Secretary of State Tillerson’s Provocative Remarks About Latin America

On February 1, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson embarked on a seven-day trip to five Latin American countries (Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Peru). Before he did so he delivered an overview of this trip in a major speech at the University of Texas, Austin entitled “U.S. Engagement in the Western Hemisphere.” In addition to talking about the countries he will be visiting, he touched on Cuba and Venezuela and, in response to a professor’s question, the Monroe Doctrine, which will be discussed below. [1].

The Secretary’s Speech and Answers to Questions

  1. Cuba

The Secretary’s prepared remarks about Cuba essentially reiterated President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum, which has been discussed in previous posts. In addition, in response to a professor’s question, Tillerson criticized President Obama’a policy of normalization’s allegedly not obtaining advantages for the U.S. “other than a clear economic opportunity for U.S. business interests, which is great.” But  “that was coming on the backs of the Cuban people, who are still very repressed.”

The Trump Administration’s policies, he claimed, are all directed to helping the Cuban people. “That’s what we want to do is help the Cuban people.” Nevertheless, at the same time, “we stay engaged with the Cuban authorities that in this transition, can they find their way to maybe a different future? I don’t know. We’ll see.”

2. Venezuela

According to Secretary Tillerson, “he corrupt and hostile regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela clings to a false dream and antiquated vision for the region that has already failed its citizens. It does not represent the vision of millions of Venezuelans – or in any way comport with the norms of our Latin American, Canadian, or Caribbean partners.”

“Our position has not changed. We urge Venezuela to return to its constitution – to return to free, open, and democratic elections – and to allow the people of Venezuela a voice in their government. We will continue to pressure the regime to return to the democratic process that made Venezuela a great country in the past. . . .”

“We encourage all nations to support the Venezuelan people. The time has come to stand with freedom-loving nations, those that support the Venezuelan people, or choose to stand with the Maduro dictatorship, if that is your choice.”

Tillerson returned to Venezuela in response to a student’s question whether the removal of President Maduro was “ necessary, and what could the U.S.’s role be in the possible regime change, especially considering the turmoil that could surmount from such a change?”

The Secretary’s response: “Well, President Maduro could choose to just leave. . . . “We have not advocated for regime change or removal of President Maduro; rather, we have advocated that they return to the constitution. We do not recognize the constituent assembly as legitimate, and they need to get back to the constitution and follow the constitution.” (Emphasis added.)

“I think there will be a change. We want it to be a peaceful change. Peaceful transitions, peaceful regime change is always better than the alternative of violent change. In the history of Venezuela and in fact the history in other Latin American and South American countries, oftentimes it’s the military that handles that, that when things are so bad that the military leadership realizes they just – they can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition. Whether that will be the case here or not, I do not know. Again, our position is Maduro should get back to his constitution and follow it. And then, if he is not re-elected by the people, so be it. And if the kitchen gets a little too hot for him, I’m sure that he’s got some friends over in Cuba that can give him a nice hacienda on the beach, and he can have a nice life over there.” (Emphasis added.)

3. Monroe Doctrine

A  professor asked about Tillerson’s opinion of the Monroe Doctrine, which was a unilateral principle of U.S. foreign policy first enunciated in the 1823 State of the Union Address by President James Monroe and in 1850 became known in U.S. parlance as the Monroe Doctrine. Monroe stated that any “further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” At the same time, Monroe noted that the U.S. would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries.[1] 

Perhaps caught off guard by this question, Tillerson said, “Well, I think it clearly has been a success, because as I mentioned at the top, what binds us together in this hemisphere are shared democratic values, and while different countries may express that democracy not precisely the same way we practice democracy in this country, the fundamentals of it – respect for the dignity of the human being, respect for the individual to pursue life, liberty, happiness – those elements do bind us together in this hemisphere. So I think it clearly was an important commitment at the time, and I think over the years, that has continued to frame the relationship.”

Tilleson added, “it’s easy for the United States as a country, because of our size and our engagements with so many countries and regions around the world, . . . through nothing more than just perhaps a period of neglect, to let certain relationships atrophy a bit. . . . I think we’ve gone through those periods of time in our history as well, and if you look back and whether . . . by individual country or regionally as well, due to other events, sometimes I think we have forgotten about the importance of the Monroe Doctrine and what it meant to this hemisphere and maintaining those shared values. So I think it’s as relevant today as it was the day it was written.”

Cuba’s Criticism of the Secretary’s Remarks [3]

Cuba’s Criticism of the Secretary’s RemarksOn February 5, 2018, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry registered its strong objection to the Secretary’s comments about Cuba, its ally Venezuela and the Monroe Doctrine, which, Cuba said, were ones of “arrogance and contempt.”

