Latin America — and the region’s diaspora in the United States — is taking note of the stark foreign policy differences between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. In a debate last week televised by the Spanish-language Univision network, the senator from Vermont slammed the former Secretary of State for meddling in the affairs of foreign countries.
“I don’t believe it is the business of the United States government to be overthrowing small countries around the world,” Sanders said, referring to attempts to invade Cuba, overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and the government of Guatemala. “I actually went to Nicaragua and I very strongly opposed the Reagan administration’s efforts to overthrow that government,” he said. “And I strongly opposed earlier Henry Kissinger and the [attempt] to overthrow the government of Salvador Allende in Chile” in 1973.
Clinton responded by attacking Cuba’s Raul and Fidel Castro, calling them “authoritarian and dictatorial” and hoping that “someday there will be leaders chosen by the Cuban people.” Then she reminded Sanders that in an interview he gave in 1985 he praised Cuba for its “revolution of values.” She added, “You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.”
Sanders clarified: “Cuba is, of course, an authoritarian and undemocratic country. and I hope very much as soon as possible it becomes a democratic country. But on the other hand, it would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in health care. They are sending doctors all over the world. They have made some progress in education. I think by restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba, it will result in significant improvements to the lives of Cubans and it will help the United States and our business community invest.”
The “values” of repression and making dissidents disappear, however, have not troubled Clinton in the past. In her memoir, Hard Choices (launched as an internal political torpedo against Barack Obama), Clinton praises the positions taken during the coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009 as a great example of pragmatism. She said she had done everything to prevent the return of the moderate Zelaya, guilty of turning toward new south-south solidarity alliances, inaugurated with the ALBA, and created and promoted by Cuba and Venezuela.
“In the subsequent days [after the coup],” Clinton wrote, “I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”
This position made U.S. relations with many Latin American countries drop to historical lows, because the latter demanded the restoration of that “moot” institutional legitimacy. And they condemned the violence and disappearances of representatives of the opposition in one of the most unequal and violent countries in the world, where environmentalists like Berta Cáceres are still killed with impunity.
Whatever hopes Obama’s election and his conciliatory statements raised, the coup in Honduras closed the door on them. The president recently recalled in an interview with The Atlantic that he did well back then not to consider Hugo Chavez as a “giant adversary” because “we don’t like what’s going on in Venezuela, but it’s not a threat to the United States.” He said that helped ease anti-American sentiment in the region. At the time, Chavez gave Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeando’s book, Open Veins of Latin America.
Today, however, Obama has decided to renew for another year the sanctions against Venezuela, considering the nation “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to U.S. security. Clinton, certainly, would do no better as president. Early last year, Caracas withdrew its charge d’affaires in Washington, and demonstrations are taking place all over Latin America.
Sanders has backed Obama’s move toward an end to the economic blockade against Cuba, which Obama will discuss during his next visit to the island, from March 20-22. In this regard, the Havana government has reiterated sticking points, items it sees as “detrimental to Cuban sovereignty,” and has asked the U.S. to “should abandon the pretense of fabricating an internal political opposition, paid for by U.S. tax dollars.”