When President Obama was first elected, in 2008, much of the world waited to see what sort of changes he would introduce in the relationship of the U.S. towards the rest of the planet. In fact, he was prematurely awarded the Nobel Peace Prize based on expectations that the U.S. would pull back from wars and bullying. Even skeptical leaders, such as the late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Despite the hopes and prayers, this administration has done precious little to rebuild ties with countries that were threatened by the Bush administration. Case in point: Venezuela. The most recent issue, which is highly ironic, to say the least, has been the refusal of the Obama administration – at least as of the writing – to recognize the results of the recent Venezuelan election. By a slim majority, Nicolas Maduro won his race for president. The opposition in Venezuela cried foul, as was expected. Yet the Venezuelan elections have not been challenged by independent observers. Rather, there has been a recognition that the election results were close, a phenomenon with which we in the U.S.A. should be quite familiar.
What happened next was odd. The U.S.A. refused to recognize the results of the election, claiming that there was a need for a recount. Now, let’s get this one straight. From the country that in November 2000 had an election that was stolen (Bush v. Gore) and where a recount was stopped by the Supreme Court, we have the audacity to demand that another country carries out a recount? In fact, the U.S.A. is asking a country that has elections that have consistently been proven to have been clean to conduct a recount?
Despite the fine rhetoric, the Obama administration has continued the tried and true path of most U.S. administrations in treating Latin America as if it is the backyard of the United States. Rather than recognizing the sordid history of the relationship between the U.S.A. and Latin America, whereby the U.S. has consistently intervened politically, militarily and economically in the internal affairs of the region, the Obama administration seems to be following a path of more subtle destabilization. It has offered fine rhetoric about better relationships with the rest of the hemisphere. At the same time it has reinforced a traditional U.S. dominant role. A case in point was the Honduran coup of 2009 where the Obama administration first condemned the coup. This was then followed by U.S. efforts which undermined attempts to return the rightfully elected president to office.
The behavior of the Obama administration gives every Latin American and Caribbean leader pause because, in effect, it suggests that the U.S.A. will continue to exert its influence, not through diplomacy, but through implied threats. In the case of Venezuela, the failure to recognize the legitimate Venezuelan elections is tantamount to giving the signal that a coup in Venezuela would be a legitimate response.
No more nice speeches, Mr. President. If you want to act like Teddy Roosevelt, let’s be more honest.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” -And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.