Hillary Clinton’s Lack of Respect for Latin America

“A great nation must command the respect of others,” writes Hillary Clinton in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. But what about showing a little respect? In her infatuation with U.S. power and the transcendent “American idea,” she forgets that international cooperation is not just about winning respect, it’s also about respecting other nations.

In her outline of her foreign policy agenda, titled “Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century,” Clinton laments that the Bush administration “has squandered the respect, trust, and confidence of even our closest allies and friends.” As president, Clinton promises to introduce America to the world, and to demonstrate that the “United States is committed to building a world we want, rather than simply defending against a world we fear.” That world, says Clinton, will be “a world of security and opportunity.”

But Clinton’s cursory review of Latin America policy won’t win much respect in Latin America. In the one paragraph devoted to Latin America in her 18-page essay, Clinton focused more on U.S. fear of new political developments in the region than on ways to increase human security and opportunity.

According to Clinton, the Bush administration neglected “at our peril” the new political developments in Latin America. Without naming names, Clinton asserts, “We have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and economic openness in parts of Latin America.”

Rather than applauding the new willingness of an increasing number of elected governments to tackle the structural obstacles that have marginalized the poor and indigenous populations, Clinton evokes a picture of a region threatened by retrograde forces. Blaming the Bush administration for its negligence, Clinton implies that a more engaged U.S. policy could have obstructed the rise of democratically elected left-center governments, such as those in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

“We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement: this is too critical a region for the United States to stand idly by,” asserts Clinton.

But what kind of “vigorous engagement” is she talking about? Past forms have included intervention in national elections, financial and military support for illegal opposition movements, propaganda campaigns to carry the message of pro-U.S. forces and vilify others. Any “return” to policies like these is not likely to be regarded kindly in Latin America. With few positive examples to cite recently, U.S. engagement to protect “critical” U.S. geopolitical and economic interests has too often been synonymous with intervention.

Priorities in the region, according to Clinton, include supporting the “largest developing democracies in the region, Brazil and Mexico”; deepening “economic and strategic cooperation with Argentina and Chile”; and combating “the interconnected threats of drug trafficking, crime, and insurgency” in Colombia, Central America, and the Caribbean.

After establishing this aggressive agenda for U.S. involvement in security issues she concludes, “We must work with our allies to provide sustainable-development programs that promote economic opportunity and reduce inequality for the citizens of Latin America.”

In short as president, Hillary Clinton’s Latin American policy would likely be very similar to that of the Bush I, Clinton I, and Bush II administrations before her-with the only notable difference being that her administration may take stronger measures to counter governments that dare to determine their own trade, development, and foreign policies.

In laying out her policy, she fails to mention the need to overhaul the monumentally flawed Cuba policy, and in fact has said elsewhere that she wouldn’t lift the trade embargo until there is a “democratic transition.” Apparently she has no intention of modifying the strategy of the failed drug wars either, even though U.S. policies of drug interdiction, drug eradication, and counterinsurgency have not slowed the flow of illegal drugs and have caused enormous problems of displacement and environmental destruction.

Candidate Clinton offers a U.S. policy that promotes economic opportunity to reduce inequality. But her solutions-economic “openness” and foreign aid-are the standard formulas that have increased inequality and prompted the search for alternatives among the nations she criticizes for “rolling back economic openness” in an effort to provide basic needs to their citizens.

While the Washington political establishment is stuck within a narrow band of policy options, Latin American nations, particularly in South America, are experimenting with new policies aimed at setting their nations on sustainable development paths. Establishing national control over energy resources, sponsoring agrarian reforms, and breaking free of the economic reforms imposed by the international financial institutions are among the policies that have antagonized the Bush administration.

To win the respect of Latin Americans, Clinton doesn’t need to endorse these policy alternatives. But she does need to respect the right of Latin Americans to set their own directions.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt set out to build cooperative relations in Latin America after three decades of imperial interventions and occupations, he promised that his “policy of the good neighbor” would be founded on “mutual respect” and self-determination. While the FDR administration did not always follow its own good neighbor principles, it did go a long way to building respect for the United States and a culture of cooperation in the Americas.

Clinton asserts that respect can be won by a leadership that “draws on all the dimensions of American power” and reestablishes the authority of the “American idea.” But to regain respect for U.S. leadership, whether in Latin America or elsewhere, the United States will need to return to basic good neighbor principles. Rather than relying on its power and ideas that have largely lost credibility in the hemisphere, she needs to let Latin Americans set their own policy agendas. Some new thinking is long overdue, but Hillary Clinton isn’t offering it.

Clinton fails to recognize that the United States must acknowledge that U.S.-Latin America relations are imperiled much more by U.S. arrogance and its misdirected “engagement” than by negligence or inaction in the face of imagined threats to U.S. interests. Moving forward, the foundation of improved relations and sustainable development in the Americas must be “mutual respect.”

If Clinton wants respect for U.S. foreign policy, then she will need to show more respect for our southern neighbors. As a start, Clinton should tell Latin Americans that she respects their right to decide for themselves what is needed to ensure “security and opportunity.”

TOM BARRY is a senior analyst with the Americas Policy Program of the Center for International Policy.



More articles by:

Tom Barry directs the Transborder Program at the Center for International Policy and is a contributor to the Americas Program www.cipamericas.org.


April 25, 2019
Marc Levy
All My Vexes Are in Texas
Jim Kavanagh
Avoiding Assange
Michael D. Yates
The Road Beckons
Julian Vigo
Notre Dame Shows the Unifying Force of Culture, Grenfell Reveals the Corruption of Government
Ted Rall
Democratic Refusal to Impeach Could Be Disastrous
Tracey Harris
Lessons Learned From the Tiny House Movement
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Human Flourishing (Eudaimonia): an Antidote to Extinction?
Dana Johnson
Buyer Beware: Hovercraft Ruling Deals a Major Blow to Land Conservation in Alaska
Norman Solomon
Joe Biden: Puffery vs. Reality
Jen Marlowe
The Palestine Marathon
Binoy Kampmark
Lethal Bungling: Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings
Michael Slager
“Where’s Your Plan?” Legalized Bribery and Climate Change
Jesse Jackson
Trump Plunges the US Deeper Into Forgotten Wars
George Wuerthner
BLM Grazing Decision Will Damage the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness
April 24, 2019
Susan Babbitt
Disdain and Dignity: An Old (Anti-Imperialist) Story
Adam Jonas Horowitz
Letter to the Emperor
Lawrence Davidson
A Decisive Struggle For Our Future
John Steppling
The Mandate for Israel: Keep the Arabs Down
Victor Grossman
Many Feet
Cira Pascual Marquina
The Commune is the Supreme Expression of Participatory Democracy: a Conversation with Anacaona Marin of El Panal Commune
Binoy Kampmark
Failed States and Militias: General Khalifa Haftar Moves on Tripoli
Dean Baker
Payments to Hospitals Aren’t Going to Hospital Buildings
Alvaro Huerta
Top Ten List in Defense of MEChA
Colin Todhunter
As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?
Charlie Gers
Trump’s Transgender Troops Ban is un-American and Inhumane
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Just Another Spring in Progress?
Thomas Knapp
On Obstruction, the Mueller Report is Clintonesque
Elliot Sperber
Every Truck’s a Garbage Truck
April 23, 2019
Peter Bolton
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism