Latin America received scarce attention through the Democratic nomination race. But Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy track record — widely heralded as vital to securing her spot as the patry's candidate given her experience — in the region is a telling sign of not only the disconnect between her promises and her policies in practice, but also of her hawkish approach to the countries south of the U.S. border.
As historian Greg Grandin argued about Clinton’s foreign policy for Latin America in an article in The Nation, the impacts of her policies of ramping up free trade, border militarization, and the war on drugs have played a part in worsening insecurity and human rights conditions in several countries. “Beyond any one country or policy, these policies fed off of each other,” Grandin wrote, noting links between privatization, displacement, and violence.
As Clinton is set to make her presumptive nomination official at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia from July 25 to 28, teleSUR recaps how her foreign policy as Secretary of State had an impact on Latin America.
Backing Coup and Death Squads in Honduras
Hillary Clinton’s diplomatic role as then-Secretary of State in helping to secure the 2009 coup in Honduras has become well-known after the release of email transcripts and her 2014 book Hard Choices solidified the evidence.
In her autobiography “Hard Choices,” Clinton admits that she used her power to bring pro-U.S. "stability" to Central America, even if it meant doing away with democracy.
“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,” Clinton wrote. Those “free and fair” elections involved a media blackout, targeted assassinations of anti-coup leaders, and a generalized and grave deterioration of human rights ahead of the polls. No international institutions monitored the elections.
Clinton’s actions toward the Central American country and the United States’ ongoing support of corrupt Honduran security forces — accused of operating death squads — shot into the spotlight again with the recent murder of well-known Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Caceres. The assassination, along with dozens of similar killings in recent years, epitomizes Honduras’ deadly criminalization of political dissenters fighting against the neoliberal policies and intense militarization rolled out in the wake of the coup.
Clinton has painted herself as a champion of women’s right, but feminists in Honduras have a starkly different view of how her policies affect women. In an interview in Buenos Aires over a year before her murder, Berta Caceres specifically singled out Clinton for her hand in the coup, arguing that it highlighted the extent of North American “meddling” in Honduras and support for the ongoing crisis.
What’s more, Clinton’s stance on Honduras hasn’t changed. Although her role in Honduras did not come up in Democratic debates with rival Bernie Sanders, in an interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News, she defended her support for the coup and advocated a new “Plan Colombia for Central America.” Plan Colombia, a counternarcotics and counterinsurgency military aid package launched in 2000 by then-President Bill Clinton, is widely considered by human rights advocates to have been a disaster that spurred massacres, death squads, and exacerbated the civil war.
Fueling Disaster and Crisis in Post-Quake Haiti
Clinton visited Haiti four times as Secretary of State and, along with her husband, often spoke about the poorest country in the Americas in a fondly personal way. But Clinton’s foreign policy, lobbying, and earthquake relief philanthropy have been a disaster for the island nation.
Haiti is still reeling from the devastating 2010 earthquake and struggling under an unresolved political crisis that Clinton had a hand in creating. In the post-quake election, Clinton intervened to help secure soon-to-be President Michel Martelly a spot in the run-off race against frontrunner Mirlande Manigat, whose left-leaning campaign criticized the foreign aid organizations in Haiti after the natural disaster as unaccountable and ineffective. Even though he initially came in third place as a non-contender in the run-off race, Martelly was elected president, and oversaw a period marred by political unrest amid economic crisis.
Meanwhile, the Clinton Foundation, which Hillary chairs alongside her husband, doled out US$6 billion in formaldehyde-ridden trailers billed as hurricane-proof emergency homes that caused headaches and illness for those who used them. The trailers were distributed by Clayton Homes, a firm that has donated to Clinton’s campaigns in the past.
According to WikiLeaks cables, Clinton also lobbied against a minimum wage hike in Haiti back in 2008 and 2009, colluding with corporations taking advantage of sweatshop labor in Haiti to pressure the government to veto the wage increase to keep labor cheap — and block a step forward for the country with one of the highest rates of poverty and inequality in the hemisphere.
Wreaking Havoc with Free Trade Economics
Hillary Clinton’s flip-flopping position on the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership under the pressure of Bernie Sanders’ campaign is a telling sign of the disconnect between her words and actions. The former Secretary of State came out against the TPP during primary race after previously cheerleading the trade pact criticized for paving the way to increase inequality and undermine labor, environmental, food, and human rights.
But despite her recent change of heart, Clinton’s delegates in the Democratic policy meeting revealed the presidential hopeful’s true stance when they voted against changes proposed by Bernie Sanders representatives to include outright rejection of the TPP as a plank in the party’s platform.
What’s more, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote on his Facebook on Sunday that a Clinton advisor told him that the presumptive Democratic nominee won’t oppose the TPP.
The news doesn’t come as entirely surprisingly, since Clinton did the same thing with the Colombia Free Trade Agreement in her last run for president. Though she and Barack Obama both came out against the George W. Bush’s trade plan during the nomination race over concerns about Colombia’s brutal track record of deadly criminalization of labor organizers, her emails later revealed she secretly pushed for the deal to go through.
Now, the TPP, which includes Mexico, Peru, and Chile, could further undermine Latin American economies by flooding them with cheap agricultural imports, while widely expanding corporate rights that allow companies to sue countries for trying to regulate the industry and the economy, such as with environmental protections.
And the track record of U.S. free trade agreements in Latin America sets a troubling precedent. After over two decades of the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico — launched in 1994 under then-President Bill Clinton — the free trade deal has cost one million U.S. jobs and displaced 1.5 million Mexican campesinos as a flood of subsidized, cheap U.S. food imports served a blow to Mexico’s agricultural sector and food security. Central America suffered a similar fate under CAFTA-DR.
The TPP has been described as “NAFTA on steroid,” foreshadowing what’s to come for the region under the transnational pact. Hillary Clinton has largely continued to advocate free trade and militarization as the only solution to poverty and insecurity, in the region, while refusing to recognize that these very policies helped exacerbate those problems in the first place.