Was Clinton really a friend to Latin America?

Opinion.

It is to be expected that the U.S. Ambassador Phyllis Powers would offer a message of support to outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But it’s also to be expected that those disappointed by U.S. policies toward Latin America during the Obama/Clinton period are rather more critical of her record in the region.

Just looking at policies toward Nicaragua alone, we have seen little visible engagement with the Ortega government, and most of the substantive contact appears to have been negative. The ambassador calls Hillary Clinton a “friend of Nicaragua,” but she has to reach back more than 14 years to provide any evidence. If we look at more recent interventions by the State Department, it is much harder to justify that claim.

For example, Nicaragua was penalized for its supposed lack of transparency with foreign aid, especially aid received from Venezuela. Yet respected independent economist Nestor Avendaño points out that not only has Venezuelan aid been declared, but the Ortega government has been far more open in its budget-making than its predecessors—a fact recognized on more than one occasion by the IMF.

It’s true that the U.S. property waiver—the more important of the two U.S. waivers—was eventually granted after much hand-wringing, but we must ask why that waiver should still be necessary at all. The U.S. organization Witness for Peace has documented the effects of Nicaragua attempting to resolve these land disputes, which in many cases result from agrarian reform and involve people who were originally Nicaraguan. Surely the fairer distribution of land should be a process welcomed by a Democratic administration?

Looking more widely at Latin America, the Obama/Clinton period must be judged as a failure. Rather than the new approach that President Barack Obama promised during his first visit to the region, it has been more of the same. Two issues stand out as moments when Hillary Clinton could have taken a far more progressive stance, yet chose not to. First, Cuba continues to get treated as a terror state when even its critics would have to accept that regimes such as that in Bahrain (where peaceful demonstrations get violently crushed) or Uzbekistan (where government opponents have been boiled in oil) are far more deserving of that title. Yet both those states have received public support from the State Department while Cuba suffers the U.S.’ interminable trade embargo.

But the State Department trumped even that policy failure when it refused to strongly condemn the military coup in Honduras in 2009. This was Clinton’s moment to show that U.S. policy, which for a long time was associated with support for military dictators in the region, had at last changed. Yet her equivocation and reluctance to join the continent-wide condemnation of the coup was inevitably seen in Latin America as an endorsement. She went on to accept the results of the subsequent elections, which were widely boycotted by the many Hondurans who rejected the coup. Yet no election in Nicaragua, even those held on a local level, passes without the close critical scrutiny of the U.S. government.

Finally, Ms. Powers says that Hillary Clinton, “has been a constant advocate for freedom of the press and freedom of expression.” While the State Department has been quick to criticize Venezuela and Ecuador (for example) for alleged violations of press freedoms, its approach to the same issues in Honduras can only be described as weak. Honduras has for the last two years held the dubious privilege of being the world’s most dangerous country for journalists, but continues to get U.S. aid.

Shouldn’t a neutral observer conclude that, by objective standards, current U.S. policy in Latin America hardly differs from that pursued during the presidency of George W. Bush, and that Hillary Clinton must take much of the blame for that?

John Perry lives in Masaya where he’s a volunteer with an organization that works with small farmers to install solar panels in remote areas off the electricity grid.

  • http://www.giftsfilms.com George Harris

    yes…. Hillary Clinton completely lost all credibility when she did not join the rest of the Americas in condemning the Honduran coup. There was one other silent conspirator…Canada. (to be expected)

  • Jobhama

    HI All,

    I find that most of the the so call ” Blogger” of this site “Tim” where not in Nicaragua during the hard times of the country because they were either in the USA or elsewhere, anyways, now they have return or immigrated to claim gold.
    Well, I am going to give all a little history listen, since they lived in the US and never bother to pick up a book, but the US was founded and build in patriotism so why should Nicaragua hold this right too.

    America is founded in legislative laws that protect and give better opportunity to those who defend it’s sovereignty with pride and courage and why should Nicaragua be hold back from this right.

    On the other hand, I agree that there is no real democracy in Nicaragua for those who aren’t of the Sandinista party which I don’t agree is fair especially when there is too much greed for power and we all hate greed but perhaps we can look at the situation from a different perspective which is to realize that Somosa ( US funded ) already had his chance at dictating, why not let this new government have it’s chance. At least they haven’t been in power for 50 years. you think Somosa would have allowed the same type protest that go on in Managua now days… hahaha that’s the joke of the day!!

  • VICTOR

    “Nicaragua attempting to resolve these land disputes, which in many cases result from agrarian reform and involve people who were originally Nicaraguan. Surely the fairer distribution of land should be a process welcomed by a Democratic administration?”…YOU MUST BE JOKING!!!

    My dear friends, our property has been in private hands since 1865 in our family since 1969. In the ´80 the Sandinista Government never took our land nor had any reason why.

    However, since 2004 we have been targeted (over 200 Hectares taken from us), by members of the Judicial Branch, the Mayor of Nagarote and The Department of Transportation. ALBANISA (51% Venezuelan Company & 49% Nicaraguan Government) over 600 hectares and counting. The Armed Forces (Nicaraguan Navy) (about 19), and several private citizens with friends in high places Over 60 Hectares not counting the invasion of last night, LAST NIGHT!.

    Since our intruders are members of the Ruling Party and Government Institutions including the Justice Department, our family is in a limbo and the Nicaraguan Government does not want to even recognize that we have a problem. Our only hope is a direct talk with the President.

    The Obama Administration should enforce vigorously the Property Waiver, since their actions are not from the ´80 but are a calculated move to take away our land and maybe our lives. The State Department needs to press Petroleos de Venezuelan S.A. to stop interfering and stilling the land of U.S. Citizens in Nicaragua.

    Lets not be naive about whats going on in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba. The region is been manipulated by Petro Dollars to make a ruling parties in the Americas answer to Hugo Chavez and his Godfather Fidel Castro. You should see the monies that they have accumulated in the last 14 years (Billions) and they call the USA Capitalist.

    God Bless The U.S. Of America

  • Ken

    Love it! Someone needed the challenge the ambassador’s ass-kissing puff piece.

    Agree or disagree, there’s much to be said for a free press, er, blog.