We used to talk about, when I was a kid in college, about “America’s backyard.” It’s not America’s backyard. Everything south of the Mexican border is America’s front yard. And we’re equal people. We don’t dictate what happens in any other part of that — of this continent or the South American continent. We have to work very hard on it. But the trouble is: we’re having great difficulty making up for the mistakes that were made the last four years, and it’s going to take some time.
Remarks by President Biden in Press Conference JANUARY 19, 2022
The claims levied by Biden about America’s “front yard” – an attempt to make Donald Trump’s presidency responsible for the horrific and deadly foreign policies plaguing Latin America and the Caribbean, rooted in the racist Monroe Doctrine – have obfuscated the reality of the US empire’s longstanding imperialist relationship with the the Americas. In Biden’s first year, he has recognized Jovenel Moïse’s illegitimate presidency before his assassination as well as deported more than 700,000 Haitians. Many may recall Kamala Harris being sent to Guatemala to advise migrants, “do not come” to the US. Last summer, Biden’s administration actively pushed for regime change in Cuba while refusing to end the blockade nor the devastating sanctions. The Nicaraguan elections were viciously attacked with attempts by the U.S. to interfere. Biden also continued harsh sanctions on Venezuela and refused to recognize Nicolas Maduro as the legitimate president. The absurdity of the Biden Administration’s “front yard” rhetoric does nothing more than expose that the U.S. still views the region, the entire Americas, as its own. Imperial tactics in the region have always been a fixture implementation in US foreign policy.
The Long Arm of Soft Power
Institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) instigate students and youth into taking stances against their left-wing governments in potential color revolutions. NED, a private nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world, began as the Reagan administration’s solution to the storm of negative publicity following The Church Committee. Established in 1983, NED’s initial use was undermining Eastern European governments in the name of “ democracy and freedom of speech.” Yet once the Soviet Union fell, NED’s purpose changed to projecting U.S. government interests everywhere. Some Current examples of NEDs work includes the 2014 Maidan protest in Ukraine, the 2019 Hong Kong protests, and the 2021 Cuban protests.
The USAID is a private international development agency that funds NED. USAID is used to advance U.S. national security and economic prosperity providing leadership training for its preferred political candidates worldwide. Although the USAID claims to be a human rights organization, funds are allocated to back opposition insurrections pushing for regime change, globally. As co-founder of the NED, Allen Weinstein, told the Washington Post in 1991, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”NED and USAID are two examples, but are not the only imperial tactics that the US has been and continues to subject the region to.
For instance, the Organization of the American States (OAS) is a multilateral association of 34 states representing the American hemisphere. As such, the OAS is a tool of imperialism meddling in elections supporting pro- U.S. right-wing governments and engaging in diplomatic chicanery. Because the U.S. provides 60% of the organization’s funding, OAS is at the whims of U.S. economic and ideological influence in efforts to expand Western hegemony. This makes OAS nothing more than an organization of colonial rule as it acts on behalf of Western powers to overthrow democratic governments and destabilize the region.
The Core Group is another example. The Core Group was set up to coordinate the various branches and elements of the United Nations occupation in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in 2004. The Core Group is a self-styled council consisting of the diplomats of foreign countries with political and economic interests in Haiti, combined with the representatives of a number of multilateral organizations and agencies (including the IMF and World Bank). While working to extend and protect the foreign economic interests in Haiti, it has consistently intervened in Haiti’s sovereign political affairs, often without the collaboration or consent of the Haitian government.
These examples of soft power coordinated and wielded by the west, with the U.S. leading the charge, have been foundational to U.S. foreign policy long before Trump. The notion that Biden is in opposition to, and not continuing, those policies because he understands the region to be his “front yard” not only confuses the people but allows for a particular apathy around the effects of U.S. foreign policy in that region— until it arrives on US borders.
Militarization and Western Hegemony
US meddling in its “front yard” is not limited to soft power, however. Often it is remarked that the US has carved the entire world up into military commands. CENTCOM, INDO-PACIFIC COMMAND, AFRICOM, NORTHCOM— there’s even a SPACECOM. But one of the least discussed and most impactful of the US military commands, because it is happening in our direct hemisphere, has been the U.S. SOUTHERN COMMAND (SOUTHCOM).
Its mission statement says “SOUTHCOM deters aggression, defeats threats, rapidly responds to crises, and builds regional capacity, working with US allies, partner nations, and U.S. government (USG) team members to enhance security and defend the U.S. homeland and our national interests.” SOUTHCOM works to extend US military influence throughout the Americas and to promote militarism in line with US interests relying on spurious claims of “humanitarian assistance/disaster relief” and counter-narcotics operations to increase U.S. control over the region to advance capitalist interests.
The lie of benevolent and democracy driven “humanitarianism” is made evident by simply looking at the operations SOUTHCOM has been involved in. From the building of the Panama canal to being revitalized under the Reagan administration during the 1980s because of claims of “communist insurgents” operating in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Bolivia and alleged threat of drug cartels and narcotrafficking, SOUTHCOM has always been a necessary tool in the advancement of U.S hegemony.
Some examples of SOUTHCOM’s use:
Operation Just Cause, launched in 1989, is one of the most prominent military engagements in which SOUTHCOM has been involved. This operation was in response to the accession to power of Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Noriega following the death of General Omar Torrijos. This Operation led to people being crushed by tanks, captured Panamanians were executed on the street, and bodies were piled together and burned. The best estimates are at least 2,000 to 3,000 Panamanians, but this may be a conservative figure, according to a Central American Human Rights Commission (COEDHUCA) report. The report stated that “most of these deaths could have been prevented had the US troops taken appropriate measures to ensure the lives of civilians and had obeyed the international legal norms of warfare.” Several days after Noriega’s removal, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the invasion. But the United States — joined by allies Great Britain and France — vetoed it. American and European officials argued the invasion was justified and should be praised. When asked at a news conference whether it was worth sending people to die (Americans, of course, not thousands of Panamanians) to capture Noriega, President George H.W. Bush replied: “Every human life is precious. And yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it.”
