Trudeau’s Latin America policy an embarrassing right wing failure

Trudeau and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro

Justin Trudeau’s Latin American strategy is in tatters. Regional integration is ramping back up, socialists remain in power in Venezuela and leftists have won a series of national elections.

From the start of his mandate Trudeau sought to bolster governments that undercut the socialistic, regional integration efforts that shaped Latin America between 2005 and 2015. Concurrently, the Liberals have sought to overthrow leftist governments in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia. But those governments remain while right wing politicians have been defeated elsewhere and the push for regional integration is being rekindled.

Recently the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) met in Argentina. Every single country in the hemisphere except for Canada and the US are members of CELAC. With the exception of Jair Bolsanaro’s Brazil, all 33 other members were represented in Buenos Aires. At the CELAC leaders’ summit in September, the first in four years, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro even attended.

Ottawa is hostile to CELAC, which many governments want to eventually replace the North American based/funded/dominated Organization of American States (OAS). Canada’s Special Advisor on Venezuela and former ambassador to Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala and the OAS, Allan Culham denounced the diplomatic forum set up by Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and others to break from US domination of the region. In a 2016 Senate foreign affairs committee discussion of Argentina, Culham stated, “I will say that CELAC is not a positive organization within the Americas. Mainly because it’s built on the principle of exclusion. It purposefully excludes Canada and United States. It was the product of President Chavez and the Chavista Bolivarian revolution.”

Culham was brought out of retirement by the Liberals in 2017 to coordinate Canada’s “regime change” efforts in Venezuela. Over the past five years Ottawa has worked to isolate Caracas, imposed sanctions, took that government to the International Criminal Court, financed an often-unsavoury opposition and decided a marginal opposition politician was the legitimate president. Although it’s been devastating for Venezuelans, Canada’s campaign has failed. Maduro and the PSUV party are stronger today than at any point since opposition politician Juan Guaidó declared himselfpresident three years ago.

While CELAC has met twice recently, the Lima Group hasn’t met for more than a year. Launched by Canada and Peru in 2017, the ad hoc coalition of countries seeking to overthrow the Venezuelan government is effectively dead. After a left-wing president won elections in the summer, Peruvian Foreign Affairs Minister, Héctor Béjar, called the Lima Group the “most disastrous thing we have done in international politics in the history of Perú.”

A half dozen countries have withdrawn from the Lima Group while many of the others have been weakened by popular protests. Argentina withdrew after Alberto Fernandez/ Cristina Kirchner won the October 2019 election against Mauricio Macri. The wealthy businessman was handily defeated in a presidential election CBC labeled “a loss for the Trudeau government.”

At the same time as they suffered a defeat in Argentina’s election Trudeau won what turned out to be a pyrrhic victory in its neighbour. Ottawa actively backed the ouster of Bolivia’s first ever Indigenous president, providing significantsupport for the OAS’ effort to discredit Evo Morales’ 2019 victory, which fueled opposition protests and justified the coup. But protests by social movements forced the coup government to hold an election Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo won convincingly, greatly discrediting the OAS and other coup supporters.

As an alliance of wealthy, white supremacist, Christian extremist and North Americans overplayed their hand in Bolivia, Trudeau’s anti-Morales/Maduro ally in Chile was weakened by a popular uprising. Two weeks into the October 2019 demonstrations against Sebastián Piñera’s government, Trudeau held a phone conversation with a remarkably unpopular president who had sent the army onto the streets. Nineteen people had already died and dozens more were seriously injured in protests that began against a hike in transit fares and morphed into a broader challenge to economic inequality.

According to the published report of the conversation, Trudeau criticized “election irregularities in Bolivia” — used to justify removing Morales — and discussed their joint campaign to remove Venezuela’s president. A Canadian Press story noted, “a summary from the Prime Minister’s Office of Trudeau’s phone call with Piñera made no direct mention of the ongoing turmoil in Chile, a thriving country with which Canada has negotiated a free trade agreement.” Despite the Liberals staying quiet on the fiercest repression in Chile since Augusto Pinochet, the popular uprising forced the government to organize a referendum on reforming the dictatorship’s neoliberal constitution. Last month leftist Gabriel Boric won the Chilean presidency by a significant margin.

