Not since the US pronounced the Monroe Doctrine proclaiming its imperial supremacy over Latin America, nearly 200 years ago, has a White House regime so openly affirmed its mission to recolonise Latin America.
“The Western Hemisphere is our Region,” Michael Pompeo, US Secretary of State.
The second decade of the 21st century has witnessed, in word and deed, the most thorough and successful US recolonisation of Latin America, and its active and overt role as colonial sepoys of an imperial power.
In this paper we will examine the process of recolonisation and the strategy, tactics and goals that are the driving forces of colony-building. We will conclude by discussing the durability, stability and Washington’s capacity to retain ownership of the Hemisphere.
A brief history of 20th century colonisation and decolonisation
US colonisation of Latin America was based on direct US military, economic, cultural and political interventions with special emphasis on Central America, North America (Mexico) and the Caribbean. Washington resorted to military invasions, to impose favourite trade and investment advantages and appointed and trained local military forces to uphold colonial rule and to ensure submission to US regional and global supremacy.
The US challenged rival European colonial powers – in particular England and Germany, and eventually reduced them to marginal status, through military and economic pressure and threats.
The recolonisation process suffered severe setbacks in some regions and nations with the onset of the Great Depression, which undermined the US military and economic presence and facilitated the rise of powerful nationalist regimes and movements in particular in Argentina, Brazil, Chile Nicaragua and Cuba.
The process of “decolonisation” led to, and included, the nationalisation of US oil fields, sugar and mining sectors; a shift in foreign policy toward relatively greater independence; and labour laws which increased workers’ rights and left-wing unionisation.
The US victory in World War II and its economic supremacy led Washington to re-assert its colonial rule in the Western Hemisphere. The Latin American regimes lined up with Washington in the Cold and Hot wars, backing the US wars against China, Korea, Vietnam and the confrontation against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Eastern Europe.
For Washington, working through its colonised dictatorial regimes, invaded every sector of the economy, especially agro-minerals; it proceeded to dominate markets and sought to impose colonised trade unions run by the imperial-centred American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
By the early 1960s, a wave of popular nationalist and socialist social movements challenged the colonial order, led by the Cuban Revolution and accompanied by nationalist governments throughout the continent including Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. US multi-national manufacturing firms were forced to engage in joint ventures or were nationalised, as were oil, mineral and energy sectors.
Nationalists proceeded to substitute local products for imports, as a development strategy. A process of decolonisation was underway!
The US reacted by launching a war to recolonise Latin America by through military coups, invasions and rigged elections. Latin America once more lined up with the US in support of its economic boycott of Cuba, and the repression of nationalist governments. The US reversed nationalist policies and denationalised their economies under the direction of US controlled so-called international financial organisations – like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.
The recolonisation process advanced, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, under the auspices of newly imposed military regimes and the new “neo-liberal” free-market doctrine.
Once again recolonisation led to highly polarised societies in which the domestic colonised elites were a distinct minority. Moreover, the colonial economic doctrine allowed the US banks and investors to plunder the Latin America countries, impose out- of -control debt burdens, de-industrialisation of the economies, severe increases in unemployment and a precipitous decline in living standards.
By the early years of the 21st century, deepening colonisation led to an economic crisis and the resurgence of mass movements and new waves of nationalist-popular movements, which sought to reverse – at least in part – the colonial relationship and structures.
Colonial debts were renegotiated or written off; a few foreign firms were nationalised; taxes were increased on agro-exporters; increases in public welfare spending reduced poverty; public investment increased salaries and wages. A process of decolonisation advanced, aided by a boom in commodity pieces.
Twenty-first century decolonisation was partial and affected only a limited sector of the economy; it mainly increased popular consumption rather than structural changes in property and financial power.
Decolonisation co-existed with colonial power elites. The major significant changes took place with regard to regional policies. Decolonising elites established regional alliances, which excluded or minimised the US presence.
Regional power shifted to Argentina and Brazil in Mercosur; Venezuela in Central America and the Caribbean; Ecuador and Bolivia in the Andean region.
But as history has demonstrated, imperial power can suffer reverses and lose collaborators but while the US retains its military and economic levers of power it can and will use all the instruments of power to recolonise the region, in a step by step approach, incorporating regions in its quest for hemisphere supremacy.
The recolonisation of Latin America: Brazil, Argentina, and the Lima Pact against Venezuela
As the first decade of the 21st century unfolded, numerous Latin American governments and movements began the process of decolonisation, displacing US client regimes, taking the lead in regional organisations, diversifying their markets and trading partners.
Nevertheless, the leaders and parties were incapable and unwilling to break with local elites tied to the US colonisation project.
Vulnerable to downward movements in commodity prices, composed of heterogeneous political alliances and unable to create or deepen anti-colonial culture, the US moved to reconstruct its colonial project.
The US struck first at the “weakest link” of the decolonisation process. The US backed coups in Honduras and Paraguay. Then Washington turned to converting the judiciary and congress as stepping-stones for launching a political attack on the strategic regimes in Argentina and Brazil and turning secondary regimes in Ecuador, Chile, Peru and El Salvador into the US orbit.
As the recolonisation process advanced, the US regained its dominance in regional and international organisations. The colonised regimes privatised their economies and Washington secured regimes willing to assume onerous debts, previously repudiated.
The US advances in recolonisation looked toward targeting the oil rich, dynamic and formidable anti-colonial government in Venezuela.
