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Opinion and Analysis: International | Participation

US Policy and Democracy in Latin America: The Latinobarómetro Poll

Each fall the Chilean non-profit polling organization Latinobarómetro publishes a detailed Spanish-language report on public opinion in Latin America. The 2008 report, released this past November, offers a broad synoptic view of popular opinion in the seventeen major countries of mainland Latin America plus the Dominican Republic, focusing on Latin American citizens' political opinions and their satisfaction with their governments. Though November's report went entirely unreported in almost all of the world's major media outlets-and only small snippets selectively analyzed by writers at the Economist, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington Times-it constitutes perhaps the most thorough source available of the broad contours of public opinion in Latin America, and thus deserves careful consideration [1].

The poll's results are particularly relevant for those whose government has been the most active foreign power in Latin America, in economic, political, and military terms, for much of the past two centuries. For US citizens the key question should be the extent to which their government is supporting democracy and human rights through its foreign policy; in other words, does the US government really craft its policy toward specific regimes based on those regimes' respect for democracy and citizens' rights, as the rhetoric of policymakers and pundits assures us? Answering this question requires three steps: identifying US friends and enemies in the region; measuring the level of democracy in each of those countries; and determining the extent to which US policy favors the more democratic governments in the region. After identifying the major US friends and antagonists, I examine the recent Latinobarómetro report as well as its 2006 and 2007 predecessors to measure the level of democracy in those countries based on their citizens' own appraisals. The general trend, though not uniformly apparent in all categories, is one of US support for the more undemocratic regimes in the region, and US antagonism of varying sorts and degrees toward the more democratic ones. The final section of this essay ventures an explanation for this pattern, locating it in the history of US policy toward Latin America.

Latin American Nations and the US: Relative Degrees of Support and Opposition

At first glance, categorizing most current Latin American regimes as either hostile or friendly to the United States seems easy enough for anyone acquainted with recent politics in the region: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela would top the list of the former, followed by Evo Morales's Bolivia and, to a lesser extent, regimes like Rafael Correa's Ecuador and Daniel Ortega's Nicaragua; major US friends would include Colombia under Álvaro Uribe, Peru under Alan García, and Mexico under Felipe Calderón, plus the governments of several smaller countries like El Salvador (prior to this past February's election), Paraguay (prior to the election of Fernando Lugo), and Honduras. Most other regimes would fall into an intermediate category, neither overtly friendly nor hostile to US policy, comprising especially Brazil and the Southern Cone countries of Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.

Current diplomatic, economic, and military relationships seem to support such a categorization. For example, Washington's contempt for the Chávez and Morales governments is readily apparent given frequent Bush administration denunciations and threats directed at the two leaders, US support for violent opposition groups and coup attempts in Venezuela and Bolivia, and its ongoing and well-documented (though still highly-secretive) channeling of funds to opposition groups in the two countries [2]. Conversely, the governments of countries like Colombia and Mexico draw frequent praise from US government leaders and media analysts and also receive large sums of US taxpayers' money in the form of military and/or economic aid [3]. Colombia ($657 million) and Mexico ($579 million) top all Latin American countries in total US aid allocated for 2009, with friendly regimes in Haiti, El Salvador, Peru, Guatemala, and Honduras also in the top ten. Bolivia ($105 million) and Venezuela, particularly the latter ($5.56 million), are slotted to receive far less. Figures on arms sales generally seem to confirm these trends. From 2006-2007 the amount of US arms and equipment sold to Colombia and Mexico far exceeded that to all other countries (totaling $696 million and $648 million, respectively), with Bolivia and Venezuela being sold just $38 million and $17 million [4].

Classifying Latin American regimes in this way also raises several problems, however. First, antagonism as expressed in political rhetoric does not necessarily translate to hostility in all other spheres. For example, despite obvious and escalating political tensions between the US and Venezuela,total trade between the two countries actually grew by 135 percent between 2002 and 2006 [5]. Second, using the level of US monetary aid as a measure of US support can be problematic for a number of reasons. Latin American countries and economies vary greatly in both their size and level of need. The tiny countries of Haiti and Nicaragua are the poorest in the hemisphere, and so both their level of need and total population must be factored in when measuring the social and economic aid they receive compared to, say, Brazil or Mexico. But nor would the level of need be objectively verifiable through calculations based on per capita wealth or other considerations. Even using military aid as an indicator of US support can be problematic. A number of countries, particularly Mexico and the Andean nations, are centers of drug production and trafficking; the high level of US military and police aid to these countries derives in part from this fact (Bolivia ranks fourth in military and police aid behind Colombia, Mexico, and Peru) [6]. To further complicate the matter, economic and social aid does not always go to the governments themselves: "Cuba," for example, will receive $20 million in 2009, and opposition groups in Venezuela and Bolivia will also continue to receive US funding.

