The Latin American “Good Neighbor” Policy at Its Worst

Session of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, which on Thursday the 11th condemned Ecuador for its violation of the Mexican embassy in Quito, at the same time that it requested dialogue between the two parties. Image: OAS

By Gustavo Gonzalez (IPS)

HAVANA TIMES – The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved on April 11th, by a wide majority, the predictable “strong condemnation” of the violent police incursion ordered by the Ecuadorian government against the Mexican embassy in Quito to kidnap former Ecuadorian vice president Jorge Glas.

The resolution, which in its seventh paragraph urged dialogue between the two governments to overcome the conflict “constructively”, was described by the digital magazine *La Palabra Abierta* from Quito as an example of the OAS’s “mattress diplomacy” (softening the fall of the punished), at a time when numerous events indicate perhaps the worst moment in inter-American relations.

Back in 1954, during the civic events held on Mondays in Chilean public schools, alongside the national anthem, the anthem of the Americas was also usually sung in chorus, whose first stanza says: “A song of friendship, / of good neighborliness, / will keep us united eternally, / for our freedom, for our loyalty, / we must live gloriously.”

While the childish voices sang with enthusiasm, in Guatemala, the United States government was organizing the coup that overthrew President Jacobo Arbenz, and in general, military dictatorships were multiplying in the hemisphere, accompanying Washington in its anti-communist crusades under the seal of the Cold War.

Despite the vicissitudes of Latin American democracies during the 20th century, in recent decades, the American continent has been able to display a “good neighborliness” with minor disputes between states, resolved by arbitration and negotiations, in contrast to other areas of the planet, which are scenes of continuous armed conflicts.

More polarization, less freedom

This good neighborliness is crumbling through diplomatic channels, and, contrary to the Americas anthem, it is expressed in attacks on freedoms, where human rights are gradually regressing, suffocated by authoritarian governments, even if they are emanating from the ballot box, which trample international law to subordinate it to internal interests or geopolitical gambles, in a context of increasing Latin American polarization.

The violent police invasion of the Mexican embassy in Quito on the night of Friday April 5th, with the abuses against chargé d’affaires Roberto Canseco, was the final straw. The right of asylum, one of the dearest institutions of international law, while registering previous episodes of conflict in the region, had never been violated so openly.

The only vote against the OAS resolution was from Ecuador, whose president, Daniel Noboa, showed a singular willingness to normalize the currently broken relations with Mexico, stating that he will not revoke the kidnapping of former Vice President Glas, because “justice is not negotiable.”

The defiant attitude of the young right-wing president was described from Brussels by former President Rafael Correa (2007-2017) as a maneuver of internal politics in light of the referendum scheduled for the 21st of this month, where Noboa proposes the militarization of the fight against organized crime and terrorism and expands the powers to typify and combat acts of corruption, among other matters.

Noboa seems to be leading Ecuador towards a simile of El Salvador under Nayib Bukele, symptomatically the only government that abstained in the vote of the OAS Permanent Council and which, contrary to the rest of the American states, did not condemn the violation of the right of asylum and the police invasion of the Mexican embassy in Quito.

Bukele is the greatest expression in Latin America of lawfare, an Anglo-Saxon term that has an imprecise translation into Spanish as “legal warfare” and refers to judicial persecutions based on the arbitrary imposition of laws through legislative and judicial bodies controlled by a government in power or, in fewer cases, by its political opposition, usually right-wing.

The increase in organized crime and drug trafficking by gangs, cartels, and mafias of regional expansion has been the argument to impose this type of legislation, which becomes lawfare when it also serves governments to proscribe or oust political opponents with arguments of defense of sovereignty against conspiracies.