Venezuela was targeted for several strategic reasons.
First, Venezuela under President Chavez opposed US regional and global colonial ambitions.
Secondly, Caracas provided financial resources to bolster and promote anti-colonial regimes throughout Latin America especially in the Caribbean and Central America.
Thirdly, Venezuela invested in, and implemented, a profound and comprehensive state social agenda, building schools and hospitals with free education and health care, subsidised food and housing. Socialist democratic Venezuela contrasted with the US abysmal dismantling of the welfare state among the reconstructed colonial states.
Fourthly, Venezuela’s national control over natural resources, especially oil, was a strategic target in Washington imperial agenda.
While the US successfully reduced or eliminated Venezuela’s allies in the rest of Latin America, its repeated efforts to subdue Venezuela failed.
An abortive coup was defeated; as was a referendum to impeach President Chavez.
US boycotts and the bankrolling of elections failed to oust the Venezuelan government
Washington was unable to pressure and secure the backing of the mass of the population or the military.
Coup techniques, successful in imposing colonial regimes elsewhere, failed.
The US turned to a multi-prong, continent-wide, covert and overt military, political, economic and cultural war.
The White House appointed Juan Guaido, a virtual unknown, as “interim President”. Guaido was elected to Congress with 25 percent of the vote in his home district. Washington spent millions of dollars in promoting Guaido and funding non-governmental organisations and self-styled human rights organisations to slander the Venezuelan government and launch violent attacks on the security forces.
The White House rounded up its recolonised regimes in the region to recognise Guaido as the “legitimate President”.
Washington recruited several leading European Union countries, especially the United Kingdom, France and Germany to isolate Venezuela.
The US sought to penetrate and subvert the Venezuelan populace via so-called humanitarian aid, refusing to work through the Red Cross and other independent organisations.
The White House fixed the weekend of 23-24 February, as the moment to oust President Maduro. It was a total, unmitigated failure, putting the lie to all of Washington’s fabrications.
The US claimed the Armed Forces would defect and join with the US funded opposition – only a hundred or so, out of 260,000 did so. The military remained loyal to the Venezuelan people, the government and the constitution despite bribes and promises.
Washington claimed “the people” in Venezuela would launch an insurrection and hundreds of thousands would cross the border. Apart from a few dozen street thugs, tossing Molotov cocktails there was no uprising and less than a few hundred tried to cross the border.
Tons of US “aid” remained in the Colombian warehouses. The Brazilian border patrol sent the US funded “protestors” packing for blocking free passage across the frontier
Even US provocateurs who incinerated two trucks carrying “aid” were exposed, the vehicles in flames remained on the Colombian side of the border. US sponsored boycotts of Venezuelan oil exports partially succeed because Washington illegally seized Venezuela export revenues.
The recolonised Lima Group passed hostile resolutions and re-anointed Trump’s President Guaido, but few voters in the region took their pronouncements serious.
What are the colonised states expected to serve? Why has the White House failed to recolonise Venezuela as it did in the rest of Latin America?
The recolonised states in Latin America serve to open their markets to US investors on easy terms, with low taxes and social and labour costs, and political and economic stability based on repression of popular class and national struggles.
Colonised regimes are expected to support US boycotts, coups and invasions and to supply military troops as ordered.
Colonised regimes take the US side in international conflicts and negotiations; in regional organisations they vote with the US and meet debt payments on time and in full.
The recolonised nations ensure favourable results for Washington by manipulating elections and judicial decisions and by excluding anti-colonial candidates and officials and arresting political activists.
The colonised regimes anticipate the needs and demands of Washington and introduce resolutions on their behalf in regional organisations.
In the case of Venezuela, they promote and organise regional bloc like the Lima Group to promote US led intervention.
As Washington proceeds to destabilise Venezuela, the colonised allies recycle US mass media propaganda and offer sanctuaries for opposition defectors and refugees.
In sum the recolonised elites facilitate domestic plunder and overseas conquests.
Venezuela success in resisting and defeating the US drive for re-conquest is the result of nationalist and socialist leaders who re-allocate private wealth and re-distribute public expenditure to the workers, peasants and the unemployed.
Under President Chavez, Venezuela recruited and promoted military and security forces loyal to the constitutional order and in line with a popular socio-economic and anti-colonial agenda. Venezuela ensured that elections and judicial appointments were free and in-line with the politics of the majority.
The Venezuelans ensured that military advisers were independent of US military missions and aid agencies, which plot coups and are disloyal to the nationalist state.
Venezuelan social democracy, its social advances and the massive reduction of poverty and inequality, contributed to reinforcing commitments to endogenous cultural values and national sovereignty.
Despite the US accumulation of colonial vassals throughout Latin America and Europe, Venezuela has consolidated mass support. Despite Washington’s capture of the global mass media it has not influenced popular opinion on a world scale. Despite US threats of a “military option” it lacks global support. In the face of prolonged and large-scale resistance, Washington hesitates.
In addition the Latin American colonised states face domestic social and economic crises and political resistance. Europe confronts a regional break-up. Washington is riven by partisan divisions and a constitutional crisis.
The failure of the imperialist’s ultras in Washington to defeat Venezuela can set in motion a new wave of decolonisation struggles, which can force the US to look inward and downward – in order to decolonise its own electorate.
*Professor James Petras is an award winning author and Research Associate at the Centre for Research on Globalisation.