Lacking a systematic and objective means of calculating levels of US support, the three broad categories of Latin American regimes I have proposed will nevertheless suffice for the purposes of this analysis. The following categorization is somewhat subjective and perhaps a bit sloppy, and most readers will undoubtedly disagree with one or more of my country placements. Nonetheless, it seems roughly accurate based on a combined consideration of US aid levels and government rhetoric as of early fall 2008, when the Latinobarómetro poll was conducted [7]. For the purposes of this analysis the countries in the categories on either end will be most important, particularly the five largest countries of Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela which seem to offer the best bases for comparison. Within each category I have made no attempt to rank the respective countries further, leaving them in alphabetical order.

Table 1. Latin American Regimes vis-à-vis the United States, as of September 2008

 

More friendly regimes

 

Somewhat friendly regimes

 

More hostile regimes

 

 

Colombia

 

Costa Rica

 

Dominican Republic

 

El Salvador

 

Guatemala

 

Honduras

 

Mexico

 

Panama

 

Paraguay

 

Peru

 

 

Argentina

 

Brazil

 

Chile

 

Ecuador

 

Nicaragua

 

Uruguay

 

 

Bolivia

 

Venezuela

* Two of my placements, Ecuador and Nicaragua, might spark the most criticism. I have placed them in the middle column instead of the right column because, despite frequent anti-imperialist rhetoric, the administrations of Rafael Correa and Daniel Ortega have thus far been more hesitant to break with the US and its allies on matters of economic policy and have also faced, to my knowledge, considerably less in the way of US efforts to undermine or destabilize them than have Bolivia and Venezuela.

MEASURING DEMOCRACY USING THE LATINOBARÓMETRO RESULTS

Quantifying the amount of democracy in a country in any precise way is of course impossible, particularly because the meaning of the concept itself is so subjective. Though Western politicians and sources like the Economist typically define democracy in a very limited way, as a political system featuring free elections and guaranteeing the basic freedoms in the US Constitution, many people around the world would insist that a true democracy ensures additional freedoms: the freedom to eat well, to have access to quality housing, health care, and education for oneself and one's family, and to have access to productive and meaningful employment [8]. Many would surely also point to ordinary citizens' lack of effective access to political representation in any system in which wealthy corporations and financial interests exert preponderant influence.

Below I attempt to accommodate three broad definitions of democracy: the liberal Western definition emphasizing individual political and civil freedoms; the definition often associated (wrongly) with the defunct Communist bloc, which prioritizes socioeconomic well-being; and a third definition of democracy which stresses substantive citizen participation in governance. I have classified the various indicators of democracy measured in the 2008 Latinobarómetro report into three groups: 1) those measuring political and civil rights, 2) those measuring social and economic well-being, and 3) general citizen evaluations of their democracies. Though a more thorough evaluation of the human rights situation in each country would be an appropriate supplement to this evaluation of "democracy"-taking into account levels of violence, security, incarceration, etc.-it lies beyond the scope of this analysis.

Political and Civil Rights

At least four questions in the 2008 poll asked respondents to reflect on the political and civil liberties available in their respective countries. These four questions together constitute a very rough aggregate appraisal of the level of political and civil democracy in Latin American countries today, at least in the judgment of the respondents. The first three are direct measures of the levels of political and civil freedom, while the fourth suggests the responsiveness of each country's electoral system to the popular will. Each of the following four statements is the direct quote or paraphrase of a statement presented to respondents, who then agreed or disagreed (with some intermediate choices):

  1. "Democracy [in my country] guarantees the freedom to participate in politics."
  2. "Democracy guarantees freedom of expression, always and in all parts [of the country]."
  3. "[Democracy guarantees] equality before the law."
  4. "The most effective way to change things is by voting to elect those who defend my position." [9]

The results-given as percentages of those who agreed, with higher figures signifying greater respondent agreement-are shown in Table 2, with the two "more hostile" regimes in bold lettering and the three major "more friendly" regimes in italics (see Table 1 lists).

Table 2. Indicators of Political and Civil Democracy

Country

Freedom of participation

Freedom of expression

Legal equality

Effectiveness of voting

Average

1. Uruguay

84

80

53

66

71

2. Costa Rica

78

71

44

62

64

3. Venezuela

66

60

38

80

61

4. Dominican Republic

81

55

30

72

60

4. Panama

81

68

34

56

60

6. Paraguay

70

76

18

71

59

7. Nicaragua

61

67

37

67

58

8. Chile

75

64

25

55

55

9. El Salvador

63

52

31

59

51

10. Argentina

60

58

19

63

50

10. Honduras

66

55

33

45

50

12. Colombia

50

46

34

62

48

13. Bolivia

61

50

25

52

47

14. Brazil

52

44

29

58

46

14. Mexico

47

50

31

57

46

16. Ecuador

48

52

26

48

44

17. Guatemala

47

42

34

48

43

18. Peru

50

48

15

45

40

Total Average

63

58

30

59

53

*Source: Calculated from Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008, 80, 95, 97, 99.

