The US is angry at Latin American nations getting close to China, but the only alternative on offer is imperialist exploitation.
Honduran President Xiomara Castro caused a stir in the media when, on March 14, she remarked that she had instructed her foreign minister to re-establish diplomatic ties with China.
This was met with strong approval in Beijing while Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Reina reiterated that his nation is seeking “all the mechanisms that the international relationship serves for the interests of the people” and that his nation must “cooperate with the largest nations in the world.”
But, of course, the move was met with disgust in Washington, which, through its dated ‘Monroe Doctrine’ that places the Western Hemisphere firmly in the US sphere of influence, sees itself as the overlord of Latin America. For example, US Senator Bill Cassidy said on Twitter that Honduras was moving closer to China “while the world is moving away” and that “the Honduran people will suffer because of [Castro’s] failed leadership.”
To be fair, the US sure knows a thing or two about the suffering of Hondurans and other Central Americans, locking them and their children in cages as they flee destitution to the US. Washington has also orchestrated numerous coups that have devastated the region. At the same time, China has a record of helping Central American nations, including Nicaragua, which recently re-established ties with Beijing.
In February, China and Nicaragua agreed to step up their negotiations on a mutually beneficial free trade agreement and to advance the development of bilateral ties. To get a sense of this importance, I spoke to acclaimed American journalist Benjamin Norton at that time, who lives in Nicaragua and has been extensively covering China-Nicaragua ties. He told me that “the trade negotiations between Nicaragua and China are an important step in the deepening of South-South cooperation and the construction of a multipolar world.”
According to Norton, “historically the United States has treated Latin America in general, and Central America in particular, as its colonial property. The US militarily occupied Nicaragua three times and for decades propped up a brutal right-wing military dictatorship which imposed austerity on its population and sent all exports to the US for pennies on the dollar.”
Norton noted that in 2018 the US again “sponsored a violent coup attempt against Nicaragua’s democratically elected Sandinista government. When the putsch failed, Washington responded with economic warfare, imposing several rounds of aggressive unilateral sanctions, such as the devastating NICA Act, while pushing for a financial blockade.” He noted that these sanctions are illegal under international law and “have done significant damage to the Nicaraguan economy, hurting working-class Nicaraguans.”
“At the same time, while the US is sanctioning Nicaragua, Washington still expects the Central American nation to export its products to the US, particularly beef and other foods. By negotiating new trade arrangements with China, Nicaragua can defend its economic sovereignty, while strengthening South-South solidarity.”
For the whole Central American region, deeper trade relations with China can help. “By forming mutually beneficial economic partnerships with China instead of sending all of its exports to the United States, Central America can advance down the path toward true independence and sovereignty,” Norton said.
This is of particular relevance because the US government, and particularly the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, is obsessed with the issue of undocumented immigrants. A majority of these people are coming to the US from places like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – all formerly under US imperial rule at some point and still, to this day, victimized by North American imperialism.
There is also a significant amount of people fleeing Cuba and Venezuela, the former of which has been under a decades-long embargo and the latter under extraordinarily brutal unilateral sanctions from Washington.
While Republicans paint these people as violent criminals, they are, in fact, the victims of extreme exploitation and deliberate under-development. If the US doesn’t want people to seek asylum in their country or otherwise illegally enter to seek better job opportunities, they had best end their imperialist practices in Latin America.
China’s trade relations in the region, particularly Central America, could actually help ameliorate the antecedent causes of Washington’s immigration problem. Of course, US officials are clamoring to undo China’s activity in “their” hemisphere and have put together a series of offers to these countries that are nowhere near as lucrative as the opportunities China presents.
Beijing’s trade opportunities, and South-South solidarity as a principle, might just be the key to turning around the fortunes of Latin America, and Central America in particular.