Friday, February 02, 2018

What to Take From Tillerson's Latin America Vision

Rex Tillerson's laid out a vision of U.S.-Latin American relations yesterday in a speech at UT Austin on the eve of his Latin America trip. Some of the comments were good, and to some degree contradicted Donald Trump. Some of them, though, are cringe-worthy.

Let's starts with the good.

--Trump has been decidedly negative about Colombia and Tillerson was the opposite. He praised Juan Manuel Santos, the peace agreement, and the U.S. role as consumer of drugs.

The problem with the coca production is – it’s a significant problem. It’s a problem to us, it’s a shared problem. As I said in my remarks, we don’t like to admit it, but we’re the market. The United States accounts for the vast, vast, vast majority of illicit drug consumption in the world. And until we address that problem at home, it’s a bit awkward to hold them solely accountable for being the supplier.

He made that point several times and I am glad to hear it.

--His comments on Venezuela and Cuba are measured and he rejects use of force against Venezuela, which Trump infamously said was in the table. This is good. No problematic signals that would lead to more U.S. isolation.

But there is quite a lot of bad.

--His sense of history is awful.

At the beginning of the 20th century, President Teddy Roosevelt visited Panama – the first foreign visit of a U.S. sitting president in our history.
Roosevelt had just basically taken Panama from Colombia for U.S. gain but Tillerson frames it as Pan Americanism. The canal later would become so much a symbol of U.S. disregard for sovereignty that even Henry Kissinger advocated giving it up to Panama.

He thinks the Monroe Doctrine has been a success. Even worse, a historian asking him the question seemed to think the same. The answer showed that Tillerson does not really know what the history of the doctrine is.

Well, I think it clearly has been a success, because as I mentioned at the top, what binds us together in this hemisphere are shared democratic values, and while different countries may express that democracy not precisely the same way we practice democracy in this country, the fundamentals of it – respect for the dignity of the human being, respect for the individual to pursue life, liberty, happiness – those elements do bind us together in this hemisphere.

Since he mentioned TR he should take a look at the Roosevelt Corollary to better see why Latin America considers the Monroe Doctrine in entirely negative terms.

--He is blinded by the idea of U.S. goodness. This is evident when he tries to show that Chinese investment is worse than U.S. investment.

China – as it does in emerging markets throughout the world – offers the appearance of an attractive path to development. But in reality, this often involves trading short-term gains for long-term dependency. 
Just think about the difference between the China model of economic development and the United States version. 
China’s offer always come at a price – usually in the form of state-led investments, carried out by imported Chinese labor, onerous loans, and unsustainable debt. The China model extracts precious resources to feed its own economy, often with disregard for the laws of the land or human rights.

Long-term dependency and disregard for land and human rights are a staple of U.S. economic relations with Latin America. The Chinese labor issue is indeed weird and controversial but U.S. investment has never been somehow ideal.

Latin American – Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people.

Ha ha! They only need one, people!

--He is ignorant about Honduras.

My question is: What is the Trump administration’s policy regarding support for free and fair democratic elections in the Americas, and will it work with the OAS in ensuring that those democratic standards are respected equally across the hemisphere? 
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, our position’s the same in every country. And in the case of the Honduran elections, we also looked at other organizations’ assessment of the election in terms of was it conducted in a free and fair way, was the election legitimate. In terms of why the OAS came to a different conclusion – which was actually different than the original conclusion they came to, they changed their position – I’d refer you to the OAS to ask them. But we did look at the circumstances of the election. We concluded it was conducted fairly. And I think there’s no – and I want to be clear here. There can be no comparison between the election process that was conducted in Honduras and the election process that’s going on in Venezuela. They’re nowhere close to one another. Thank you for the question, though.

This is all bullshit. It is not possible for a rational person to consider the Honduran election to be fair. And yes, you CAN compare it to Venezuela, where an incumbent manipulates state institutions to remain in power.

Now let's see what he says when he arrives.


Alfredo 8:03 AM  

I don't know about you but I found the Q&A section very interesting in fact more important than the speech itself.....

Part of the Secretaries answer to a question had this quote

"In the history of Venezuela and in fact the history in other Latin American and South American countries, oftentimes it’s the military that handles that, that when things are so bad that the military leadership realizes they just – they can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition. Whether that will be the case here or not, I do not know.

I would put that in the "but there is quite a lot of bad" category....brings back memories of Chile and other LA countries....

Greg Weeks 9:21 AM  

You're right, and there was pushback in Latin America to that comment--I downplayed it probably more than I should have.

Alfredo 8:13 PM  

Greg otherwise a good article......

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