In a significant change in reporting at The New York Times, the newspaper last week became the first major news outlet in the English language media to report on what the rest of the governments in the Western Hemisphere think of U.S. policy toward Venezuela.
This is potentially important because this part of the story, which has heretofore been ignored, could begin to change many people’s perceptions of what is behind the problems in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, if other journalists begin to report on it. The Obama administration is more isolated in Latin America than even George W. Bush was, but hardly anyone who depends on the major hemispheric media would know that, because the point of view of governments other than the U.S. is not reported.
The Times article contains this very succinct and eloquent comment on the new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela from Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa:
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“It ought to be a joke in bad taste that reminds us of the darkest hours of our America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by the imperialists,” Mr. Correa wrote. “Can’t they understand that Latin America has changed?”
The last line really sums up the situation: They really don’t understand that Latin America has changed. One can follow all the foreign policy debates in Washington about Latin America, in the media or in journals such as Foreign Affairs, and there really is almost no acknowledgment of the new reality. In this sense the discussion of hemispheric relations is different from most other areas of U.S. foreign policy, e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, even Israel and Palestine – where there is at least some debate that reaches the intelligentsia and the public. (The new Cold War with Russia is perhaps exceptional in the pervasiveness of a sheep-like mentality and uniformity of thinking – as Russia expert Stephen Cohen of Princeton has pointed out reminiscent of the 1950s; but it remains to be seen how long this can last, and even in this robust display of groupthink there is a small smattering of exceptions that break through.)
Latin America really has changed, drastically, and Correa’s view represents the vast majority of governments in the region, even if some are more diplomatic in their expression of it. This can be seen in the strong statements criticizing U.S. actions from regional organizations such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which includes every country in the hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada; and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations). (The Times article mentioned that these two organizations “issued statements expressing concern,” although that was a bit of an understatement.)
More generally, the vast majority of Latin American governments now have a foreign policy independent of Washington, which has never been true before the 21st century; and they are also much more independent of Washington in their economic policies. As recently as 2002, for example, the U.S. was able to exert a major influence on the economic policy of even the region’s largest economy, Brazil, through the International Monetary Fund.
The White House’s latest move is seen throughout the region as so outrageous and threatening that it will likely be reversed, eventually, under pressure from Latin American governments. That is what happened in April 2013, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry refused to recognize the results of Venezuela’s presidential election, even though there was no doubt about the outcome. At first, Washington was able to get OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, and the right-wing government in Spain, to join in refusing to recognize the result; but then these two allies gave in under pressure, and Kerry was left completely alone, whereupon Washington recognized the results.