Washington’s “Two Track policy” to Latin America: Marines to Central America and diplomats to Cuba

By Prof. James Petras
Global Research, May 20, 2015

Everyone, from political pundits in Washington to the Pope in Rome, including most journalists in the mass media and in the alternative press, have focused on the US moves toward ending the economic blockade of Cuba and gradually opening diplomatic relations.  Talk is rife of a ‘major shift’ in US policy toward Latin America with the emphasis on diplomacy and reconciliation.  Even most progressive writers and journals have ceased writing about US imperialism.

However, there is mounting evidence that Washington’s negotiations with Cuba are merely one part of a two-track policy.  There is clearly a major US build-up in Latin America, with increasing reliance on ‘military platforms’, designed to launch direct military interventions in strategic countries.  

Moreover, US policymakers are actively involved in promoting ‘client’ opposition parties, movements and personalities to destabilize independent governments and are intent on re-imposing US domination.

In this essay we will start our discussion with the origins and unfolding of this ‘two track’ policy, its current manifestations, and projections into the future.  We will conclude by evaluating the possibilities of re-establishing US imperial domination in the region.

Origins of the Two Track Policy

Washington’s pursuit of a ‘two-track policy’, based on combining ‘reformist policies’ toward some political formations, while working to overthrow other regimes and movements by force and military intervention, was practiced by the early Kennedy Administration following the Cuban revolution.  Kennedy announced a vast new economic program of aid, loans and investments – dubbed the ‘Alliance for Progress’ – to promote development and social reform in Latin American countries willing to align with the US.  At the same time the Kennedy regime escalated US military aid and joint exercises in the region. Kennedy sponsored a large contingent of Special Forces – ‘Green Berets’ – to engage in counter-insurgency warfare.  The ‘Alliance for Progress’ was designed to counter the mass appeal of the social-revolutionary changes underway in Cuba with its own program of ‘social reform’.  While Kennedy promoted watered-down reforms in Latin America, he launched the ‘secret’ CIA (‘Bay of Pigs’) invasion of Cuba in 1961and naval blockade in 1962 (the so-called ‘missile crises’).  The two-track policy ended up sacrificing social reforms and strengthening military repression.  By the mid-1970’s the ‘two-tracks’ became one – force.  The US invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965. It backed a series of military coups throughout the region, effectively isolating Cuba.  As a result, Latin America’s labor force experienced nearly a quarter century of declining living standards.

By the 1980’s US client-dictators had lost their usefulness and Washington once again took up a dual strategy: On one track, the White House wholeheartedly backed their military-client rulers’ neo-liberal agenda and sponsored them as junior partners in Washington’s regional hegemony.  On the other track, they promoted a shift to highly controlled electoral politics, which they described as a ‘democratic transition’, in order to ‘decompress’ mass social pressures against its military clients.  Washington secured the introduction of elections and promoted client politicians willing to continue the neo-liberal socio-economic framework established by the military regimes.

By the turn of the new century, the cumulative grievances of thirty years of repressive rule, regressive neo-liberal socio-economic policies and the denationalization and privatization of the national patrimony had caused an explosion of mass social discontent.  This led to the overthrow and electoral defeat of Washington’s neo-liberal client regimes.

Throughout most of Latin America, mass movements were demanding a break with US-centered ‘integration’ programs.  Overt anti-imperialism grew and intensified.  The period saw the emergence of numerous center-left governments in Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Honduras and Nicaragua.  Beyond the regime changes , world economic forces had altered: growing Asian markets, their demand for Latin American raw materials and the global rise of commodity prices helped to stimulate the development of Latin American-centered regional organizations – outside of Washington’s control.

Washington was still embedded in  its 25 year ‘single-track’ policy of backing civil-military authoritarian and imposing neo-liberal policies and was unable to respond and present a reform alternative to the anti-imperialist, center-left challenge to its dominance.  Instead, Washington worked to reverse the new party- power configuration.  Its overseas agencies, the Agency for International Development (AID), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and embassies worked to destabilize the new governments in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay and Honduras.  The US ‘single-track’ of intervention and destabilization failed throughout the first decade of the new century (with the exception of Honduras and Paraguay.

In the end Washington remained politically isolated.  Its integration schemes were rejected.  Its market shares in Latin America declined. Washington not only lost its automatic majority in the Organization of American States (OAS), but it became a distinct minority.

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