Over 100 Groups Call on Biden to Adopt a Good Neighbor Policy Toward Latin America
By Medea Benjamin and Leonardo Flores (*)
Election season is a difficult time to develop good policies
towards Latin America, since both Democrats and Republicans cater to the small,
but organized, conservative factions of the Latinx community in Florida, vying
for their votes. But if Biden wins the White House, there is a chance to
reverse the Trump administration policies that have been devastating for Latin
America, policies that punish innocent civilians through harsh economic
sanctions, destabilize the region through coups and attempts at regime change,
and close our borders to desperate people fleeing north in search of safety and
opportunity, often as a result of U.S. security and economic policies.
The Trump administration openly calls its Latin America and
Caribbean policy the “Monroe Doctrine 2.0.” The Monroe Doctrine – asserting
U.S. geopolitical control over the region – served as a pretext for over 100
years of military invasions, support for military dictatorships, the training
and financing of security forces involved in mass human rights violations and
economic blackmail, among other horrors.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt distanced himself from this
doctrine, outlining a new vision for relations in the hemisphere. His “Good
Neighbor” policy temporarily ended the gunboat diplomacy that characterized
U.S. foreign policy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the
policy had its flaws, such as FDR’s support for the Somoza dictatorship in
Nicaragua, his administration’s failures were often the result of not adhering
to the Good Neighbor principle of non-interference.
That is why over 100 organizations that work on issues
related to Latin America and the Caribbean sent a letter calling for the next
administration to adopt a new Good Neighbor Policy toward the region based on
non-intervention, cooperation and mutual respect. Among the organizations calling
for a new approach are Alianza Americas, Amazon Watch, the Americas Program,
Center for International Policy, CODEPINK, Demand Progress, Global Exchange,
the Latin America Working Group and Oxfam America.
The letter to the presidential candidates warns that in
January 2021, the U.S. president will face a hemisphere that will not only
still be reeling from the coronavirus but will also be experiencing a deep
economic recession, and that the best to help is not by seeking to impose its
will, but rather by adopting a broad set of reforms to reframe relations with
our neighbors to the south.
First among the reforms is lifting the brutal economic
sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua that are causing widespread
human suffering, especially during a pandemic. These sanctions have not
fulfilled their objective of regime change; the past 20 years of U.S. wars in
the Middle East has taught us that U.S.-imposed regime change brings nothing
but death and chaos.
Another reform is to put a stop to the hundreds of millions
of dollars of police and military equipment and training that the U.S. provides
Latin American and Caribbean countries each year. In many cases, such as
Honduras and Colombia, U.S. funding and training have supported troops involved
in corruption and egregious human rights abuses, including numerous
extrajudicial killings and attacks targeting local activists and journalists.
Much of this militarized “aid” is transferred in the name of the decades-long
war on drugs, which has only fueled a vicious cycle of violence. The letter
asserts that the “war on drugs” is a counterproductive way to deal with a US
public health issue that is best addressed through decriminalization and
equitable legal regulation. It also calls for scaling down US “security assistance”
and arms sales, as well as the removal of US military and law enforcement
personnel from the region.
The letter points out that although the U.S. public has been
rightly condemning any sort of foreign interference in our own country’s
elections, the U.S. government has a history of flagrant interference in the
elections of our neighbors, including training political groups it favors and
funding efforts to marginalize the political forces it opposes. In Venezuela,
the Trump administration has gone to the extreme of anointing a non-elected
legislator, Juan Guaidó, as “president” of Venezuela and putting a
multi-million dollar bounty on the head of the UN-recognized president, Nicolas
Maduro. The letter denounces such blatant interference and calls on the U.S. to
respect the sovereignty of other nations.
The endorsing organizations also denounce U.S. intervention
in domestic economic policymaking, which occurs in large part through its
enormous influence within multilateral financial institutions like the
International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Bank. In
order to obtain credit lines from these institutions, governments typically
have to agree to austerity measures and other policies that lead to the
downsizing of welfare states and a weakening of workers’ bargaining power.
Moreover, as Latin American economies are reeling from the pandemic, the U.S.
must cease demanding the implementation of neoliberal models and instead
support public health, education and other basic needs.
Regarding human rights, the letter notes the U.S. has a role
in advocating for them across the hemisphere. However, it warns against the
instrumentalization of human rights for political gain, since too often human
rights violations in the U.S. or in allied countries are ignored, while
violations in countries considered adversaries are magnified. It says the U.S.
should focus – both at home and abroad – on the rights of historically excluded
communities, including indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, LGBTQ+
individuals, women, and migrants and refugees. It urges the United States to
speak out when human rights defenders, including environmental and land rights
activists and labor organizers, are in danger—a situation all too frequent in
Latin America and the Caribbean today. It also calls on the U.S. to help
depoliticize and strengthen existing multilateral institutions that defend
With respect to immigration, the letter insists that the
next administration must undo the brutal harms of theTrump administration, but
also reject the status quo of the Obama administration, which deported more
people than any administration ever before and built the infrastructure for the
Trump administration to carry out violent anti-immigrant policies. The next
administration must hear the demands for immigrant justice, including a
moratorium on all deportations; an end to mass prosecutions of individuals who
cross the border; the re-establishment of asylum procedures at the border; an
immediate path to citizenship for the Dreamers and for Temporary Protected
Status holders; defunding the border wall; an end to the “zero-tolerance”
(family separation) policy and other policies that prioritize migration-related
prosecutions; and an end to private immigration detention.
As the region–and the world–anxiously awaits the outcome
of the U.S. presidential elections, groups in the U.S. are gearing up for the
possibility of a Biden win, and the need to push a new administration to make a
positive contribution to the well-being of people throughout the hemisphere.
(*) Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and
author of several books on foreign policy. Leonardo
Flores is a Latin American policy expert and campaigner with CodePink.