By this calculation, which includes only political and civil measures of democracy and coincides largely with the measures of democracy publicly extolled by Western politicians, Hugo Chávez's Venezuela is the third "freest" country among the eighteen surveyed. The three large countries whose governments remain closely aligned with the United States-Colombia, Mexico, and Peru-rank well below Venezuela in every category. The starkest statistic is the percentage of Venezuelans who believe their electoral system to be functioning well in the sense that the act of voting is a meaningful way of expressing one's political will, a category in which Venezuela far outdoes all other regimes. In a corollary question, respondents were given the option of responding that "it is not possible to exert influence so that things change, it doesn't matter what one does." Colombia, Mexico, and Peru were all among the top five countries with the highest percentages of respondents giving this answer; Venezuela was tied for last [10]. Venezuela's rankings in the first two categories in Table 2 are slightly less impressive than its overall ranking, but nonetheless place it among the freer countries in Latin America and well above the three major US friends. This result is consistent with that of the 2007 Latinobarómetro report as well [11].

Evo Morales's Bolivia, on the other hand, is comparable to Colombia and Mexico in overall ranking. However, its lower ranking is due in large part to lower scores for the last two categories dealing with the functioning of the legal and electoral system; in the realm of political freedoms (the first two categories) it outranks the major US allies in five of six comparisons. Political freedoms also arguably comprise the categories that high-ranking individuals in government have the most power to control, meaning that the results of the first two categories above may be most attributable to the actual policies of the respective governments.

A fifth question asked respondents about the extent to which they and other citizens in their country "do not say what they really think about politics" when asked. The two lowest countries on the list were Colombia and Mexico, with 74 and 73 percent of respondents, respectively, stating that "people do NOT say what they think." In both Venezuela and Bolivia 58 percent of respondents gave the same answer, slightly better than the regional average of 60 percent [12]. Although this phenomenon derives in part from historical and contextual factors within each country and is only partially attributable to government policies, the openness with which people express themselves is certainly linked to those policies. For example, the murders of hundreds of progressive activists by government security forces and government-supported paramilitaries since President Uribe's election in 2002 no doubt factored into Colombians' response to the question [13]. The fact that such large portions of the Colombian and Mexican populations seem to have hesitancy about expressing their true opinions also suggests that citizens' public appraisals of their governments may be somewhat inflated, more so than in other countries in the region.

These results should be interesting to anyone acquainted with US political rhetoric and press coverage regarding these countries. Colombia's current government in particular is often praised by US politicians and influential commentators for its "commitment to freedom, democracy, and the rule of law," so its relatively low rankings in the field of political freedoms are especially noteworthy [14]. Conversely, the high rankings of Hugo Chávez's government-and to a lesser extent Evo Morales's-merit attention given these two regimes' usual characterizations in Washington and the US press.

Economic and Social Rights

The online version of the 2008 Latinobarómetro report does not include a systematic quantification of "social and economic guarantees" by country, but the 2007 version did. The results for four of the most pertinent questions are summarized in Table 3. The four questions asked respondents to rate the "equality of opportunities regardless of [one's] origin," the level of "social security" (a general term in this case), "opportunities for getting work," and the "fair distribution of wealth." Again, higher percentages correspond to greater respondent agreement with the statements.

Table 3. Indicators of Economic and Social Democracy

Country

Equality of opportunities

Social Security

Job Opportunities

Fair wealth distribution

Average

1. Venezuela

64

51

54

56

56

2. Uruguay

50

46

35

28

40

3. Costa Rica

54

34

38

28

39

3. Nicaragua

51

45

26

33

39

4. Bolivia

45

30

32

34

35

5. Mexico

45

39

32

25

35

7. Honduras

41

31

31

30

33

8. Dominican Republic

39

28

25

26

30

8. Panama

47

28

22

22

30

10. El Salvador

38

27

24

26

29

10. Guatemala

32

26

27

27

28

12. Colombia

35

37

18

18

27

13. Peru

33

26

20

19

25

14. Chile

28

22

29

17

24

14. Brazil

34

25

22

12

23

16. Argentina

34

16

29

10

22

17. Ecuador

29

17

15

19

20

18. Paraguay

29

17

15

19

20

Total Average

41

29

27

24

30

*Source: Calculated from Latinobarómetro, Informe 2007, 65.

