What should Latin Americans expect from Obama in the age of globalization and neo-liberal ideology that prevails among apologists of the market economy and institutions public and private that have the means to impose globalization and neo-liberalism? Simply put, Obama will make an effort to bring Latin America more closely integrated into the US economy that is rapidly losing ground to China. In return, Obama will deliver hollow rhetoric about 'democracy' and freedom.
The US government and businesses are interested in making sure that the Western Hemisphere remains solidly a regional economic bloc in which extra-continental powers like China, Japan, Russia and Europe enjoy far less influence than debt-ridden US. This is especially significant given that Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Peru, and to an extent Argentina, Mexico and Brazil have distanced their governments from the US whose policies are designed to cater to large domestic and foreign enterprises to the detriment of the rest of the population.
In this regard, segments of the Catholic Church, labor unions, women's organizations and varieties of progressive groups agree more with Hugo Chavez than they do with Obama whose mission is to assuage anti-Americanism that is as prevalent today as it has been in the last half century. Social democratic reformist mentality is sweeping across Latin America today as it did during the Great Depression, but Obama is not FDR and his mission is to undermine the reformist movement by presenting the neo-liberal agenda as 'democratic'.
Unlike the 1930s when the FDR administration promoted the Good Neighbor Policy that respected national sovereignty and pledged non-intervention, the US today has no interest other than promoting US commercial relations and neo-liberalism, especially with Brazil that has been one of the world's fastest growing economies in the last decade under quasi-statist policies, and stands apart in that respect from Spanish-speaking Latin America. Although the US argues that it wants to encourage the democratization process of Latin America especially now that popular uprisings have been taking place in Islamic countries, the record historically and today indicates that US has done everything to promote greater US economic, military and political influence in Latin America to the detriment of democracy, human rights, and social justice.Latin Americans are well aware of US track record.
One very clear example of US anti-democratic practice veiled behind 'democratic' rhetoric is that the Defense Department and CIA have worked with the most reactionary elements in the 34 Latin American countries to prevent social, economic, and political progress, while supporting the small oligarchies and multinational corporations. In some cases, like Guatemala and El Salvador with a long history of US intervention and support of authoritarian regimes, the vast majority of the people live at or below poverty levels and remain outside the institutional mainstream.
In 1946 the US created the School of the Americas (SOA) as part of the Latin American Training Center to make certain that US hegemony over the Western Hemisphere proceeds without obstacles from reformist trade unions and politicians who aspired modernization for their countries. Priority for the US was the nascent Cold War for which it needed loyal support at the UN and the Organization of American States created to retain hemispheric solidarity.
In the last sixty years, SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American military officers many of whom have been involved in serious human rights abuses - including the disappearance of 200,000 Guatemalans, two million displaced people in Colombia, which has the highest SOA graduates and the worst human rights record in Latin America. There have been many organizations that have called for closing the school that has been synonymous with 'death squad diplomacy' against any progressive force that advocates observance of human rights, social, political and economic reform.
The only response from the US is that the school is not responsible for the actions of its graduates who are taught interrogation using torture, extortion, coercion, sabotage, explosions, and executions. In 2000 when it renamed the school Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), which advertises itself as training officers in everything from leadership to counterinsurgency (death squad) skills. Argentina, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela do not take part in WHISC.
Obama will encounter a much more leftist Latin America than he believes exists. Brazil, for example, that the US wants to use to counterbalance China-Japan economic hemispheric influence, has cordial relations with Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador and remains a challenge to the US neo-liberal model. Obama will discover first-hand that the Latin Americans today as in the 1930s favor a mixed economic model that involves the state as an agent of growth along with private capital. They want fair trade, not free trade that allows the dominant trading partner to determine the terms of trade.
With the exception of the large landowners and large businesses, most Latin Americans want freedom from covert operations that involve infiltration of their armed forces, police, trade unions, and political parties by US agencies like CIA with the intention of undercutting national sovereignty. They want rapprochement between US and its declared enemies Cuba and Venezuela. They want as they have always non-discriminatory policies toward Latin American immigrants and greater effort to stop the drug trade. Will Obama deliver anything of what Latin Americans want or only of what US multinationals and military wants?