FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Washington’s Dog-Whistle Diplomacy Supports Attempted Coup in Brazil

The day after the impeachment vote in the lower house of Brazil’s congress, one of the leaders of the effort, Senator Aloysio Nunes, traveled to Washington, D.C. He had scheduled meetings with a number of U.S. officials, including Thomas Shannon at the State Department.

Shannon has a relatively low profile in the media, but he is the number three official in the U.S. State Department. Even more significantly in this case, he is the most influential person in the State Department on U.S. policy in Latin America. He will be the one recommending to Secretary of State John Kerry what the U.S. should do as the ongoing efforts to remove President Dilma Rousseff proceed.

Shannon’s willingness to meet with Nunes just days after the impeachment vote sends a powerful signal that Washington is on board with the opposition in this venture. How do we know this? Very simply, Shannon did not have to have this meeting. If he wanted to show that Washington was neutral in this fierce and deeply polarizing political conflict, he would not have a meeting with high-profile protagonists on either side, especially at this particular moment.

Shannon’s meeting with Nunes is an example of what could be called “dog-whistle diplomacy.” It barely shows up on the radar of the media reporting on the conflict, and therefore is unlikely to generate backlash. But all the major actors know exactly what it means. That is why Nunes’ party, the Social Democracy Party (PSDB), publicized the meeting.

To illustrate with another example of dog-whistle diplomacy: On June 28, 2009, the Honduran military kidnapped the country’s president, Mel Zelaya, and flew him out of the country. The White House statement in response did not condemn this coup, but rather called on “all political and social actors in Honduras” to respect democracy.

This dog-whistle signal worked perfectly; most importantly the coup leaders and their supporters in Honduras, as well as every diplomat in Washington, knew exactly what this meant, even as statements condemning the coup and demanding the restoration of the democratic government came pouring in from around the globe. Everyone knew that this was, in diplomatic code, a clear statement of support for the coup. The events that followed over the next six months, with Washington doing everything it could to help consolidate and legitimize the coup government, were pretty much predictable from this initial statement. Hillary Clinton later admitted in her 2014 book, “Hard Choices,” that she worked successfully to prevent the return of the democratically elected president.

Tom Shannon has a reputation among Latin American diplomats as an amiable fellow, a seasoned career foreign service officer who is willing to sit down and talk with governments that are at odds with U.S. policy in the region. But he has had a lot of experience with coups. Some of Hillary Clinton’s released emails shed additional light on his role in helping to consolidate the Honduran coup. He was also a high-level State Department official during the April 2002 coup in Venezuela, in which there is substantial documentary evidence of U.S. involvement. And when the parliamentary coup in Paraguay took place in 2012 — something similar to what is happening in Brazil but with a process that impeached and removed the president in just 24 hours — Washington also contributed to the legitimation of the coup government in the aftermath. (By contrast, South American governments suspended the coup government in Paraguay from MERCOSUR, the regional trading bloc, and UNASUR [the Union of South American Nations).] Shannon was ambassador to Brazil at that time, but was still one of the most influential officials in hemispheric policy.

The U.S. State Department responded to questions about Nunes’ meetings by saying, “This meeting had been planned for months and was arranged at the request of the Brazilian embassy.” But this is irrelevant. It merely means that Brazilian embassy staff were, as a matter of diplomatic protocol, involved in arranging the meetings. This does not imply any consent by the Rousseff administration, nor change the political message that the meeting with Shannon sends to the opposition in Brazil.

All of this is of course consistent with Washington’s strategy in response to the left governments that have governed most of the region in the 21st century. They have rarely missed an opportunity to undermine or get rid of any of them, and their desire to replace the governing Workers’ Party in Brazil with a more compliant, right-wing government is fairly obvious.

This column originally appeared in Huffington Post.

More articles by:

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  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers Strike: Black Smoke Pouring Out of LAUSD Headquarters
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail