The Return of Violent Anti-Americanism in Latin America

tags: Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, anti-Americanism



Mr. McPherson teaches at the School of International and Area Studies, University of Oklahoma

On September 20, a mob supporting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, armed with sticks and machetes, took the streets of León to prevent a peaceful anti-government rally. They stopped traffic, searched buses and cars, and clashed with anti-riot police. A week later, another Ortega mob attacked students chanting “We don’t want violence.” They kicked them and whipped them with belts.

A yanqui opposition?

The media mostly noticed that Ortega, former Sandinista leader, was turning against several of his leftist allies, now organized as the Sandinista Renovation Movement. Also clear was his use of state institutions, namely the media, to slander his opposition. What few noted, however, was that Ortega had labeled the opposition “puppets of the yanqui empire.” While the motivations of the Nicaraguan government were clearly domestic, the rhetoric invoked the shopworn bogeyman of all-encompassing U.S. power.

Was this scapegoating? Ortega certainly never explained how men like Ernesto Cardenal and Sergio Ramírez, true black-and-red Sandinistas targeted by the Reagan administration’s contras in the 1980s and still committed progressives, could be “neoliberal oppressors,” as one Ortega supporter called the opposition.

What is clear is that anti-U.S. rhetoric has become so prevalent among leaders in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, that it now prompts the use of violence. For too long, the international community seems to have assumed that rhetoric like that of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez was just that, rhetorical. The assumption was that Chávez mostly called President Bush “the devil” at the United Nations in 2006 or ranted to crowds last month that “yanquis de mierda” should “go to hell” to score domestic political points without intending any violence to his targets. To be sure, Chávez’s has never called for violence against “the empire.”

But anti-Americanism, like any other predisposition, can turn from criticism to distrust to outright hatred in the blink of an eye, especially with the blessing of a fiery leader. And not just for Americans but for those perceived to be associated with them.

This violence-by-association is at work also in Bolivia. There, President Evo Morales, a strong Chávez ally, is in a diplomatic tussle with Washington since expelling its ambassador, Philip Goldberg, in September. More seriously, in September his supporters clashed violently with those of four provinces in rebellion against Morales’s new constitution. The result: 15 dead, mostly peasant followers of the president.

Morales’s encouragement of violence is partly to blame. In June Morales directly praised 20,000 protesters who marched to the U.S. embassy in La Paz and clashed with anti-riot police. And the long-time slogan of his party, “Long Live Coca! Death to the Yanquis!” cannot help but inflame passions.

We have witnessed this before, and it did not work. In the first third of the century, Latin Americans under U.S. occupation resisted violently, and thousands were killed. Worse, their violence produced nothing; it was peaceful protest that threw the Marines out.

In the second third, Cuba’s Fidel Castro encouraged copycats throughout the hemisphere. None succeeded.

In the third third, violence raged in Central America—to be sure, often in response to Reagan/contra attacks—and it also ended in failure. By the early 1990s all revolutionary anti-U.S. groups either capitulated or lost the trust of the people in elections.

To defend sovereignty, to fight over resources, even to smear political opponents—all these can be legitimate political means to an end. But anti-U.S. violence is wrong on moral and practical levels. It is especially deplorable when the victims of that violence are one’s own countrymen, even more so when they aren’t even allied with Washington.

This is in no way a call for the United States to counter what are still relatively minor incidents of violence with its own brand, which is usually far more destructive. The days of U.S.-sponsored coups in Latin America are over. Rather, Washington can help diffuse tensions by pointing to the divisive nature and bloody consequences of anti-U.S. rhetoric.


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Raul A Garcia - 11/2/2008

The political malaise in the Americas-notice I use the plural- not including former French and English colonies- has no doubt been shaped greatly by the U.S. of America (thank you Amerigo Vespucci)in its typical sphere of influence actions. You can argue that Russia/Soviet Union, China in a prior period, also acted in this hegemonic manner. But to give the proper credit as the source of its repetitious inefficiencies, The "latin" republics were offspring of imperial Spain. The various military caudillos, pronuncimientos, are a legacy of Spanish conquistadores and the colonial systems. Fidel in Cuba is/was a more modern version of the same military chief. Alas the lack of civil institutions, respect thereof, viability, etc. The latin republics did willingly, not by U.S. coercion, assume republican forms of government. Later on of course there has been much intervention. Lula's Brazil offers hope that a contrary model to Chavez may ( it presently is)succeed long-term. True, endemic poverty, gangsterism, bureaucratic barriers to free enterprise and investment by other countries, exists in Brazil but the economy is still growing despite the present world-wide slowdown. I would say intervention by Chavez at present is a bigger danger- it is mostly financing at this stage (they hold most of Argentina's debt to cite one "chokepoint"). What is amazing is the continued existence of the Cuban model (a failed one) as the paradigm among so many naive Americans- and of course many other persons outside the Americas still perceive Cuba as a "socialist paradise"- so sad.


Randll Reese Besch - 10/20/2008

America ---typo, sorry.


Randll Reese Besch - 10/20/2008

An imperial conceit in fact. It is used so ubiquitously that it is hard not to fall into line to use it automatically. Haiti is another example of the USA and the coup machine. And tell me what about Iraq and Afghanistan, two large areas where the USA attacked and overthrew the respective gov'ts? An obsolete policy? I think not! Alan McPherson sounds like the average kind of propagandist that Noam Chomsky talks about that supports the status quo as a common theme. If not the 'common sense' consensus fostered upon the generally a-literate. Little questioned if not out right ignored. This is the History News Network buy McPherson left out relevant history to get to his bogus conclusion. Slick isn't it?


Lorraine Paul - 10/20/2008

I would say that South Americans are like the rest of us in the world...not so much anti-US but anti-the-foreign-policies of successive US governments towards other countries.


Lorraine Paul - 10/20/2008

Does Mr McPherson know anything at all about the history of South America? Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, or even Cuba?

He writes as though 'anti-US' sentiment grew out of a vacuum. He can't even get the nomenclature right. There is a place called South America, there is another another place called North America in which there is a country called the United States of America, otherwise known as the US. To say that South Americans are anti-American is ridiculous!


Arnold Shcherban - 10/20/2008

<The days of U.S.-sponsored coups in Latin America are over.>
I bet the author they are not.
Just recall the coup attempt against
Hugo Chavez, over which the latter was saved just by the mass protests
of Venezuelians in which he later accused the US government of sponsoring. Please don't tell me that
the guy is crazy, since the failed coup had all major characteristics of the CIA past ominious scenarios.
I can also bet that as we speak now, the CIA and other US National Security institutions planning to overthrow/replace the left regimes/leaders in Venezuela, Bolivia, Equador, and, Nicaragua.

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