IC Quarterly Analysis – Q1 2021

At its 2019 convention, Democratic Socialists of America voted that its International Committee (IC) should produce for members a quarterly newsletter of news and analysis about international events. In this edition, the International Committee presents three pieces of longform analysis of events in Latin American, Haiti, and the new Biden Administration’s foreign policies.

Biden’s Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity  

At the outset of the new administration, the Democratic Socialists of America International Committee presented our vision of what foreign policy would look like under the first 100 days of a socialist administration. Chiefly animating our vision was that the US must stop seeking to dominate the world. This would be accomplished in part by closing foreign military bases, ending the use of economic and financial sanctions to punish other countries, and renouncing the use of nuclear weapons. Additionally, we would end the policy of punishing those who expose US war crimes, US support for the oppression of the Palestinians and Saudi Arabia’s brutal war on Yemen. Under a socialist administration, the US would work toward a global green transition, complete with technology sharing, move to a new global monetary order that treats all nations equally, and work cooperatively with other nations through the United Nations.

Joe Biden has now been president for 100 days. He has made a number of foreign policy decisions. How does he stack up against our vision?

The biggest foreign policy move Biden has made is his announcement that he will “end” the Afghanistan War. For nearly two decades, the US has been engaged in a brutal war in Afghanistan, which has taken a toll on the civilian population. In spite of what some may say, Afghanistan was never the “good war.” The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a tragedy and the victims deserve justice. But the attacks were carried out by a criminal gang, not the civilian population of Afghanistan. Invading, occupying, and punishing the entire people of a nation was not an acceptable response to the 9/11 attacks. There is no military solution to terrorism.  

The statutory justification for the war in Afghanistan was a broad Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that was not geographically specific. This was part of a claim that the whole world, including the domestic US, was a battlefield where the US could intervene militarily at will. Far from just Afghanistan, the AUMF has been used to justify military interventions at least 37 times in 14 countries. It has also been cited as the “legal” authorization for military detention at Guantanamo, and even surveillance and detention at home. 

Ending the two decade war in Afghanistan is a must. While conservative commentators are livid that Biden may end the twenty year war, some questions remain about just what “ending” the war means. While Biden has promised to remove all declared troops from Afghanistan, the full extent of withdrawal from Afghanistan is unclear. For example, it is not known if drone strikes, air strikes, or other forms of intervention that don’t involve “boots on the ground” will continue. In addition to the air war, it is unclear whether ending the war will apply to CIA and Special Operation forces engaged in clandestine military action.     

Biden has taken some measures to restrain the global war on terror. He has told the Pentagon and the CIA they cannot carry out drone strikes outside of “war zones” without White House permission. War zones are defined to include Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. 

One of the cited reasons for the drawing down of the war in Afghanistan, is the supposed need to confront China and Russia. In our 100 Days of Socialism statement, we said under a soicalist administration the US “will turn away from a new Cold War with China and instead seek to promote peaceful resolution of disputes with China and work with China on climate change and the threat of pandemics.” The Biden Administration has continued the nationalistic posturing toward China that was a hallmark of Trump.

After Afghanistan, Biden’s major foreign policy move has been in Yemen. Both the Obama and Trump administrations helped Saudi Arabia lead a brutal war in Yemen. Biden on the campaign trail pledged to reverse course. Early in his administration, Biden stated he would end US support for “offensive” Saudi military operations. How the Biden administration distinguished between offensive and defensive military actions is unclear. However, the slaughter in Yemen continues and the US, with Biden at the helm, is still complicit

When it comes to Venezuela, the Biden Administration has followed the path laid out by the Trump Administration. The Biden Administration is pursuing regime change against Venezuela’s government. It continues the Trump Administration’s farcical policy of recognizing Juan Guaidó, who holds no power, as the president of Venezuela. It has continued the murderous sanctions on Venezuela. 

The DSA IC has called for an  “end to government repression of journalists and whistle-blowers who reveal information about harmful actions by US agencies abroad.” There was some hope that the Biden Administration may reverse course on the prosecution of journalist Julian Assange. The Obama Administration led an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, indicting more journalists’ sources under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. In spite of this crackdown on press freedom, Barack Obama balked at prosecuting Assange. Any precedent used to prosecute Assange for publishing information about US war crimes could be used against mainstream outlets like the New York Times (who published much of the same information as WikiLeaks). This was a bridge too far for Obama. Yet, in spite of pressure from press freedom and human rights groups, the Biden Administration has announced they will continue the prosecution. Similarly, the Biden Justice Department has gone forward with the prosecution of drone whistleblower Daniel Hale.

The Biden administration did, after public pressure, reverse Trump’s sanctions on the International Criminal Court. Yet, the administration opposes Palestinian efforts to seek justice at the ICC (or for that matter anywhere).

One of the biggest areas of hope for the post-Trump era was on US-Iran relations. Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“Iran Nuclear Deal”), even though Iran was complying with it. The Trump Administration implemented cruel and murderous sanctions on Iran and brought the two nations to the brink of war. Biden pledged to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal. So far, Biden has done nothing about the sanctions, which continue to devastate Iran’s civilian population. Biden has taken aggressive military action, including strikes in Syria against “Iran-backed militias.” These strikes, conducted without UN or Congressional approval, were illegal under both international and US law. 

While a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan is welcomed, Biden’s first 100 days in office stand in sharp contrast to what a socialist administration would do. Far from ending the pursuit of global domination, the Biden Administration remains committed to maintaining US hegemony.

Latin America: Gains and Losses

Latin America has seen many political ups and downs in the past year, perhaps as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and perhaps despite it. Let’s start with the losses:

Ecuador: Disappointingly, we saw 36-year-old candidate and leftist economist Andrés Arauz lose the presidential election to right wing-banker and IMF darling Guillermo Lasso. Taking for granted that you can generally get an impression of someone by the friends they keep, Lasso immediately invited Juan Guaidó, more likely the President of Narnia than Venezuela, to his inauguration while not wasting any time to shower kind words on the brutal former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe calling him a “Great leader of Latin America.” On Twitter he retweeted his intent to “strengthen commercial ties” with the current brutal Colombian President Ivan Duque. (More on Colombia later on.) While the role of candidate Yaku Pérez has been contested by just about every side of the left, it is without a doubt that Ecuador’s rainbow of indigenous groups Confederation of the Indigenous Organizations of Ecuador (CONAIE) played a key role throughout the elections.  

El Salvador: While much of the rest of the world was celebrating global solidarity for the rights of workers, politicians aligned with Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele committed an extreme act of lawfare by voting to remove five magistrates of El Salvador’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice. The second day majority lawmakers removed Attorney General Raúl Melara. While the US State Department denounced these moves and “expressed concern” it was likely more as a PR stunt than a sincere reservation about creeping authoritarianism in a country with a fragile democracy. Time will tell whether Bukele or the country of El Salvador will see any of the crushing unilateral coercive measures (sanctions) by the US imposed on it like with other countries in the global south. Namely, those countries with the audacity to assert independence from Western hegemony. We won’t be holding our breath. Readers may find the statement by the minority left party FMLN here. Naturally, El Salvadorans took to the streets in protest.  

Colombia: Those who would like to know more about the current situation in Colombia, including the window-shuttering days-long general strike, may read about it in this statement published by the DSA International Committee. Colombia can be considered Latin America’s Israel, home to at least nine US military bases. In the words of the late Hugo Chavez, “Colombia is, unfortunately, the beach head for the Yankee containment strategy in South America and, of course, its base of operations. All the more reason to stand in solidarity with Colombians in their struggle against authoritarianism and US imperialism. As of the time of this publication, no US sanctions have been imposed on the government of Colombia despite the state-sanctioned murder of 39 protestors. Readers may see images of resistance here.      

However, the last couple of months haven’t just brought setbacks for the global left; there are many bright spots in Latin America:

Peru: While DSA was naturally saddened by the defeat of Nuevo Peru’s Veronika Mendoza (see our statement), we express critical support for the surprising, dark horse socialist candidate Pedro Castillo backed by Marxist-Leninist party Peru Libre. Known colloquially as “Profesor Castillo” and “lapicera” campaigning with his trademark giant pencil and chotano hat, a nod to his teaching career in rural Peru, Castillo rose to political prominence as the leader of the 2017 teachers strike, yet CNN could not muster a photo of him during their coverage of the elections, a fact more telling of the news outlet than the union leader. Mendoza has endorsed Castillo. The June 6 election will see the confrontation between two visions of Peru: one led by Keiko Fujimora, right-wing daughter of imprisoned human rights violator and former president of Peru Alberto Fujimora, the other by Pedro Castillo, rural educator and union leader whose economic ideas include land expropriation, the nationalization of key sectors of the economy, and most importantly the restructuring of the 1992 constitution—the center of Fujimori’s crushing neoliberal legacy. DSA International Committee hopes to announce a webinar with members of Peru Libre prior to the June 6 elections. Please follow the DSA International Committee on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Brazil: An important blow to President Bolsonero’s lawfare against the Brazilian left occurred when former president Lula’s previous corruption convictions under “Operation Car Wash” were dismissed on procedural grounds. You can read the DSA IC statement here for more details. Next November will be an important showdown as Lula is now free to run for office against Bolsonaro, nicknamed the “Trump of the tropics,” who has been a bulldozer for US capital in the face of decades of growing Brazil-China economic relations.