According to Cuba Tillerson had “reiterated U.S. interference “ in Cuba’s internal affairs, on demanding from our upcoming electoral process changes that are to the liking of the United States.” He also ”aimed at undermining the unanimous repudiation of the region of the retrogressive measures and tightening of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, whose purpose is to harm the Cuban economy and people to attempt to subdue the country.”

Cuba added that “Tillerson’s comments about the history of military overthrowing elected governments in Lain America “openly instigate the overthrow, by any means, of the legitimate government of Venezuela” and are also “clearly in line with the regime change schemes that have claimed the lives of millions of innocent victims in various parts of the world and promoted violence, war, humanitarian crises and instability, demonstrating their failure.”

Moreover, said Cuba,  the Secretary’s defense of the Monroe Doctrine reiterated “the postulates of the infamous doctrine that established as a policy that the Americas were the backyard of the United States.”

In short, the Secretary’s remarks “adds a new act to what has been a pattern of successive outrages in the history of domination of our region, and confirms the sustained contempt with which the government of President Donald Trump has unequivocally referred to the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, whose peoples it denigrates whenever it has the opportunity.”

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba condemns this new attack against Cuba and Venezuela, which follows the recent disrespectful statements of President Trump in his State of the Union Address.”

“Before departing for his imperialist tour, the Secretary of State announced that 2018 will be the year of the Americas and made clear that he will seek to encourage division and submission among Latin American governments. In doing so, he will come up against the repudiation inspired by his announcements and the dignity of the peoples of the region, who bear the memory of the hundreds of thousands of dead and disappeared by the military dictatorships sponsored by the United States, and that Secretary Tillerson today calls to repeat.”

“Ours has been a continent subjected to the humiliating dominance of the U.S., interested only in extracting its resources in an unequal relationship. But Our America has awakened and it will not be so easy to crush it.”

Conclusion

Tillerson’s direct comments abut Cuba were rather limited and by themselves did not deserve Cuba’s strong rejection. However, the Trump Administration’s announced policies regarding Cuba do deserve the Cuban rebuke. Those policies also are not aimed at helping the ordinary Cuban people, especially those who are now engaged in the island’s private sector.

Although this blogger has not  carefully followed recent developments regarding Venezuela, he does believe that the country is in a horrible mess and that President Maduro’s actions are a major cause of this situation. While Tillerson did call for a peaceful solution to the country’s problems, was his unnecessary reference to military coup d’tat solutions in Latin America an implicit call for such action in Venezuela? If so, it was totally inappropriate and undiplomatic. And Cuba was right to criticize him for those remarks.

Unless Tillerson previously has been tipped off about the professor’s interest in the Monroe Doctrine, the question may have caught him off guard and the Secretary’s response obviously did not recognize the hostility throughout Latin America to the U.S. history of trying to impose its solutions to various problems upon the countries Latin America. This too deserved Cuba’s criticism.

====================================================

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, [Secretary’s] Travel to Texas, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and Jamaica, February 1-7, 2018  (Feb. 1, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary of State Remarks, U.S. Engagement in the Western Hemisphere (Feb. 1, 2018).

[2] Monroe Doctrine, Wikipedia.

[3] Cuba rejects a return to the Monroe Doctrine, Granma (Feb. 5, 2018). 

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

2 thoughts on “Secretary of State Tillerson’s Provocative Remarks About Latin America”

  1. More Criticism of Tillerson’s Comments About the Monroe Doctrine.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent comments about the Monroe Doctrine that were quoted in the above post were sharply criticized by Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer on international and public policy at Columbia and the executive director of Global Americans, a research and advocacy organization.

    According to Sabatini, Tillerson gave the doctrine a “tin-eared endorsement.” He was either unaware of or forgot the “countless United States interventions in the name of the Monroe Doctrine” and the past year’s failures to follow :”the basic tenets of hemispheric relations, all of which still offend Latin America counties.

    The Trump “administration’s rhetoric on immigration, free trade and American allies’ commitment to battling the scourge of narcotics — not to mention Mr. Tillerson’s embrace of the Monroe Doctrine — have weakened Washington’s leverage throughout Latin America.” Even though “Mr. Tillerson may have incrementally improved America’s standing in the region, but with all his baggage, he couldn’t fully restore it.”

    Sabatini, Tillerson’s Attempt tp Mend Ties in Latin America, N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/opinion/tillerson-latin-america.html

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