José Antonio Kast, leader of the Chilean extreme right, during his visit on April 10th to one of the megaprisonsbuilt by the government of President Nayib Bukele, in El Salvador, to detain tens of thousands of alleged members of criminal gangs, under conditions and processes that violate the prisoner’s human rights. Photo: Chilean Republican Party

The invention of diplomatic conflicts

Jose Antonio Kast, leader of the Chilean far-right, visited on April 10th one of the megaprisons of El Salvador, where Bukele’s regime keeps about 12,000 accused of belonging to maras or gangs, most without judicial convictions. Kast met with Salvadoran ministers and declared that he seeks ideas for his government program on security issues. With a similar purpose, he will now travel to Hungary, presided over by Víktor Orban.

The admiration of the far-right for Bukele entails a dangerous relativization of human rights and a complicit silence in the defiant rhetoric of the Salvadoran president who, in the name of security, curtails freedom of the press, proscribes opponents, and rejects reports from humanitarian organizations on prison abuses.

Latin America is experiencing an escalation of diplomatic conflicts stemming from internal political factors in some countries. In the context of regional polarization, these situations occur in countries that traditional categorizations, often debatable, place both on the left and on the right.

In Venezuela, the government of Nicolas Maduro has issued protest notes in recent weeks against the alleged interference in its internal affairs by governments and foreign ministries that spoke out against the disqualification of opposition presidential candidacies of María Corina Machado and later Corina Yoris for the July 28th elections, where the current president, in power since 2013, is running for reelection.

The governments of Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Colombia’s Gustavo Petro, and Chile’s Gabriel Boric, who have permanently fought against the economic sanctions of the United States against Venezuela, protested the lack of guarantees for these elections. Former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica did the same. All leftist leaders, where Maduro aligns.

The Venezuelan case confronts diplomacy with the repeated conflict between non-interference and the universality of human rights. In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega also rejected international protests and exercised lawfare to disqualify and imprison all his main opponents for the November 2021 elections, where he re-elected himself.

While the Mexico-Ecuador conflict was being aired in the OAS, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil opened another diplomatic conflict with Chile by asserting that the Tren de Aragua, a mafia cartel originating in a prison in the Venezuelan state of the same name, is a “media invention”. According to Caracas, it seeks to criminalize Venezuelan migration, which since 2013 has exceeded seven million people worldwide, with around 600,000 in Chile.

In Ecuador and Peru, the presence of this mafia organization linked to drug trafficking has also been detected, and in Chile, its presence is associated with an increase in crime. The Boric government described Gil’s denialism as “outrageous” and called this Thursday for consultations with its ambassador in Caracas, Jaime Gazmuri.

Argentine President Javier Milei with General Laura Richardson, head of the United States Southern Command, US Ambassador Marc Stanley, and Defense Minister Luis Petri. Milei has just offered the southern territory of Ushuaia to the United States for the installation of a military base, in exchange for its support to recover the Malvinas Islands, an idea described as “delusional” by locals and strangers and that puts him at odds with Chile. Photo: La Tercera

The Testy Javier Milei

Boric, usually measured in his diplomatic maneuvers and who stands out for raising his voice against human rights violations by governments of any tendency, has another recent flank of conflicts with his neighbor counterpart Javier Milei.

The Argentine ruler has just offered the southern territory of Ushuaia to the United States for the installation of a military base, arguing that it is a step towards the recovery of the Malvinas Islands and to strengthen its claims against Chile over the territory of Antarctica.

The Chilean Foreign Ministry had to clarify to Milei that, under the 1961 Antarctic Treaty, all territorial claims on that continent are frozen.

For many observers, the idea that the United States, in exchange for a naval base, will support Argentina in its claim against Great Britain for sovereignty over the Malvinas, is a delusional idea, which for the sake of patriotism can serve for domestic consumption in Argentina, but without viability, as well as the ineffective alineation against Chile.

Vociferous and often foul-mouthed, Milei is another factor of artificial conflicts that are undermining the once good inter-American neighborhood.

His verbal diatribes against Presidents Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, Lula, and Petro reached their peak on March 29th when the government of Bogota expelled Argentine diplomatic personnel after Milei called Petro a “terrorist murderer”.

Too much noise and tension that show how far away the “good neighborhood” is in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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