The Latin American Dilemma

Image: Amanda Kerr


Wild neoliberalism and human rights, an insoluble contradiction

“After so many mobilizations, repression and pain, the Chilean people gave a clear signal about their rejection of savage neoliberalism,” said Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, upon learning of the electoral victory of the coalition I appreciate the dignity, a pact led by Gabriel Boric and constituted by the Frente Ampla and the Communist Party. “And also a mandate of unrestricted respect for human rights,” Boric replied in a tweet. And he added: “an issue on which neither President Sebastián Piñera nor Mr. they were up to it”.

On December 30, US President Joe Biden called the newly elected Chilean president to congratulate him on his victory. “We talked about common challenges such as fair trade, the climate crisis and the strengthening of democracy”, Boric told the press afterwards.

That same day, in an interview published by ex ante, a conservative Chilean portal, Robert Funk, an expert in international relations, referred to the human rights agenda and the democracy summit promoted by Biden in early December. “I think the Biden administration is going to start pushing harder on the idea of ​​promoting democracy and human rights,” Funk said in the interview. "That serves to differentiate itself from China." “For a country like Chile, which is going to try to play with both sides or powers, it will be complicated,” he added.


Latin America and Democracy

Coinciding with the second round of the Chilean elections, in early December, the former presidents of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Uruguay, José Mujica, joined the celebrations in Buenos Aires of another anniversary of the end of the military dictatorship Argentina (1976-1983). In Plaza de Mayo, accompanying President Alberto Fernández and Vice President Cristina Kirchner, each referred to his own concept of democracy. Fernández had stressed that “democracy, without justice and equality, is not democracy”.

“It's the best form of government,” said Lula, “but the economic and political elites have taken over democracy. I governed Brazil when Cristina Kirchner governed Argentina; Hugo Chávez was president of Venezuela; the Indian Evo Morales, president of Bolivia; Tabaré and Mujica governed Uruguay; Lugo was president of Paraguay; and Bachelet and Lagos, from Chile”, recalled Lula. We lived better in that period “when we expelled the ALCA, we created Unasur and Celac…”, and that Cuba participated in these organizations, but neither the United States nor Canada participated.

A month later, in early January, the foreign ministers of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), of which Argentina assumed the presidency pro tempore, met in Buenos Aires. “CELAC was not born to oppose anyone, to confront any existing institution, nor to meddle in the political or economic life of any country”, said Fernández, while the leaders of the Argentine conservative alliance, “Together for Change”, rejected the participation of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, which they described as “dictatorships”.

“CELAC emerged as a forum in favor of ourselves, which has always promoted consensus and plurality, within a framework of democratic coexistence, without any type of exclusion”, added Fernández, marking a difference in relation to “Together for Change”, to which were added other conservative voices, such as those who govern in Colombia and Uruguay. Brazil was the only country absent, after the withdrawal of Celac decided by President Jair Bolsonaro.

The comparison between Maduro and Piñera made by Boric does not seem to point to this effort for democratic coexistence, “without any kind of exclusions”, of which Fernández spoke. Who will he invite to his inauguration next March: Maduro or Guaidó; Yunior or Cuban President Miguel Díaz Canel; Ortega or some representative of the Nicaraguan opposition; Lula or Bolsonaro (who said, in reference to his electoral triumph, that he did not greet “communists”)?


The United States and human rights

In his response to Maduro, Boric called for “unrestricted respect” for human rights. Days later, he spoke with Biden about the matter, as he highlighted when summarizing the content of the conversation for the press. But he didn't go into detail. The issue has a high priority on the US administration's international agenda, as was evident at the December summit organized by the White House.

But just a few months ago, last April, when he announced that he would lift the sanctions applied by former President Donald Trump against the members of the International Criminal Court, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made the new administration's point of view clear: "we continue to profoundly disagree with the Court's initiatives relating to Afghanistan and Palestine”.

Trump had said that “any attempt by the Court to investigate, arrest, detain or prosecute any U.S. official without the agreement of the United States, or officials of countries allied with the United States that are not party to the Rome Statute [the agreement that created the Court in 1998], or who do not accept the jurisdiction of the Court, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”. Without mentioning it, Trump was also referring to Israel, whose abuses in Palestine the Court intended to prosecute.

When announcing that they were suspending the sanctions and threats imposed by Trump against the members of the Court, Blinken reiterated that they rejected any attempt to submit to this Court officials from states that do not recognize it, such as the United States and Israel. “We believe that our concerns about these cases could best be resolved with the participation of all interested parties and not through the imposition of sanctions,” he said.

This is not the position of the United States against states that they accuse of violating human rights, applying, in some cases, devastating sanctions, such as Cuba and Venezuela. And that will possibly also be applied to Nicaragua. The United States, unlike many other States, has not ratified a large number of instruments on the matter, starting with the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR).

The ACHR was signed following the Inter-American Conference on Human Rights, held on November 22, 1969 in Costa Rica, and entered into force in July 1978. In June 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights determined that the Algerian Djamel Ameziane he suffered violations of these rights and international humanitarian law while he was imprisoned at the US military base at Guantánamo, in occupied Cuban territory.

The case, however, did not go to the Inter-American Court because the US has not ratified the Convention, nor does it accept the Court's jurisdiction. This is not the case for practically all Latin American countries, which are subject to this jurisdiction. Washington has endeavored to curb other international initiatives on human rights. When Costa Rica, along with other countries, proposed an international prison visitation mechanism in 1991, the United States was one of the main opponents of this initiative.

Together with Japan, Australia and other allies, it tried by all means to prevent the approval of the Protocol optional to UN convention against a Torture e Other Cruel Treatments or Punishments, Inhuman or Degrading. In the end, the protocol was approved in December 2002, with the United States, Palau, Marchall Islands and Nigeria voting against.


Human rights as a political weapon

The defense of human rights was an important instrument in the resistance to the military dictatorships of the last century, both in South and Central America. When the military kidnapped, disappeared, murdered, or tortured its citizens, reporting human rights violations was a survival effort. All these dictatorships were imposed and ruled with the support of Washington.

In Chile, the “Report of the National Commission on Political Prisoners and Torture”, the “Valech Report”, published in 2005, laid bare the context in which political imprisonment and torture took place in the country, as well as the methods used by torturers. It is an appalling document.

Later, more details became known, and new places of detention and torture were located, some of which I already knew and others that I visited last year, when I was in the country to cover the first round of the presidential elections. But human rights have, little by little, been transformed into a political weapon in the hands of conservative groups that use them to accommodate their interests. With this conservative vision, they were incorporated into regional legal instruments, such as the “Inter-American Democratic Charter”, approved in Lima in 2001.

It can be read in the first paragraph that “the Charter of the Organization of American States recognizes that representative democracy is indispensable for the stability, peace and development of the region and that one of the objectives of the OAS is to promote and consolidate representative democracy, within of respect for the principle of non-intervention”. A paragraph that contains all the contradictions with which the issue has been dealt with. On the one hand, it establishes a single form of political organization for all states. But, given the history of interventions in the internal politics of each country, a condition was introduced at the end of the paragraph: “within respect for the principle of non-intervention”.


a dilemma

The year 2022 could be a year of important political changes in Latin America. On the 27th of this month, Xiomara Castro, representative of sectors expelled from power in June 2009 by a coup d'état against her husband Manuel Zelaya, then president of the Republic, will assume the presidency of Honduras. On March 11, Gabriel Boric takes office in Chile. On May 29 there will be elections in Colombia, in which the favorite is the candidate of “Historical Pact”, Gustavo Petro. In Colombia, the United States' main ally in the region – which maintains a strong military presence in the country –, steeped in a traditional political violence that the 2016 peace accords did not put an end to, a Petro victory could have important repercussions on regional politics. And, in October, there will be elections in Brazil, where ex-President Lula is, for the time being, a strong favorite.

It could be a favorable scenario for the application of what the Argentine president, Alberto Fernández, defined as CELAC's objectives: “a forum in favor of ourselves, which has always promoted consensus and plurality, within a framework of democratic coexistence, without any kind of exclusions”. This is different from an “unqualified respect” for human rights.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves


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