With Operation Plan Colombia the United States rapidly increased intelligence, logistics, and training in Colombia in the fight against “drug trafficking” and illegally armed right-wing groups. Under ‘Plan Colombia’, government troops and associated paramilitaries were given a free rein to kill whom they liked, later framing their victims as FARC guerillas. As Joe Biden proudly proclaimed, he is “the guy who put together Plan Colombia Biden worked with Republicans to push for a hardline strategy warning that if the bill was not passed, the hemisphere would turn into a haven for terrorists and drug dealers. The result? Over 10,000 innocent people — many of them farmers’ union leaders, afro and indigenous activists — were slaughtered. The government only later admitted they had no connection to FARC. The U.S. directly funded the slaughter; the more dead “narco-terrorists” that were reported, the more money and weapons the U.S. would supply. Under Plan Colombia, the country became the most dangerous place to be politically on the left, establishing the reputation of “The Israel of Latin America.” The Biden administration is proposing a plan for Central America based on his Colombian model.
Operation Unified Response was a SOUTHCOM led response to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals. SOUTHCOM immediately responded and took its place as a leader in the global community seeking to aid the Haitians.Three days after the earthquake, SOUTHCOM deployed a force of 22,268 soldiers and staff to Haiti. This was in addition to the 14,000-strong MINUSTAH deployment already in the country. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport and the country’s airspace were fully under US command. Similarly, for the most recent 2021 earthquake that hit the southern peninsula of Haiti, Joe Biden’s response to the earthquake was to put war hawk Samantha Powers in charge of U.S. relief efforts in Haiti. Powers then announced that she would be working with SOUTHCOM and the Department of Defense to come up with a relief strategy. Cuba sends doctors, Venezuela sends food, the US sends SOUTHCOM.
Operation Tradewinds is a collusion of militarized white supremacy and Black Neocolonialism in the Caribbean with participation from nations like Guyana, Brazil, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Operation Tradewinds is “a US Southern Command sponsored combined joint exercise conducted with partner nations to enhance the collective ability of defense forces and constabularies to counter transnational criminal organizations, conduct humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief operations.” Caribbean nations participated in this region-wide military exercise with army personnel from SOUTHCOM, the United Kingdom, Canada, France and the Netherlands. Terms like “transnational criminal organizations,” “humanitarian assistance” and even “disaster relief operations” should be understood as euphemisms for the neo-colonial presence of the US empire and its European allies throughout the region. Military exercises and CIA manuals are a vital part of the operation ensuring the continued strength and influence of the West. Resisting neo-colonialism in the region (like the uprisings in the French-Caribbean colonies, and labor protests) will more frequently be met with state repression, extra-judicial killings, and imprisonments.
The U.S. Fallacy of Democracy
The centuries attempt, by the US (and its allies), on controlling the region through soft and hard power foreign policy tactics led to the 33 members of The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) declaring the Caribbean and Latin America to be a “Zone of Peace” on January 28- 29, 2014 in Havana, Cuba. During the summit, CELAC declared:
- Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace based on respect for the principles and rules of International Law, including the international instruments to which Member States are a party to, the Principles and Purposes of the United Nations Charter;
- Our permanent commitment to solve disputes through peaceful means with the aim of uprooting forever threat or use of force in our region;
- The commitment of the States of the region with their strict obligation not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any other State and observe the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and self-determination of peoples;
- The commitment of the peoples of Latin American and Caribbean to foster cooperation and friendly relations among themselves and with other nations irrespective of differences in their political, economic, and social systems or development levels; to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors;
- The commitment of the Latin American and Caribbean States to fully respect for the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social, and cultural system, as an essential conditions to ensure peaceful coexistence among nations;
- The promotion in the region of a culture of peace based, interalia, on the principles of the United Nations Declaration on a Culture of Peace;
- The commitment of the States in the region to guide themselves by this Declaration in their International behavior;
- The commitment of the States of the region to continue promoting nuclear disarmament as a priority objective and to contribute with general and complete disarmament, to foster the strengthening of confidence among nations;
The state department’s recent decision to exclude Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba from participation in The Ninth Summit of The Americas is absurdly hypocritical. However, the Summit of The Americas is coming at a time of a left political shift in the region as nations move towards multipolarity seeking strategic and economic alliances with competing powers like Russia and China, isolating the West more and more. The summit also creates a space for organizations like The Black Alliance For Peace to revive the civil society element of the “zone of peace” by popularizing the declaration and building popular support across our Americas.
For the U.S, democracy and human rights are no more than ideological props. Excluding Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela from the summit is not about supporting democracy. It must be understood that these nations pose a serious ideological threat to the expansion of U.S/Western hegemony in the region. For Africans here, basic human rights are distant dreams. As Ajamu Baraka noted, these relatively poor nations, under sanctions, can “build public housing and eliminate homelessness, offer free education and universal healthcare, guarantee that no one will be allowed to go hungry, and can build democratic structures with the protected right of popular participation.” These kinds of human rights are unrealizable for the people of the U.S. despite “lesser evil” electoral propaganda that dances around the critical issue of imperialism. Africans within the U.S. are being crushed under the weight of austerity policies with broken promises from an administration hellbent on focusing on controlling its front yard (and the rest of the world).
Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.