What Europe Could Learn From Latin America’s Independence


With a few exceptions, most of Europe hasn’t had an independent foreign policy for the past 70 years, and the U.K. stands out as a prime example of this.   I remember discussing British foreign policy with a U.K. Member of Parliament a few years ago, and he said to me, “Do you want to know what the Foreign Office is going to do?  Just ask the (U.S.) State Department.”

The British government proved its first loyalty once again by detaining Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian partner, David Miranda, under the U.K.’s Terrorism Act 2000 as he passed through London’s Heathrow airport on Sunday.  He was interrogated for the maximum of 9 hours and his laptop, cell phone, and other stores of digital information were seized.  It is clear that Miranda was not suspected of any connection to terrorism.  To detain and rob Miranda on this pretext is no more legal than to have done so on trumped up allegations that he was transporting cocaine.  The White House has admitted that Washington had advance knowledge of the crime, and so we can infer approval – if not active collaboration.

It is interesting, too, because the U.K. government had previously kept a relatively low public profile on the Snowden case, despite the fact that Snowden had leaked files from its own intelligence gathering and not just the NSA’s.  Until Sunday it looked as though the British authorities had learned at least a little bit about public relations after their international embarrassment last year, when they threatened to invade Ecuador’s embassy in order to capture Julian Assange.  Although they are still keeping Assange trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, illegally, and presumably at the behest of you know who.  And the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, now reveals that the U.K. government, at the highest levels, has been very seriously threatening and harassing his newspaper in an attempt to silence it.

At the other end of the spectrum of national sovereignty are the independent nations of Latin America, three of whom have officially offered Snowden asylum, and others who would never turn him over to the United States if he were to land on their territory (or in their embassies).  These governments  have played a significant role in the Snowden affair and NSA spying scandal because they  have achieved a “second independence” over the past 15 years that enables them to pursue an autonomous foreign policy.  The exercise of this new independence is largely ignored or, more often, denigrated in the major media as populist demagoguery.  But it is easy to see that the “problem” is much deeper than that.

Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota demanded answers from U.K. foreign secretary William Hague over the detention of David Miranda.  Last week, at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Brazil, Patriota spoke of a “shadow of distrust” caused by Snowden and Greenwald’s revelations that Brazilian citizens were a major target of NSA surveillance. He called for the Obama administration to “stop practices that violate sovereignty.”   Patriota was previously Brazil’s ambassador to Washington and nobody can accuse him of holding a grudge against the United States.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff had also expressed her “indignation” over what Bolivia described as the “kidnapping” of President Evo Morales by the European governments who forced down his plane last month on the basis of false allegations that he was transporting Edward Snowden.  “We believe this constitutes not only the humiliation of a sister nation but of all South America,” said Argentine president Cristina Kirchner, and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) also issued a strong denunciation.

Brazil is the main target of Washington’s most recent charm offensive, with President Dilma Rouseff scheduled for an official state visit in October — the first by a Brazilian president in nearly two decades. The U.S. does not even have ambassadorial relations with Bolivia or Venezuela.  But the U.S. attempt to improve relations with Brazil is not going any better than its “diplomatic efforts” with the other left governments of the region. This is not because these governments wouldn’t want better relations – they all, including Venezuela, have significant trade and commercial relations with the U.S. and would like to expand these.

The problem is that Washington has still not accepted Latin America’s second independence, and expects its southern neighbors to behave in the same embarrassingly obedient way as Europe.  And U.S. officials still don’t understand that they are dealing with a team – they can’t be hostile or aggressive towards one country and expect the others to give them a big hug.  So we cannot expect better relations between Washington and its southern neighbors any time soon.

On the positive side, Latin America has done quite well over the past decade, since its people became free enough to elect left governments, which have subsequently led the fight for independence and transformed regional relations.  Regional povertydropped from 41.5 to 29.6 percent from 2003-2009, after showing no significant improvement for more than 20 years.  Income per person has grown by more than 2 percent annually over the past decade, as opposed to just 0.3 percent over the prior 20 years, when Washington’s influence over economic policy in Latin America was enormous.  The left governments’ detractors attribute these improvements to a “commodities boom,” but this is just a fraction of the story.  The region would never have seen such improvements in employment and poverty reduction if the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were still calling the shots.

As for Europe’s leaders, well, they have nothing to lose but their national dignity, which they don’t seem to value very highly.  But the world will be a better and safer place when Europe, like most of Latin America, declares its independence from Washington.

Mark Weisbrot is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: the Phony Crisis.

This essay originally appeared in The Guardian

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the forthcoming book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

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