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
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
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.
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 . 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 . 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 .
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
between the two countries actually grew by 135 percent between 2002 and
2006 . 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) . 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.
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 . 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
Table 1. Latin American Regimes vis-à-vis the United States, as of September 2008
More friendly regimes
Somewhat friendly regimes
More hostile regimes
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
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 . 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
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
Political and Civil Rights
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):
- "Democracy [in my country] guarantees the freedom to participate in politics."
- "Democracy guarantees freedom of expression, always and in all parts [of the country]."
- "[Democracy guarantees] equality before the law."
- "The most effective way to change things is by voting to elect those who defend my position." 
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
Freedom of participation
Freedom of expression
Effectiveness of voting
2. Costa Rica
4. Dominican Republic
9. El Salvador
*Source: Calculated from Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008, 80, 95, 97, 99.
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 .
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 .
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.
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 . 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 . 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.
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 . 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
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
Equality of opportunities
Fair wealth distribution
3. Costa Rica
8. Dominican Republic
10. El Salvador
*Source: Calculated from Latinobarómetro, Informe 2007, 65.
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.
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 . 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) . 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.
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 . 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 .
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 .
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
. 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
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
. 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 . Of the five populations, only
Colombians expressed significantly more satisfaction in 2008 than in
2007, though Colombia remained well behind Venezuela.
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 . 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 .
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 . 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
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.
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 . 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.
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" . 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.
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 .
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.
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 .
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" . 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 . 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]" . 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" . The
US did act, of course, with lethal consequences for hundreds of
thousands of innocent people.
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.
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)  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 . 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.
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" . 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
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) . 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.
 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.
 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.
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).
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.
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.
 See http://www.justf.org.
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.
 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).
 Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008, 80, 95, 97, 99.
 Ibid., 100.
 Corporación Latinobarómetro, Informe 2007 (November), http://www.latinobarometro.org (accessed January 11, 2009), 65, 98.
 Ibid., 79.
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).
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.
 Based on measures of "Income, Inequality and Poverty" compiled at http://www.iadb.org/sociometro/index.html (accessed January 14, 2009).
 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).
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.
 Latinobarómetro, Informe 2007, 105-06.
 Corporación Latinobarómetro, Informe 2006, http://www.latinobarometro.org (accessed January 11, 2009), 49; Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008, 96.
 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.
 Ibid., 107-09.
 Latinobarómetro, Informe 2007, 88.
 Latinobarómetro, Informe 2008, 105.
 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.
 Latinobarómetro, Informe 2006, 74.
 See above, note 20.
 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.
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).
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).
 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.
 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.
 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.
 "The Threat to US Security Interests in the Caribbean Area," SNIE 80-62, January 17, 1962, in FRUS, 1961-1963, Vol. XII, 212.
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."
 See above, note 16, for Venezuela.
 Schoultz, "U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights Violations in Latin America," 155.
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.