Obama’s Challenge: Free Trade

By Adam Sgrenci

This weekend the fifth Summit of the Americas convenes in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, bringing together 34 heads of state in the Western Hemisphere. Leading the U.S. delegation, President Obama needs to break with the failed policies of the Bush administration that alienated most of the governments of Latin America during the first decade of this century.

Obama has engaged Latin America from the start of his presidency. Even before his inauguration he held a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon to discuss U.S.-Mexican border issues.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited the White House in March, telling Obama he had a “unique” chance to transform relations with Latin America. Though Lula stressed the importance of lifting the economic embargo on Cuba, his main concerns were with bilateral trade relations between the biggest nation state of the southern hemisphere and the “colossus of the North.” It is likely that Obama will concede to Lula’s requests and lower U.S. tariffs on imports of bio-fuels. This would represent a step away from the hypocrisy of U.S.-Latin American trade relations in which the United States demanded open markets throughout the region but then protected its own.

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U.S.-Cuba Politics Play Out at OAS Gathering

By Roger Burbach

New America Media

U.S.-Cuba relations are once again front and center as the meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, begins today.

Cuba, expelled from the OAS in 1962 at the height of the Cold War, will not be present at the gathering. But the United States is facing a virtually united front of Latin American nations demanding that Cuba be readmitted. Chilean Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the organization, declares, “I want to be clear: I want Cuba back in the Inter-American system…Cuba is a member of the OAS. Its flag is there.”

The Obama Administration is sending contradictory signals about what it is up to. On April 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will be leading the U.S. delegation to Tegucigalpa, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Any effort to admit Cuba into the OAS is really in Cuba’s hands,” referring to past U.S. demands that Cuba change its political system.

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Et Tu Daniel? The Sandinista Revolution Betrayed*

By Roger Burbach

Upon his inauguration as Nicaraguan president in January 2007, Daniel Ortega asserted that his government would represent “the second stage of the Sandinista Revolution.” His election was full of symbolic resonance, coming after 16 years of electoral failures for Ortega and the party he led, the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN). The Sandinistas’ road to power was paved with a series of previously unthinkable pacts with the old somocista and Contra opposition. The FSLN’s pact making began in earnest in 2001, when, in the run-up to that year’s presidential election, Ortega forged an alliance with Arnoldo Alemán, an official during the Somoza regime who had been elected president in 1997.

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Obama in Latin America: Got Hope?

Adam Sgrenci

Since his election in early November, the support for Barack Obama has rallied much anticipation with regards to a new kind of politics. On his inauguration day, we demand he stand by his word. In Latin America, US foreign policy has failed miserably. Predatory free trade agreements, a militarized policy apparatus, and the restriction of outspoken leftist leaders to the fringes of our policy-making has stirred the ire of anti-Americanism like never before.

Students, researchers, activists and civic leaders of US-Latin American foreign policy, can only speculate on what is to come as they try to forget the past. Bush’s promise to establish a more participatory relationship with Latin America was never kept. After his inauguration in 2001, he spoke enthusiastically about a  ‘Century of the Americas’ – to ‘build a western hemisphere of freedom and prosperity, a hemisphere bound together by shared ideas and free trade from the Arctic to the Andes to Cape Horn.’  But after 9/11, Bush overlooked Latin America almost entirely as he embarked upon the War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.

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Winds of Change Blow Across Cuba

By Roger Burbach

New America Media

Editor’s Note: Cuba celebrated its 50th anniversary of the revolution as a new administration moved into Washington with the promise of change, and as the transition in Cuba’s own government faces inevitable change, much of it percolating up from the people. Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.

HAVANA, Cuba–The Cuban revolution is in a process of transition and transformation as it marks its 50th anniversary. I have visited the country every decade since the revolution’s triumph, and excepting the 60s, I have never experienced the Cuban people more open and discursive about their future. As Rafael Hernandez, the director of the widely read social and cultural journal Temas tells me, “We are rethinking the very nature of society and what socialism means. A discussion is opening up on many fronts over where we are headed, how property is to be defined, what is the role of the market, and how we can achieve greater political participation, particularly among the youth. Within the upper levels of the state and the Communist party there is real resistance to this, but the debate has been joined.”

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The United States: Orchestrating a Civic Coup in Bolivia

By Roger Burbach

November 17, 2008

Evo Morales is the latest democratically-elected Latin American president to be the target of a US plot to destabilize and overthrow his government. On September 10, 2008 Morales expelled US Ambassador Philip Goldberg because “he is conspiring against democracy and seeking the division of Bolivia.”

Observers of US-Latin American policy tend to view the crisis in US-Bolivian relations as due to a policy of neglect and ineptness towards Latin America because of US involvement in the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. In fact, the Bolivia coup attempt was a conscious policy rooted in US hostility towards Morales, his political party the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) and the social movements that are aligned with him.

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Bolivia’s Popular Upheaval: Social and Indigenous Movements March on Santa Cruz, Bastion of the Right Wing

By Tanya M. Kerssen and Roger Burbach

A popular upheaval is sweeping Bolivia, threatening the departmental capital of Santa Cruz, the bastion of the right wing rebellion against the government of Evo Morales. Some twenty thousand miners, peasants and coca growers are moving on the city to reclaim state institutions occupied by autonomist forces. They are also demanding the resignation of the Santa Cruz prefect (governor), Rubén Costas, and the apprehension of Branko Marinkovich, an agro-industrial magnet who heads up the Santa Cruz Civic Committee comprised of large land owning and business interests.

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Confronting Right Wing Rebellion, Bolivian President Evo Morales’ Commitment to Democracy Evokes Memories of Salvador Allende

By Roger Burbach

As Bolivia teeters on the brink of civil war, President Evo Morales staunchly maintains his commitment to constructing a popular democracy by working within the state institutions that brought him to power. The show down with the right wing is taking place against the backdrop of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the overthrow of Salvador Allende, the heroic if tragic president of Chile who believed that the formal democratic state he inherited could be peacefully transformed to usher in a socialist society.

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The “Divide” in the Alternative Agriculture Movement: Fueling the Debate

Miguel A. Altieri, University of California, Berkeley

There is no doubt that we need an alternative agricultural development paradigm, one that encourages more ecologically, biodiverse, sustainable and socially just forms of agriculture. Strategies are needed which lead to the revitalization of small and medium sized farms, and point the way towards the reshaping of the entire agricultural policy and food system in ways that are economically viable to farmers and consumers. Throughout the world there are hundreds of movements that are pursuing a change toward ecologically sensitive and socially just farming systems from a variety of perspectives. Some emphasize the production of food that is safe for the consumer, in a way that is environmentally friendly and prioritizes animal welfare and the conservation of wild biodiversity. Others promote alternative marketing strategies , while others land stewardship and still others the empowerment of peasant communities. Although one may argue that most of these groups advocating a shift towards sustainable agriculture share the same goals, there are huge and at times insurmountable differences not only in objectives but in ideological perceptions of the root causes of the unsustainability and inequities of the agrarian structure and more importantly on the strategies on how to change such structure.

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The Rise of Food Fascism: Allied to Global Agribusiness, Agrarian Elite Fomenting Coup in Bolivia

By Roger Burbach

Like many third world countries, Bolivia is experiencing food shortages and rising food prices attributable to a global food marketing system driven by multinational agribusiness corporations. With sixty percent of the Bolivian population living in poverty and thirty-three percent in extreme poverty, the price of the basic food canasta–including wheat, rice, corn, soy oil and potatoes, as well as meat—has risen twenty-five percent over the past year with prices gyrating wildly in the local markets.

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