The map above summarizes the recent history of U.S. policy toward Latin America, a history with which few people in this country are familiar. It was produced for the activist newsletter ¡Presente! in 2011.
People with different political opinions are going to disagree about how to interpret the events recounted here. The map claims that the U.S. response to the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 was simply an opportunity “to further militarize the country,” for example. Many here and in Latin America do believe that the Obama administration worked to keep Honduran President Manuel Zelaya out of power following his ouster by the military in 2009, as the map states, and it is true that the State Department (as it would again in Egypt four years later) refused to acknowledge what had happened, not classifying the incident as a military coup. Foreign aid to Honduras continued as a result. On the other hand, Obama had harsh words for the Honduran generals, and the administration did try to mediate between Zelaya and the military government. A harder line against the new regime might not have compelled the Honduran military to accept Zelaya, but only weakened whatever remaining influence the United States had in the country. At the time, conservative diplomats in the United States even felt that Obama was doing too much on Zelaya’s behalf–though that argument looks shortsighted in retrospect, as crime and corruption have overwhelmed Honduras since his departure.
That said, the general point of the map isn’t really controversial. For most of the recent past, U.S. forces and forces armed and trained by the United States have regularly and violently intervened in the affairs of Latin American countries, establishing brutal autocracies to prevent the expansion of Communism. The ends may have justified the means in some cases, but certainly not in all. If policymakers in Washington were truly making the best decisions they could with the knowledge they had at the time, then perhaps knowledge of history will help them avoid similar mistakes in the future.
Click below for a critique of the Obama administration’s policies in Latin America.