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Latest Plane Bullying Rift Pits Washington Against South America

A new controversy aggravating already strained relations between Washington and Caracas threatens to destabilise relations with other South American countries.

A new controversy aggravating already strained relations between Washington and Caracas threatens to destabilise relations with other South American countries. On Thursday night Venezuelan Secretary of State Elias Jaua announced that the United States denied the Presidential Plane the right to fly over Puerto Rico on it’s way to China for diplomatic meetings. Outraged at American refusal to grant Venezuelan state leaders authorisation to fly over American airspace President Nicolas Maduro denounced Washington’s decision: “To refuse permission to a head of state to fly over airspace that they colonized in Puerto Rico is a serious offense.” This comes months after the United States refused to recognize the results of Venezuela’s elections in the aftermath of President Chavez’s death. Canadian based Foundation for Democratic Advancement ranked Venezuelan elections number 1 in fairness. The International Elections Report released by the Carter Center for Peace also found Venezuelan elections to be among the fairest in the world.

Responding to the news Ecuadorean Secretary of State Ricardo Patino posted on his twitter account: “First it was Bolivia. Now it is Venezuela. What do they want? To jeapordize the goodwill between peoples and peace in the world?” Patino was alluding to the forced landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales this past July. The United States ordered European countries to prevent the plane from flying through their airspace because, the US believed, Edward Snowden may have been aboard the President’s plane.

From Venezuela’s perspective Thursday’s rift fits into a wider context of American aggression in Venezuela. Less than a decade ago the Bush administration sought to oust Hugo Chavez from the Presidency of Venezuela. In a secretly backed coup, America threw its weight behind businessman Pedro Carmona. Carmona was installed. But the coup was reversed within 48 hours restoring Chavez to power. Washington’s ambitions to prop up a leader running on deregulation, privatization and hacking social programs (the typical conditions of securing US financed loans) would never materialize. Chavez bounced back bedeviling the Bush administration. Salivating foreign investors and oil tycoons lost their shot at bonanza in the resource-rich country.

Washington’s latest airspace bully controversy also comes just days after Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff canceled a meeting with President Obama at the White House. Leaks by Edward Snowden that were reported by Glenn Greenwald and TV Globo revealed that the NSA had been spying on President Rouseff’s personal communications and had targeted the computer systems of Petrosbas, Brazil’s majority-owned state oil company.

Refusing to recognize election results, grounding planes or refusing their travel, backing coups in Latin America as the Bush Administration did in 2002 or tacitly supporting coups as the Obama Administration did in Honduras in 2009 are all indicators of the arrogance of US Foreign Policy. Furthermore they highlight Washington’s refusal to accept the geopolitical shift known as Latin America’s “second independence”, that has resulted in a wave of popularly elected governments across the region. The rising tide of Latin American governments challenging neoliberal orthodoxy and refusing to bow to Washington reflects a real rebalancing of power. America’s aggressive tactics aren’t persuasive to leaders who were elected without covert American military backing. Reacting to the US forced landing of Morales’ plane in July Argentina’s President Christina Kirchner tweeted, “They’ve definitely gone crazy.” That the Obama Administration could have possibly calculated any strategic advantage in prohibiting Venezuelan heads of state from flying over Puerto Rico is, just that, crazy.