Cuba: Despite a suffocating blockade that Biden said is “not a priority” for his administration, Cuba continues to show medical and human solidarity with the peoples of the world. Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Cuba’s International Medical Brigades export doctors and medicine as the US government exports more military supplies, sanctions and invasions. Further, US sanctions have put incredible strain on the nation’s ability to administer Cuba’s COVID vaccine (Soberana 02) and have impacted the import of necessary medical materials. Due to the reduced tourist traffic from COVID-19, the Cuban economy has suffered gravely in the past year, resulting in mass shortages throughout the country. The Saving Lives Campaign seeks to mitigate these shortages by shipping three million vaccination syringes to Cuba in the coming months. Please follow DSA IC for future developments.  

Other Flashpoints in the Americas 

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez left the Lima Group on the heels of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) declining to sign onto a letter criticizing President Nicolás Maduro written by the organization last year. In an astounding act of political bravery unlikely to ever be seen by a US president, AMLO criticized police following the death of Victoria Esperanza Salazar, saying she’d been the victim of “brutal treatment and murdered.” Readers may read our statement on her death here. Palestinian-Chilean communist mayor of Recoleta Daniel Jadue is polling well with potential voters as he considers a presidential run. For those who are unaware, the relationship between Chileans and Palestinians has been one of strong mutual solidarity with Chile being home to the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Arab world. Readers may learn more about Mayor Jadue in this interview with Jacobin.

Haitian Uprisings Against the Neoliberal, US-Backed Moise Regime

The past several months has seen Haiti rocked with protests against the increasingly autocratic and centralized government of President Jovenel Moïse. Large protests and a general strike in several Haitian cities showcased the anger of many working people against an inexcusably corrupt government. 

The seeds of the current struggle in Haiti can be traced all the way back to the Haitian Revolution, the first successful slave revolt in modern history. Toussaint L’Ouverture defeated the Spaniards, the British and the French in a series of long campaigns—and the Western world has never forgiven the small island nation. The United States invaded and occupied Haiti twice in the 20th century; the first time in 1915, leaving US Marines on the island for decades, and the second time in the 1990s after the CIA overthrew the social democratic President Jean-Bertrand Aristede (the agency is also responsible for installing Papa Doc Duvalier, the brutal dynastic dictator in Haiti, whose family terrorized and murdered the population for decades with his brutal paramilitary tontons macoutes). Aristede’s party, the left-wing Famni Lavalas, was banned from participating in elections thereafter. 

Haiti has long suffered the presence of UN-sponsored foreign troops, from MINISTUH and eventually its successive organizations. The earthquake of 2010 further devastated the already-poor country and killed an estimated 200,000 people. It is with this backdrop that in 2011, Michel Martely, a singer and former member of the tontons macoutes death squads, came to power, with the backing of the US and their lackeys in the Organization of American States (OAS). His rule was marked with killings, corruption, avarice and a foreign and domestic policy totally in thrall to the United States.

President Moïse was Marteley’s handpicked successor, and he came to power with the same US backing that his predecessor did. His rule has seen a reign of terror, massacres and further corruption. Moïse has also expanded the military; for such a poor country, this can only be seen as an offensive tool against the people. President Moïse has been ruling by decree for almost two years after letting parliament dissolve by failing to hold elections. The current protests started ostensibly due to President Moïse’s insistence on adding what protestors claim is an extra year to his term but have expanded to cover many of the problems with his rule—including calling for the US ambassador to Haiti to be expelled. Now President Moïse, taking after Erdoğan in Turkey, is calling for a constitutional referendum to increase the powers of the president. Fittingly, the changes to the constitution have so far only been published in French; the majority of the population speaks Creole.