Earlier in the week the Electoral College ratified the result of the U.S. general election. It’s official; Trumptime begins in January.
Sadly, this is certain to have far-reaching consequences for Latin America. The United States is a significant trading partner across the continent. Prospects of further rate hikes and a strengthening Dollar threaten dollar-denominated debt. Perhaps most alarmingly, the incidence of xenophobia, racism and intolerance in the U.S. have spiked in the wake of the election, and a great uncertainty remains as to the political relationships between Uncle Sam and his neighbours.
With this gloomy context in mind, the recent allegations of Russian state-sponsored involvement in the U.S. elections might elicit a wry smile from those south of the Rio Grande. Of course, this flagrant incursion by a foreign power is deplorable, but it is a tactic with which Americans should be familiar.
The United States has acted unilaterally and in spite of domestic politics time and again in Latin America.
Today, allegations of American adventurism from politicians in the region are all too familiar. Some like Rafael Correa in Ecuador or the erstwhile president of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner do so to disguise their own inadequacies and cast blame for their countries’ economic problems. Others, like the late Fidel Castro or the Chavista Nicolás Maduro demonise the US to legitimize their own autocratic rule and Human Rights abuses.
During the Cold War, U.S. involvement in Latin American politics was de rigueur. Giving the stamp of approval for a particularly unpleasant anti-democratic movement was a rite of passage for an administration. Some Commanders in Chief, like Reagan, pursued this with a fanatical fervour. From Chile to Nicaragua, Uncle Sam has played Kingmaker and intervened in support of atrocious dictatorships. The sleaze and illegality surrounding Reagan’s support of the Contras in Nicaragua, and Nixon’s backing of CIA involvement in Chile seem two prime examples of democratic convention being thrown by the wayside (disregard for national sovereignty being a given).
The irony is undeniable.
America’s justification for intervention was always to prevent the spread of a pernicious ideology, or the rise to power of a belligerent demagogue who threatened democratic institutions and American values. Sound familiar?
From aggressively protectionist trade policies and contradictory public spending plans to machismo and anti-immigration vitriol, Trump’s speeches read like the liturgy of a Latin American Caudillo. The wildly irresponsible and fact-free allegations are straight out of a Strongman’s handbook. See the POTUS elect’s comments about electoral fraud or that, most infamously, Mexican’s are rapists. Is the Donald’s rhetoric surrounding Mexicans and undocumented immigrants reminiscent of Rafael Trujillo’s Anti-hatianism? In some ways, yes. Is Trump a Trujillo in the making, probably not. But to ignore the obvious similarities is dangerous.
Of course Mr. Trump simultaneously exploits and encourages the Russian hacking of the DNC and DCCC, while he flatly denies Russian complicity in his election success. To a Caudillo who has created something of a personality cult (see Art of the Deal or any other piece of shameless self-propaganda) the truth is plastic. It is unsurprising that the President-elect has already rubbed up against the CIA, an organization that abhors instability and unpredictability. What’s more, their findings are inconvenient and contradict his mythology.
If Mr. Trump thinks so little of the CIA perhaps the agency would be best served taking its business elsewhere, it’s not just the Russians who are confounded by American politics. Anyone for crowd-funding an intervention in Washington? (donation link to follow)
¡Viva la Revolución!