo Chavez, was determined to make himself the Chavez of Honduras. Zelaya ignored the Constitution, broke the laws of Honduras and defied the Supreme Court and Congress.

Yes, Zelaya was deposed in June 2009 and Valenzuela wasn’t confirmed as assistant secretary of state for the region until November 2009. But Valenzuela has been trying to make up for lost time since then.

Valenzuela has never liked the official US Honduras “solution” – which was to support new presidential elections on schedule and forget about Stetson Mel.

Valenzuela “feels that Honduras (the institutions and leaders that booted Zelaya aka Wannabe Hugo) walked all over the Obama administration,” says a Latin American source in Washington.

“Valenzuela wants to place his mark on Honduras,” adds this source. It’s not clear what that entails.

But Valenzuela still calls the happenings in Honduras a “coup” even though the US government’s official investigation concluded that Stetson Mel was ousted democratically though he shouldn’t have been forced to leave the country.

Interesting that Valenzuela thinks the democratic institutions of Honduras walked all over the Obama administration.

President Hugo Chavez routinely walks all over the Obama administration and anyone else who stokes his thin-skinned ire, but Valenzuela and Restrepo never say anything critical about Chavez with even a little conviction.

How important is Latin America to the Obama administration?

“This is Bush redux, only worse,” says our Latin America source in Washington. “Bush never cared about Latin America, but at least his instincts were in the right place. He knew who the good and bad guys were.”

Except that Bush’s Latin America policy foundered at launch in January 2001.

But our Latin American source in Washington insists, “Seriously, the guys now running Latin America – Valenzuela and Restrepo – are a major step back in US relations with Latin America. They are clueless about what’s happening in the region, they have no political traction in the region, and they are not sufficiently high-level power players in Washington or Latin America.”

Our source in DC, who is not a US citizen and has never worked in any capacity for any US government, is very critical of Valenzuela: “Everywhere Arturo has traveled in the region, he has committed one faux pas after another, like not showing up at the swearing-in of Chile’s new President, Sebastián Piñera. Valenzuela is the wrong person for the job. There are critical issues in the region, trade, energy, Colombia, Venezuela, among others. But Valenzuela is not a diplomat and tries instead to be academic about matters of foreign policy.”

Another source, a US Republican, says that Valenzuela has the same problem that Roger Noriega experienced in his interactions with Latin American governments during the Bush administration. “Arturo is viewed as a political lightweight in the region. (Thomas A.) Shannon (the current US Ambassador to Brazil) was perceived regionally as having more credibility than either Valenzuela or Noriega.”

But Shannon was a career foreign service officer serving two presidents (Bush and Obama) who prize personal/political loyalty to the president above everything else. Shannon was never a political insider, so neither Bush nor Obama cared much for his counsel.

Why are Valenzuela and Restrepo Bush redux? “Because their top priority is to avoid the eruption of any major crises in Latin America,” says our Latin American source in DC.

But President Chavez in Venezuela won’t oblige.

Our Latin America source predicts that a major crisis will erupt in Venezuela before the next US presidential elections.

“Chavez still sits in the driver’s seat, but developments in Venezuela increasingly escape his control. And when Venezuela finally crashes, as it will beyond a doubt, the US government will be surprised and unprepared,” he says.

About Caracas Gringo

Representing less than 0.00000000001515152% of the world population as of 31 December 2011.
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1 Response to Obama’s Latin America Team

  1. Martin says:

    Gringo: Welcome back. I’m sure you are right in your general perceptions in this post and previous ones about US policy towards Latin America and Chavez in particular. It is dominated by one overriding consideration – peace at all costs. For both Bush and Obama it has been the same. Above all we cannot dare to harbor even the thought of having a dangerous enemy here in our backyards ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE! ( ie the whole of the rest of the world, which is giving us plenty of grief, thank you very much) So we bury our head in the sand. We continue to call him ‘not a threat.’ We continue to play the game of ‘I can’t see you’ in the different ways that our different political stripes play that game. And he continues to tweak our tail, becoming more brazen, more outrageous, more dictatorial and yes, more dangerous.
    How much longer is the whole ridiculous charade going to go on?


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