Inspired by their Chilean counterparts, protesters put far right President Iván Duque on the back foot in late 2019. After Duque won a close election Freeland “congratulated” him and said, “Canada and Colombia share a commitment to democracy and human rights.” In August 2018 Trudeau tweeted, “today, Colombia’s new President, Ivan Duque, took office and joins Swedish PM, Norway PM, Emmanuel Macron, Pedro Sánchez, and others with a gender-equal cabinet. Iván, I look forward to working with you and your entire team.” A month later he added, “thanks to President Ivan Duque for a great first meeting at UNGA this afternoon, focused on growing our economies, addressing the crisis in Venezuela, and strengthening the friendship between Canada & Colombia.”

In what would upend decades of the right dominating national politics, left candidate Gustavo Petro is leading polls for the May presidential election in Colombia.

In November Daniel Ortega was re-elected president of Nicaragua. Two years ago Ottawa severed aid and sanctioned officials from a government former US national security adviser John Bolton listed as part of a “troika of tyranny” (Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua). While there is an authoritarian, personalized, streak to Ortega’s politics, his government is part of the Venezuela-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA), which is a response to North American capitalist domination of the hemisphere.

Two months ago Canada’s Lima Group ally in Honduras fell when Xiomara Castro won the presidency. In 2017 Freeland immediately recognized Juan Orlando Hernandez after he defied the constitution by running for a second term as president and then brazenly stole the election.

Castro is the wife of former president Manuel Zelaya who was removed by the military in 2009 on the grounds he was seeking to defy the constitution by running for a second term. In fact, the social democratic president, who had recently joined ALBA, simply put forward a plan to hold a non-binding public poll on whether to hold consultations to reopen the constitution.

Backed by Ottawa and Washington, Zelaya’s ouster was the beginning of a series of unconstitutional or quasi-constitutional coups that played an important role in reversing Latin America’s “Pink Tide”. In June 2012, the left-leaning president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, was ousted in what some called an “institutional coup”. A few years later Ecuador swung to the right when Rafael Correa’s former vice president won the presidency with his backing and then did a political about-face, forcing Correa out of the country and blocking his party from elections.

Most significant for the geopolitics of the region, Brazilian Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff was impeached through a “soft coup” in 2016. A little more than a year into her second four-year term, parliamentarians voted Rousseff out. They found her guilty of breaking Brazil’s budget laws. The impeachment was sparked by an economic downturn and the massive “car wash” corruption probe that targeted various politicians, including her Workers Party predecessor. There was no evidence Rousseff was corrupt and the case against former president, Lula da Silva, was flimsy. The lead prosecutor, who under the Brazilian system also acts as a judge, Sérgio Moro, later became justice minister in the Jair Bolsonaro government and in mid 2019 The Intercept released a trove of communications from Moro, confirming the political nature of the charges against Lula, which weakened Rousseff.

While they made dozens of statements criticizing Venezuela, the Trudeau government remained silent on Rousseff’s ouster and persecution of the left. The only comment I found was a Global Affairs official telling Sputnik that Canada would maintain relations with Brazil after Rousseff was impeached. Soon after, Canada began negotiating to join the Brazilian led MERCOSUR trade bloc (just after Venezuela was expelled). They also held a Canada Brazil Strategic Dialogue Partnership. In October 2018 Freeland met her Brazilian counterpart to discuss, among other issues, pressuring the Venezuelan government. She tweeted, “Canada and Brazil enjoy a strong friendship and we are thankful for your support in defending the international rules-based order and holding the Maduro regime in Venezuela to account.” Brazil joined the Lima Group after Rousseff was ousted.

In 2018 openly sexist, racist, anti-environmental politician Jair Bolsonaro won the presidential election largely because the front runner in the polls was in jail. Former Workers Party president Lula da Silva, who ended his second term with an 83% approval rating, was blocked from running due to politically motivated corruption charges. The Trudeau government was publicly silent on Lula’s imprisonment. The night before the Supreme Court was set to determine Lula’s fate the general in charge of the army hinted at military intervention if the judges ruled in favour of the popular former president. Not even that was criticized by Ottawa.

The convictions against Lula were annulled and polls suggest he will trounce Bolsonaro in the presidential vote scheduled for October.

Will all these failures force Trudeau’s Liberals to change policy? It is doubtful. Canada’s policy in the region has long been shaped by Washington and the economic interests of this country’s capitalists. It suits Canada’s banks, mining companies and other corporations to crush efforts to seek economic and political independence from the US Empire.

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