Here's How Much Respect the United States Has For the Sovereignty of Central and South American Countries

Trump Administration

Vice President Mike Pence met with Brazilian president Michel Temer in Brasília today. He said this:

“Sadly, in recent days, a flood of migrants from Central America have been entering the United States illegally,” he said. “In the first six months of this year, nearly 150,000 Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans abandoned their homes and made the often dangerous journey to the United States in the misguided belief that they could enter our country illegally.”

“To all the nations of the region, let me say with great respect, that just as the United States respects your borders and your sovereignty, we insist that you respect ours,” he added.

Pence’s memory is not great. Here’s how much respect the United States has, historically, had for the sovereignty of Nicaragua:

At a pivotal meeting of the highest officials in the Reagan Administration [on June 25, 1984], the President and Vice President [George H.W. Bush] and their top aides discuss how to sustain the Contra war in the face of mounting Congressional opposition. The discussion focuses on asking third countries to fund and maintain the effort, circumventing Congressional power to curtail the CIA’s paramilitary operations. In a remarkable passage, Secretary of State George P. Shultz warns the president that White House adviser James Baker has said that “if we go out and try to get money from third countries, it is an impeachable offense.” But Vice President George Bush argues the contrary: “How can anyone object to the US encouraging third parties to provide help to the anti-Sandinistas…? The only problem that might come up is if the United States were to promise to give these third parties something in return so that some people could interpret this as some kind of exchange.” Later, Bush participated in arranging a quid pro quo deal with Honduras in which the U.S. did provide substantial overt and covert aid to the Honduran military in return for Honduran support of the Contra war effort.

Here’s how much respect the United States has had for the sovereignty of El Salvador:

It was a civil war of the 1980s, one that pitted leftist revolutionaries against the alliance of countries, oligarchs, and generals that had ruled the country for decades—with U.S. support—keeping peasants illiterate and impoverished. It was a bloody, brutal, and dirty war. More than 75,000 Salvadorans were killed in the fighting, most of them victims of the military and its death squads. Peasants were shot en masse, often while trying to flee. Student and union leaders had their thumbs tied behind their backs before being shot in the head, their bodies left on roadsides as a warning to others.

Here’s how much respect that the United States has had for the soverignity of Chile:

The United States never wanted Salvador Allende, the socialist candidate elected president of Chile in 1970, to assume office. President Richard Nixon told the CIA to “make the [Chilean] economy scream,” and the agency worked with three Chilean groups, each plotting a coup against Allende in 1970. The agency went so far as to provide weapons, but the plans fell apart after the CIA lost confidence in its proxies. U.S. attempts to disrupt the Chilean economy continued until Gen. Augusto Pinochet led a military coup against Allende in 1973. The CIA’s official account of the seizure of power on Sept. 11, 1973, notes that the agency “was aware of coup-plotting by the military, had ongoing intelligence collection relationships with some plotters, and — because CIA did not discourage the takeover and had sought to instigate a coup in 1970 — probably appeared to condone it.” The CIA also conducted a propaganda campaign in support of Pinochet’s new regime after he took office in 1973, despite knowledge of severe human rights abuses, including the murder of political dissidents.

(As it was pointed out to me on Twitter after the publication of this post, today is actually Allende’s birthday.)

Here’s how much respect the United States has had for the sovereignty of Guatemala:

The US supported tactics of repression which would lead to the deaths of 200,000 civilians, and which would rekindle stark ethnic, economic, social and political divisions in society – legacies of colonialism – which the 1944-54 governments had gone a significant way to repairing. The civil war which erupted as a result of American intervention stifled Guatemala’s economic growth, put an end to its political independence, and allowed a corrupt ruling class to dominate the country for its own political and economic gain. Furthermore, the Guatemalan army’s use of indiscriminate torture, rape, executions and massacres were arguably among the worst human rights abuses of the cold war. And all under the auspices of maintaining ‘freedom’ in the world. The US’s goal was to contain the spread of communism in Latin America, and in this it technically succeeded. But Guatemalans paid a high price.

Finally, here’s how much respect that the United States has had for the sovereignty of Brazil:

Fearing that the government of Brazilian President Joao Goulart would, in the words of U.S. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon, “make Brazil the China of the 1960s,” the United States backed a 1964 coup led by Humberto Castello Branco, then chief of staff of the Brazilian army. In the days leading up to the coup, the CIA encouraged street rallies against the government and provided fuel and “arms of non-US origin” to those backing the military. “I think we ought to take every step that we can, be prepared to do everything that we need to do,” President Lyndon Johnson told his advisors planning the coup, according to declassified government recordsobtained by the National Security Archive. The Brazilian military went on to govern the country until 1985.

This is not a complete list of all of the times that the United States has violated the sovereignty of countries in Central and South America. It does not include, for example, the time that the United States government helped legitimize a coup in Honduras which our own embassy said was illegal, a coup which helped unleash a level of violence that has forced Hondurans to seek refuge elsewhere. It also does not include our tacit support of the most recent (bloodless) coup in Brazil which installed Temer as president.

Some might say that this is ancient history, an unfortunate necessity of the Cold War. (It wasn’t.) But decades of U.S. policy, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, has shown that we absolutely will not respect the sovereignty of our neighbors in the south if it’s deemed to be in our best interests not to do so.

So if, as Pence would like them to, countries in Central and South America use the Golden Rule as their operating principle towards relations with the United States, we should expect to see a lot of Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, and Honduran-backed militias in our own country soon, and then for those countries to slam their doors on our refugees.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story mistakingly said that Pence and Temer met in Sao Paolo. They met at the presidential palace in Brasília.

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