[OP-ED] The Ugly American Returns: Tillerson Travels to Latin America
Anybody with a modicum of knowledge about the history of U.S.-Latin America relations could have told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that starting a weeklong, five-nation “goodwill tour” of that continent by singing the praises of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, seeming to encourage the Venezuelan military to topple President Nicolás Maduro, and demanding for Cuba to make political changes pleasing to Washington was not going to be a stellar opening act.
et, nobody did, and that was exactly what he told the public gathered at the University of Texas, in Austin, on Feb. 1st, the day before leaving for Mexico, the first stop in a trip that would take him also to Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica to, supposedly discuss migration, trade, and energy, at a time when the U.S. has lost its luster thanks to Donald Trump’s “America First” policy, his racist lies and insults to Mexico and other countries, and his relentless persecution of immigrants in the U.S. But the secretary had another item in his agenda and decided to visit only the friendliest countries to Washington in the region, seeking support for hardening sanctions to Venezuela and even encouraging a coup.
Tillerson revealed himself to be yet another reincarnation of the infamous “ugly American” so profoundly despised by our southern neighbors. He had not set foot south of the border yet, and the “goodwill tour” had already begun to emit the fetid odor of imperialism.
“It has been a success,” Tillerson said on Thursday of the Monroe Doctrine, which is considered in the rest of the Americas as one more imperialist ploy. “I think it’s as relevant today as it was the day it was written,” he added not very diplomatically, directly contradicting Barack Obama’s secretary of State John Kerry who in 2013 had stated that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.”
And that wasn’t all. Talking about Venezuela, the stern-faced Tillerson seemed to encourage the armed forces to stage a coup against Maduro who, like it or not, was democratically elected.
In the past, “when things are so bad that the military leadership realizes that they just — they can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition,” Tillerson said with mind boggling ignorance. “Whether that will be the case here or not, I don’t know.”
Peaceful, Mr. Tillerson, peaceful how? Like in Chile when democratically elected president Salvador Allende was killed in 1973 by general Augusto Pinochet who became dictator for 15 years and assassinated thousands of Chileans? Or like Fulgencio Batista in Cuba who toppled president Carlos Prío in 1952 and remained in power killing and torturing thousands of Cubans until 1959, when Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution chased him out of the country? Or like Marcos Pérez Jiménez, the brutal, corrupt and murderous dictator who ruled Venezuela from 1952 to 1958? And yes, Mr. Tillerson, every single one of these tyrants had, at one time or another, enjoyed Washington’s support and enthusiastic blessing. Not very diplomatic.
Of course, Tillerson also talked about Cuba, whose people, since Trump arrived in Washington, have been suffering under a return to the Cold War policy of hostility and estrangement Obama tried to move away from.
The Cuban government “disregards its people,” the former Exxon Mobil CEO said. Not very convincing coming from a man who represents a regime that, among other things, has left millions of people without health care and transformed the country into a police state mercilessly persecuting, imprisoning and deporting hundreds of thousands of decent, hard-working immigrants and their families.
Yet, it was Trump who made clear on Friday the real U.S. attitude toward Latin. While Tillerson attempted to somehow soothe hurt feelings with the Mexican and Canadian Foreign Ministers, Trump was in northern Virginia talking to border and customs agents about immigration and drug trafficking -- and stripping away the varnish with which Tillerson was trying to embellish a very ugly reality.
“And what are Mexico and Colombia and these other countries — what are they doing about it? Nothing,” Trump said. “These countries are not our friends. I want to stop the aid,” Trump added, “if they can't stop drugs from coming in.”
I have news for the president: As long as the U.S. is the country with the biggest appetite for cocaine and other drugs in the world, drugs will keep coming in. How about doing something to reduce the demand instead of blaming others for what is a devastating emergency?
Unfortunately, the Ugly American mentality is back. What else could be expected from Donald Trump?