The dramatic difference between Venezuela and most other countries, particularly the US friends, is the most startling aspect of Table 3. Venezuela's advantage is especially stark in the category of wealth distribution, in which it outdoes its nearest competitor (Bolivia) by twenty-two percentage points. Fifty-six percent of Venezuelans think that the distribution of wealth in their country is fair, while only 25 percent of Mexicans, 18 percent of Colombians, and 19 percent of Peruvians think the same.

Income inequality is one area in which hard statistics are available for comparison, and for four out of five countries these statistics seem to coincide with citizens' perceptions. According to data compiled by the Inter-American Development Bank, for example, Venezuela is the least unequal country of the eighteen considered here [15]. The website of the US State Department notes that in 2007 Venezuela's GINI coefficient-a standard measure of economic inequality used around the world-was 0.42, the best in the region and comparable to that of the United States (though the State Department doesn't point out either of these facts) [16]. Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, meanwhile, all fall among the more unequal countries in Latin America by most measures. The exception among the group, Bolivia, has one of the highest levels of absolute inequality on the continent according to similar data (along with the highest level of poverty in South America, as it has had for many decades). The fact that Bolivia ranks second in column four of Table 3 is thus somewhat puzzling; it may perhaps derive from citizens' perception that the Morales government is attempting to redistribute wealth, though I will venture no further explanation for this incongruity here.

The patterns apparent in Table 3 are generally, though not entirely, consistent with respondents' answers to other questions relating to economic and social democracy. In 2007 Venezuela ranked second in citizen satisfaction with the educational system and fourth in satisfaction with health care [17]. In education Colombia and Mexico were tied for eighth, though they outranked Bolivia, which was twelfth; in health care the former were sixth and eighth, respectively, while Bolivia was fourteenth. Peru ranked last in both categories [18]. Recent Latinobarómetro polls also suggest Venezuela to offer the greatest opportunity for social mobility to its citizens and to have made the most progress in reducing social inequalities of all eighteen countries. Bolivia outranked Colombia and Peru in each of these questions and came out roughly tied with Mexico [19].

In at least two categories Colombia and Mexico actually rank above even Venezuela. They significantly outdo both Venezuela and Bolivia in the level of citizen "satisfaction with basic services," and Venezuelans are most "worried about being left unemployed" of anyone in the region [20]. The indicators of social and economic democracy thus do not unequivocally favor the "more hostile" regimes of Venezuela and Bolivia. However, the overall picture presented by the results of the 2007 and 2008 reports suggests that Venezuela is significantly more democratic in a social and economic sense than the major US friends; the contrast between Bolivia and the US allies is less apparent, with the former outranking the latter in many categories but not in others.

General Evaluations of Democracy

Several of the Latinobarómetro questions also asked respondents to rate the level of democracy in their countries, without defining "democracy" in any specific way. The primary such question asked them to rate their own level of "satisfaction with democracy." Here Venezuela ranked second in the region (behind Uruguay), with 49 percent saying they were at least "somewhat satisfied with the functioning of democracy." Colombia tied for fourth at 44 percent, with Bolivia thirteenth at 33 percent, Mexico sixteenth at 23 percent, and Peru last at 16 percent [21]. In 2007 the advantage of Venezuela and Bolivia was significantly greater: Venezuela ranked second at 59 percent, Bolivia sixth at 41 percent; Colombia, Mexico, and Peru had all ranked in the bottom seven with less than 33 percent each [22]. Of the five populations, only Colombians expressed significantly more satisfaction in 2008 than in 2007, though Colombia remained well behind Venezuela.

Two additional questions asked for similar assessments. The first asked "how democratic" the respondent's country was, on a scale of one to ten. Venezuela ranked third with an average rating of 6.6, while Bolivia tied for eleventh at 5.5; Colombia ranked fifth at 6.1, and Mexico and Peru tied for last at 5.0 [23]. In a related question from the 2007 report, respondents were asked whether their countries were "governed by small powerful groups [working] for their own benefit" or "governed for the good of all the people." The three major US friends were believed by between 71 percent (Mexico) and 84 percent (Peru) of their citizens to be ruled in the interests of a select few. In contrast, about half (48 percent) of Venezuelans believed their government worked "for the good of all the people," the best in the region. Bolivia tied with Uruguay for second with 43 percent giving the same answer [24].

Summary

The poll results presented above, which I have divided into three categories, suggest Venezuela and Bolivia to be among the more democratic countries in Latin America. Venezuela ranks particularly high in most categories and significantly outranks the three major US allies of Colombia, Mexico, and Peru in most areas. Bolivia's rankings are less unambiguous, but in the majority of categories it nonetheless ranks near or above the average for Latin American countries-quite remarkable given Bolivia's longtime status as South America's poorest nation. Moreover, the rankings of Venezuela and Bolivia in important areas have increased substantially since Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales took over; in 1996 only 30 percent of Venezuelans and 25 percent of Bolivians were satisfied with their democracies, compared with 49 percent and 33 percent in 2008 [25]. The relatively high rankings of Venezuela, Bolivia, and certain other countries do not obscure the fact, however, that in many cases even the top-ranking countries' scores are quite dismal, leaving much to be desired by the citizens of all countries.

