What Can Latin America Expect From the Joe Biden Administration? Interview

Kawsachun News spoke to Sacha Llorenti, General Secretary of ALBA, the alliance of progressive governments in the region. Llorenti served as Bolivia’s Ambassador at the UN under Evo Morales’ government and is now tasked with strengthening and rebuilding Latin American unity on the basis of popular sovereignty. We spoke to him about the nature of U.S. power and the challenges ahead in regards to the new occupant of the White House. 

This interview was conducted by Oliver Vargas and Kathryn Ledebur

OV: There’s a new President in the United States. Does this mean that Latin America can have a new relationship on the basis of respect and sovereignty? Or will we see a continuation of the same imperialist approach that Washington has always had in our continent?   

During the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, there was a deepening of a series of politics that did profound damage to democracy and to integration in Latin America and the Caribbean. There were also the attacks on multilateralism which damaged the capacity to respond to common challenges, there was the withdrawal from the WHO, from UNESCO, from the Paris Climate Accords, the attacks on the International Criminal Court, a criminal policy against Palestine. In Latin America, we cannot understand the destruction of UNASUR and other mechanisms of integration such as CELAC, without understanding the politics of Trumpism which is not just a U.S. phenomenon, but a global one. The logic of Trumpism is defined by racism, xenophobia and a rejection of international law. That is something that has spread throughout our region, as well as in Asia and Europe.

Trump also represents a deepening of existing imperialist policies, such as the strengthening of the Monroe doctrine, the national security doctrine and a wider neoliberal approach. If the countries of Latin America do not take the initiative and do not take leadership, as they should, then this situation will not change, despite the change of President, because global neoliberalism has always sought to divide us at every level. At the local level they seek to divide social movements and unions, and they always seek to divide us on a supranational level. 

The pandemic has laid these injustices bare. 95% of Covid vaccines are held by the 10 richest countries of the world. That’s not a mistake, it’s the very logic of neoliberalism. 

What will the new administration in the United States bring us? Well, we have to wait for their actions to do the talking. We have to remember that many of the sanctions that Venezuela suffers were imposed first by Obama. There are other areas that are less clear, such as their approach to Cuba, in which restrictions were eased under Obama, but we have to see what happens, we have to see whether the U.S. will comply with international law or if they’ll continue to ignore it.  

OV: You were a key figure in the Bolivian government during the years in which Joe Biden was Vice President. What were your experiences of dealing with the U.S. during that period? 

Yes, one experience of mine was as Bolivia’s UN ambassador in the U.S. during the Obama years. I saw close up what was happening with the intervention in Libya, then later the actions against the government of Syria, both of which had disastrous consequences. The cost to human life in Syria is around half a million people. In Libya, the U.S. generated chaos and instability that is still today just as intense. U.S. foreign policy focus was in the Middle East and these were the tactics they used there. 

However, as the Bible says, “Ye shall know them by their fruit”, so we need to draw up a checklist of key issues and see how the Biden government progresses. I’m very keen to see what their relationship will be to the OAS and Almagro. We have to always highlight, we must never forget that Almagro is the most important accomplice of Donald Trump in all his attacks, not just on Bolivia, in which they launched a coup and imposed a government that carried out massacres, that violated human rights on a massive scale, they also destroyed UNASUR and CELAC, and launched numerous aggressions against Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua,. It has been catastrophic. Due to Almagro and Trump, we have returned to the worst periods of the 1970s in regards to interventionism. Let’s see what role Almagro will have in the government of Joe Biden. 

KL: What are some of the obstacles stopping Bolivia from restoring diplomatic relations with the U.S.? What challenges need to be overcome for that to happen?  

I remember what Evo used to always say, ‘we want partners, not masters’. That’s something that applies in regards to economic matters, political matters and to our natural resources. He would also say that we want relations with every country in the world, but without conditions and with mutual respect, we must be equals. This may seem like a simple concept, but in diplomatic terms, they are extremely important. Relations are not always symmetrical. We also want respect for international law. Latin America, as a whole, is the region that is most committed to the international system in regards to human rights. Our region has signed more treaties and conventions on this issue than other regions. What about the U.S.? They haven’t signed a single one. Not one. Then they turn around and justify their interventions using the excuse of human rights. The U.S. is also a country that takes measures that international law does not tolerate, such as the unilateral coercive sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela. They also abuse their power by manipulating cooperation on human trafficking and drug trafficking to punish their enemies and reward their allies.  

Their power over the international financial system is enormous. They manipulate organizations such as the IMF, the Inter-American Development Bank, in which the disgraceful Anez government in Bolivia supported U.S. leadership, despite the role traditionally being held by a Latin American due to the continent-wide nature of the institution.  

OV: The organization you lead, ALBA, was founded during the first wave of popular governments in Latin America. If we are going through the second wave now then what are some of the lessons we can take to strengthen ALBA in the phase of the popular struggle? 

We should lose our sense of naivety about the strength of the interests at play in our region. Since the 2002 coup in Venezuela, there have been so many similar attacks, the attempted coup in Bolivia in 2008, Ecuador in 2010, there was the coup in Honduras. All these attacks were carried out using the Police and the Armed Forces. There were also the coups via legislative and judicial means against Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, against Cristina in Argentina, against Lula in Brazil. The attacks on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua have been permanent and intense. Those years were not easy. 

I hope that now we can lose any naivety about the enemy we face and I hope we can build our own mechanisms without the U.S. Why did they destroy UNASUR? They did it on purpose, they needed to destroy any semblance of sovereignty. We have to remember, UNASUR played a crucial role in defeating and isolating the coup attempt in Bolivia in 2008, they did the same with the coup in Ecuador against Correa when the police had kidnapped him. They destroyed UNASUR precisely so the OAS can be the main arbiter in the Americas.