In Latin America, the US Wants a Cold War Redux

With Cold War divisions once again rising to the fore, the US is returning to its old ways in Latin America: trying to exert influence in its “backyard” to enlist the region in the ongoing project of US global domination.

US funding for Colombian civilian organizations is always accompanied by funding for violent military and police authorities. (DANIEL MUNOZ/AFP via Getty Images)

As the United States continues to escalate diplomatic and military pressure on Russia and China for supposed foreign meddling worldwide, evidence from Latin America exposes their double standard. Historically perceived by the United States as their “backyard” — or their “front yard,” as Joe Biden has more recently suggested — Latin America is now a chess piece in the “new Cold War.”

Earlier this week, influential US Congress members proposed a new bill titled the Western Hemisphere Strategic Security Act with the view to increase military cooperation with friendly Latin American nations. This, according to US politicians, will help to address the threat of Chinese and Russian interference in the region.

But while China and Russia are indeed deepening diplomatic and trade relations across Latin America, it is the United States whose history of undemocratic meddling continues through to the present. In a recent document circulating out of the US embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, promises are made of large- and small-scale grants to local organizations that promote affinity to the US government’s political stance.

The embassy notice states that they will fund groups that support the “embassy’s strategic objectives” and that “increase . . . affinity for the US’s policies and priorities through strategic cultural and educational programming in the media and digital platforms.” The grant project has a yearly fund allocation of $250,000, just short of $1 billion Colombian pesos.

With the Colombian congressional and presidential elections looming, and a leftist coalition leading the polls, it’s no surprise that the Western superpower is spending big. The United States has more spending power than all the country’s political parties, and is attempting to secure the population’s political loyalty traditionally tied to the declining right.

This effort is of course only the latest tactic used by the United States to maintain a friendly government in the conflict-ridden nation. The US government has spent billions over the decades, cooperating with consecutive violent right-wing administrations.

Apart from the effort to spread an affinity for the US government’s political positions, the embassy’s guidance for funding also purports to prioritize applicants with entrepreneurial projects that include “women, Afro-Colombian people, diasporic Venezuelans, indigenous communities, LGBTQ+, and other vulnerable communities.” This effort to appear to empower neglected and vulnerable communities is not just hypocritical considering the United States’ weighty role in empowering political forces that abandon and oppress those communities; US funding for civilian organizations has always gone alongside funding the violent military and police authorities.

Research shows that the US government (and the European Union) have used civilian organizations in Colombia to combat possible threats to the established political and economic order since the 1990s. One program, known as the Peace Laboratories, began as a grassroots effort to diffuse the violent conflict in the most affected regions. After tens of millions of dollars were funneled into it by Western nations, it became known as the social arm of Plan Colombia — a US-backed military operation known for its violent counterinsurgency tactics.

Today, a turn to the left in Colombia, historically the United States’ closest strategic ally in the region, poses a threat to US dominance — even while the movement is led by center-left Gustavo Petro, who has shied away from openly criticizing the United States. The broad left coalition Petro heads, Pacto Histórico, is making waves across the country, and looks the likely winner in the May elections, which could mark a break with over two hundred years of liberal-conservative party hegemony. And although the figureheads of the coalition appear to be radical (and are portrayed as such in the media), their proposed policies are moderate.

Petro is hardly the Russian or Chinese agent or communist threat he’s reputed to be. Influenced and advised by thinkers like Thomas Piketty, Petro’s threat to Colombia’s ruling class and the United States is his insistence on a modest redistribution of the country’s vast wealth, a far stretch from the castrochavista the US-backed corporate media characterize him as.

The embassy’s attempt to influence the coming elections in Colombia is only the most recent. At a time when the West so loosely cries “meddling,” let’s not forget that it was the United States that deployed warships, threatened invasion, and forced the split of Panama from Colombia. The United States also pressured the Colombian government to send in troops to defend the United Fruit Company from striking workers, ultimately instigating the massacre of thousands. The United States advised and then trained the Colombian military and paramilitary in their violent counterinsurgency tactics with legacies that persist in the present, and it is the United States and the West more broadly that consistently, over decades, supported and upheld a nefarious state to protect their economic and geopolitical interests in the region.

Let’s be clear. The battle for Colombia, and for Latin America more broadly, is not between the world’s superpowers, but between the US government and US-friendly ruling classes and the oppressed and exploited masses who yearn for change — change that makes us not anybody’s front or backyard but an independent region capable of helping to lead the world away from neoliberal capitalism, a system that has done nothing for us, and only leads to further destruction and doom.