This analysis has sidestepped a variety of important considerations, which many readers will have noticed. By focusing almost solely on the Latinobarómetro results I have made little attempt to factor in the economic, political, or cultural traits of specific countries and to evaluate how such traits might have influenced respondents' answers to certain questions. Certainly the responses are somewhat subjective, and some national populations may be more harsh or lenient toward their governments than others. I have also implicitly been attributing the bulk of responsibility for respondents' levels of satisfaction to the region's current presidential administrations, some of which have only been in power a short time and can hardly be assigned credit or blame for all of the poll results.

Some of these omissions might have ended up favoring the "more hostile" regimes. For example, Venezuela's relatively strong tradition of democratic rule in comparison with many other Latin American countries may have given the Chávez government an advantage in some of the questions the pollsters posed. Furthermore, the economic growth it has enjoyed in recent years-in large part the result of higher oil prices-has likely increased Venezuelans' levels of satisfaction with various aspects of their government.

By the same token, however, I have also omitted considerations which might have improved the rankings of Venezuela and Bolivia in relation to Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. In 2006 Evo Morales of Bolivia took over a country that was not only the poorest in South America, but one that was (and is) plagued by polarization along lines of class, race, and political affiliation, to an even greater extent than elsewhere in the region. To have factored in such disadvantages surely would have made Morales's government look more democratic than the poll results by themselves suggested. A variety of other qualitative and quantitative evidence would have further bolstered the democratic standing of Venezuela and Bolivia in relation to other Latin American countries: for example, both Chávez and Morales have won resounding electoral victories, including the recall votes to which the vociferous right-wing opposition in each country has subjected them. Qualitatively speaking, the Bolivian government is probably the closest thing in Latin America to a government "of the people," given Morales's strong ties to the indigenous population that forms the majority of the Bolivian nation and his efforts to implement policies favored by the Indian movement and peasant and working-class Bolivians. Chávez and Morales, far more so than other leaders (outside Cuba), have led the drive to re-nationalize essential services and major industries like water, health care, and hydrocarbons-a move favored by an overwhelming majority (over 80 percent) in most Latin American countries [26]. In addition, expanding the focus of this analysis to measure not just "democracy" but also human rights would have hurt the US allies far more than Venezuela and Bolivia: Colombia in particular has had the worst human rights record in the hemisphere for the last two decades, with the majority of the blame lying with the government; Mexico's record has been only slightly better.

Clearly this analysis does not adequately address certain important considerations, but its weaknesses do not invalidate its general conclusion: that there exists no positive correlation between US support for a particular regime and that regime's democratic credentials; on the contrary, in many cases that correlation seems to be negative, meaning that US support tends to flow to less-democratic regimes. This pattern seems to hold true regardless of which definition of "democracy" is prioritized.

MAKING SENSE OF THE PATTERN

In a 1981 article in the journal Comparative Politics, University of North Carolina scholar Lars Schoultz systematically analyzed the relationship between the level of US aid to Latin American governments and those governments' respect for human rights for the years 1975-1977, drawing on the country-by-country assessments of 38 independent human rights experts from around the world. The results were disquieting, to say the least: "The correlations between the absolute level of U.S. assistance to Latin America and human rights violations by recipient governments...are uniformly positive, indicating that aid has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens" [27]. Latin America today is very different than it was in the 1970s, of course, with most countries now ruled by at least nominally-democratic regimes, most guerrilla insurgencies having been crushed, and the levels of US military aid to the region greatly reduced. The still-pertinent lesson of Schoultz's study, however, is that the lofty rhetoric of "democracy promotion" that has always flowed from the mouthpieces of governmental power in this country can never be accepted at face value. A willingness to disregard official government statements of good will and concern for democracy is an essential prerequisite for any honest assessment of government policy, then and now.

Yet the opposite argument, occasionally implied by some on the Left, that the United States government has a visceral aversion to Third-World democracy can also be misleading. Although every US president of the last century has lent active support to authoritarian and repressive regimes around the world, the United States government and its corporate sponsors are not inherently opposed to the idea of democracy per se. But they have historically favored only a very limited type of democracy, one that guarantees certain political and civil rights but stops short of ensuring either meaningful grassroots participation in political decisionmaking or the policies of socioeconomic redistribution that often flow from it. Social movements and regimes espousing a definition of democracy that is more expansive than the official US definition have typically encountered US hostility [28]. The reception in Washington has been similar regardless of whether or not such movements or regimes have abided by official democratic procedures. The governments of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Salvador Allende in Chile, and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua-just three examples from a long list-all enjoyed electoral legitimacy by US standards but were nonetheless targeted because the social and economic policies they proposed diverged from the limited conception of electoral, corporate-friendly "democracy" espoused by the US government.

