Anti-US in words, not deeds

Anti-US in words, not deeds

The Latin American blogosphere held its breath when Bolivian President Evo Morales’s airplane was forced to land in Vienna in July. As European authorities searched for former US National Security Agency (NSA) contract worker Edward Snowden on board, Twitter accounts of South American presidents exploded with resentment. The continent denounced the United States for extending its hemispheric supremacy to Europe, sputtered words like “colonialism” and “imperialism.

This may be a turning point in US relations with its southern neighbours. While anti-American sentiment on the street, a result of a long history of domination, is real, the bedrock reality is that the US and Latin America are joined at the hip, economically and demographically. Trade, investment and immigration data reveal growing relations and interdependence.

The US fear of communism spreading in the region was controlled through the Organisation of American States (OAS). After the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, the Multidimensional Secretariat was established at the OAS to deal with transnational threats such as terrorism and organised crime.

 Until his death in March 2013, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela spearheaded a group of eight nations under the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas, ALBA, in an anti-imperialist movement that carries the banner of 21st century socialism. ALBA, led by Cuba and Venezuela against the Free Trade Area of the Americas headed by the United States, was born to counteract US dominion in the region.

 Soon after the NSA revelations began, leftwing governments in South America — Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela — made international headlines by offering asylum to Snowden.

 The United States receives the largest percentage of Latin American exports from Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Honduras. In the case of Bolivia, it drops to second place after Brazil. Such significant flows of merchandise and capital will not stop overnight, no matter how many countries forced the Bolivian presidential plane to land for a few hours.

 Demographically and economically, the US is changing in ways that make any standoff with Latin American partners unlikely. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s recent report on foreign investment in the region, the US still accounts for 58.5 per cent of foreign investment. At the same time, the 53 million people of Hispanic and Latino origin in the US account for 17 per cent of its population, making them the largest ethnic minority in the country.

Trade overrides ideology. The bottom line, left-wing leaders like Maduro and Morales need US business in their economies, and the most vehement anti-imperialist talk is overshadowed by economic pragmatism. Ecuador is in an even more critical position, as reliance on the US dollar in its economy means it cannot afford poor relations with the US. Ideological hot air may grab headlines, but will not trump Latin America’s heavy flows of trade with the world’s most powerful economy.

*This abridged article is taken from Khaleej Times online.