Latin American regimes with less democratic legitimacy by the US definition, but which have pursued independent paths toward social and economic development, have likewise been targeted, not because of their authoritarian aspects but because of their independence and the example they might provide to other peoples in the region. Cuba, for example, met with immediate hostility after the revolution's triumph in January 1959, even though Fidel Castro's government did not explicitly identify itself as Communist or look to the USSR until mid-1961. In the 1990s, after the USSR had collapsed, US hostility greatly intensified in the form of two new Congressional measures to tighten the embargo against Cuba in 1992 and 1996, further refuting any notion that US policy had been geared toward stemming the tide of authoritarian Communism [29].

The long history of US involvement in Latin America has repeatedly demonstrated that Washington's ultimate fear is, and traditionally has been, not the rise of totalitarianism or Communism but the emergence of regimes that it cannot control. Economic nationalism-the desire of Latin American countries to develop their economies independently of the United States-has been a major source of concern for US planners since the early post-WWII years. Astute observers in the US government have always recognized that such nationalism derives not from the influence of outside agitators but from "the explosive disparity between wealth and hunger" [30]. When people in underdeveloped countries have threatened to do something about this disparity-in Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, and elsewhere-the US government has immediately sought to undermine them, lest they "infect" other nations as well. As Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned after Salvador Allende's election in 1970, Allende's Chile was "most likely to appear as an ‘independent' socialist country rather than a Soviet satellite." This type of independent socialist government "would be far more dangerous...precisely because it can move against our policies and interests more easily and ambiguously and because its ‘model' effect can be insidious." Kissinger's biggest fear was that Chile's defiance would be successful: "our main concern is the prospect that [Allende] can consolidate himself and the picture projected to the world will be his success," offering a model of democratic socialism for other oppressed peoples to follow [31]. As a Kennedy administration commission had noted at the beginning of a similar crisis, the Cuban Revolution, the main problem was "the spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into one's own hand[s]" [32]. A 1962 National Intelligence Estimate echoed this fear, warning that if the US did not act quickly then people around the Third World would be encouraged to believe that they too "can be masters of their own destinies" [33]. The US did act, of course, with lethal consequences for hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

In the post-Cold War era, US objectives in Latin America have undergone only minor changes. The official rhetoric has certainly evolved, as speechwriters have replaced paranoia over Communism with concern over drug trafficking, terrorism, illegal immigration, and certain countries' lack of democracy and human rights. Yet the fundamental goals of US policy have not changed since 1989, or, for that matter, since 1823, the year the US unilaterally declared its ownership over the Western Hemisphere in the Monroe Doctrine. The necessity of controlling Latin America-and the United States' moral right to do so-has in fact been a shared assumption of US policymakers since the founding days of the United States.

This history offers a context for understanding recent and ongoing US policies in the region. Those regimes that in the past decade have begun to chart a course independent of the United States have encountered by far the most hostility. Venezuela and Bolivia (and of course Cuba) [34] have diverged the most from the US model with respect to their economic policies, which have included the nationalization of some previously-privatized resources, some redistribution of goods and resources, and efforts at building external economic relationships independently of the United States. Although these regimes have in many ways failed to overcome the many forms of exploitation, dependence, and inequality characteristic of global capitalism, their economic policies have constituted the boldest attempts at independence and progressive social transformation within the region, and have thus far achieved impressive, if limited, results [35]. Meanwhile, the prime recipients of US friendship and favors have been those which adhere most closely to the neoliberal economic agenda favored by the US government, multinational corporations, and financial institutions, which calls for privatizing most sectors of the economy, lowering import and export barriers, keeping social expenditures to a minimum, and forging close trade links with the United States. Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, among a handful of smaller countries, illustrate well the positive correlation between US good will and the pursuit of economic policies favoring corporate investors over their own populations. Overall, the level of US hostility or good will continues to be roughly proportional to the levels of political, economic, and social independence exerted by a given regime. And as the Latinobarómetro results indicate, such independence often correlates positively with a greater level of democracy in both the political-civil sense and in the extent to which the government helps assure basic social and economic guarantees like access to food, housing, education, and health care.

The relationship between US friendship, on the one hand, and democracy and human rights on the other, is certainly not characterized by the same stark inverse proportionality that it was throughout much of the Cold War when the correlation between US aid and repression was "uniformly positive" [36]. The dynamics of Latin American politics have changed considerably since the fall of the military dictatorships in the 1980s, and for various reasons it is more difficult to quantify both US support and specific regimes' respect for democracy and human rights than it was thirty years ago. But the poll results presented above suggest a general, though not uniform, trend: that Washington's major allies in Latin America are among the less democratic, less accountable regimes in the region, while its major antagonists-particularly Venezuela-rank among the more democratic regimes by most quantitative measures.

So far Barack Obama has given little indication that he wants to undertake the thorough transformation of US policy in Latin America that is sorely needed. The backgrounds of his top foreign policy officials, his own extreme reluctance to make any waves among his corporate sponsors, and the enthusiasm with which recent Democratic administrations have all adhered to the longstanding pattern, make it doubtful that the current administration will break from that pattern. Yet at least some of Obama's rhetoric has signaled that he understands the need to reform US policy (if only for pragmatic reasons-to cut US losses) [37]. If subjected to sustained public pressure, President Obama just may be forced to introduce substantial modifications in the US approach to the region. Such pressure has long been mounting throughout Latin America, but has so far remained on a small scale within this country. In the absence of increased and sustained pressure, few if any major changes can be expected.

NOTES:

[1] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008 (November), http://www.latinobarometro.org/docs/INFORME_LATINOBAROMETRO_2008.pdf (accessed January 11, 2009). Why the report was so roundly ignored is an interesting question in itself, but one which I will not seek to address in detail here; one partial answer certainly lies in the habit of politicians and the mainstream press of ignoring the attitudes and opinions of ordinary people, particularly when those opinions fail to support the policies of dominant elites (as many of the results of the 2008 and previous polls do). A January 11, 2009 search of the Lexis-Nexis world media database turned up only three mentions of the report, in the publications noted, all of which feature highly-selective summaries of the poll's results while omitting those portions which diverge from standard mainstream narratives on US friends and enemies in the region.

[2] On US attempts to undermine the Morales government in Bolivia, see the articles collected at UpsideDownWorld.org: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1488/31/%20(accessed January 15, 2009); on Venezuela, see Eva Golinger, Bush vs. Chávez: Washington's War on Venezuela (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2007). In late 2008 the Bush administration also revoked Bolivia's trade preferences.

[3] The most recent example of such praise was George W. Bush's awarding of the US "Presidential Medal of Freedom" to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in January 2009. See the response of the Colombia Support Network, "CSN's Statement on Award of Presidential Medal to Alvaro Uribe," January 12, 2009, http://colombiasupport.net/news/2009/01/csns-statement-on-award-of-presidential.html (accessed January 15, 2009).

[4] Figures taken or calculated from the tables provided on the website of Just the Facts, a project overseen by the Center for International Policy, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America. See http://www.justf.org.

[5] Calculated from Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Venamcham) figures, quoted in Greg Morsbach, "Venezuela-US Trade under the Microscope," BBC News, December 29, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6214533.stm (accessed December 30, 2006). This growth was due in part, though not entirely, to the rise in oil prices.

[6] See http://www.justf.org.

[7] The poll was conducted prior to the inauguration of Paraguay's Fernando Lugo and El Salvador's Mauricio Funes, whose governments will probably move out of the first column in the months ahead.

[8] For The Economist's analysis of the 2008 poll, see "Democracy and the Downturn: The Latinobarómetro Poll," The Economist (November 13, 2008), http://www.economist.com/world/americas/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12607297 (accessed January 14, 2009).

[9] Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008, 80, 95, 97, 99.

[10] Ibid., 100.

[11] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Informe 2007 (November), http://www.latinobarometro.org (accessed January 11, 2009), 65, 98.

[12] Ibid., 79.

[13] For a brief report that does not take into account the spike in killings of trade unionists in early 2008 or the government attacks on indigenous protesters this past fall, see Amnesty International's website, http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/Regions/Americas/Colombia. See also http://www.amnestyusa.org/colombia/reports/page.do?id=YCR0885036000E (both accessed January 15, 2009).

[14] Quote from the January 2009 White House ceremony awarding Álvaro Uribe the Presidential Medal of Freedom: see White House, Office of the Press Secretary, "Recipients of Medal of Freedom," January 13, 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2009/01/20090113-11.html (accessed January 17, 2009). For a fuller treatment of US political rhetoric and corresponding press coverage of Colombia and Venezuela see Kevin Young, "Testing the Propaganda Model: US Press Coverage of Venezuela and Colombia, 1998-2008," ZNet, January 9, 2009, http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/20159, or, for a shorter version of the article, "Colombia and Venezuela: Testing the Propaganda Model," NACLA Report on the Americas 41, no. 6 (November/December 2008), 50-52, also available from http://nacla.org/node/5344. On press coverage of Colombia specifically, see Mario A. Murillo with Jesús Rey Avirama, Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest and Destabilization (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004), 155-91.

[15] Based on measures of "Income, Inequality and Poverty" compiled at http://www.iadb.org/sociometro/index.html (accessed January 14, 2009).

[16] Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, "Background Note: Venezuela," January 2009, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35766.htm (accessed January 14, 2009). Recent Venezuelan government statistics also show a significant decline in poverty over the past decade, though I've given priority to non-governmental sources; see Tamara Pearson, "Poverty and Inequality Decline in Venezuela," Venezuelanalysis.com, December 25, 2008, http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4064 (accessed January 14, 2009). Another valuable study released this past February found the poverty rate to have been cut in half, and the extreme poverty rate reduced by 72 percent, between 2003 and 2008: see Mark Weisbrot, Rebecca Ray, and Luis Sandoval, The Chávez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators (Washington: Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2009), 3, 10, http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/venezuela-2009-02.pdf (accessed May 19, 2009).

[17] Neither question differentiated between public and private systems, however. Respondents' answers reflected their satisfaction with the systems to which they had access-meaning the questions were not a perfect measure of satisfaction with the public systems.

[18] Latinobarómetro, Informe 2007, 105-06.

[19] Corporación Latinobarómetro, Informe 2006, http://www.latinobarometro.org (accessed January 11, 2009), 49; Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008, 96.

[20] Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008, 29, 44. However, in a stunning rejection of the neoliberal ethos that prevails in countries like Colombia, Latin American populations have more faith in the State to solve basic problems than they do in the "market." Over 80 percent of Latin Americans believe that basic services like education, health care, water, electricity, and oil "should be mainly in the hands of the State." Ibid., 38.

[21] Ibid., 107-09.

[22] Latinobarómetro, Informe 2007, 88.

[23] Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008, 105.

[24] Latinobarómetro, Informe 2007, 81. The 2008 edition includes a similar question, but the results are given, at least in the online edition, as an average for the period 2004-08 rather than for 2008 alone. See Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008, 82.

[25] Latinobarómetro, Informe 2006, 74.

[26] See above, note 20.

[27] Lars Schoultz, "U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights Violations in Latin America: A Comparative Analysis of Foreign Aid Distributions," Comparative Politics 13, no. 2 (1981): 155. Emphasis added.

[28] These differing definitions of democracy-one very limited, one more expansive-are a major theme in a recent book by Greg Grandin, who argues that in Latin America during the Cold War "democracy came to be defined strictly in terms of personal freedom rather than social security." The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), xv. See also the analysis of recent US policy toward Bolivia in Reed Lindsay, "Exporting Gas and Importing Democracy in Bolivia," NACLA Report on the Americas 39, no. 3 (November/December 2005), http://nacla.org/node/4239 (accessed January 22, 2009).

[29] On the 1992 and 1996 acts, see Jane Franklin, "Out-Platting Platt: From Colonization to Globalization," Paper presented in Havana, June 13, 2001, http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~hbf/platt.htm (accessed October 20, 2007).

[30] Carter administration Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, quoted in Michael T. Klare, "Have R.D.F., Will Travel," The Nation (March 8, 1980), 263. See also Greg Grandin, Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 179-80.

[31] White House, SECRET/SENSITIVE Memorandum for the President, "Subject: NSC Meeting, November 6-Chile," November 5, 1970, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB110/index.htm (accessed January 15, 2009). The last quote is from the transcript of a November 6, 1970 National Security Council meeting, quoted on the same webpage. On this same theme see also Grandin, The Last Colonial Massacre, 175.

[32] Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "Report to the President on Latin American Mission, February 12-March 3, 1961," in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Vol. XII: American Republics (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1996), 13; also quoted and discussed in Noam Chomsky, "Cuba and the US Government: David vs. Goliath," in Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000), 89. This discussion also draws from Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 110-15, and Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (New York: Metropolitan/Owl, 2003), 66, 89-90.

[33] "The Threat to US Security Interests in the Caribbean Area," SNIE 80-62, January 17, 1962, in FRUS, 1961-1963, Vol. XII, 212.

[34] US hostility toward Cuba has been constant and unrelenting (and roundly condemned in international circles) for the past half century. On this history see Jane Franklin, Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History (New York: Ocean Press, 1997); Louis A. Pérez, Jr., "Fear and Loathing of Fidel Castro: Sources of US Policy toward Cuba," Journal of Latin American Studies 34, no. 2 (2002): 227-54; Chomsky, "Cuba and the US Government."

[35] See above, note 16, for Venezuela.

[36] Schoultz, "U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights Violations in Latin America," 155.

[37] For some useful reflections on the choices confronting the Obama administration in Latin America, see the January/February 2009 issue of NACLA Report on the Americas, available at https://nacla.org/naclareport.
Source: ZNet