Obama, 'Change' and the Disembedding of Security in Latin America. The Tension Between Polyarchy and Democracy

Alejandra Roncallo

EMES Conferences Selected Papers Series, ECSP-P12-09.

In the midst of the 2008-2009 economic crisis, presidential candidate Barack Obama was perceived as a sort of Messiah who could bring the “change” that the wide array of global justice movements were demanding from the Bush administration. However, after a year in power, this optimism waned. In the wake of a new electoral campaign, this paper seeks to analyze US-Latin American relations during Obama’s first term. It is contended that the Obama administration represents the continuity of the system, “more of the same” rather than “change” a forth moment of the New Pax Americana.
The key element in the past three years has been the “cosmetic hemispheric change”, from the controversial FTAA project towards the search for a “Regional Partnership on Crime and Security”. This shift in emphasis from the economic to the security sphere is considered cosmetic because it maintains the same underlying structural matrix, the neoliberal world order. Indeed, because the “Regional Partnership on Crime and Security” project involves the disembedding of the police and judicial institutions from the state from the public to the private (as it previously was the case with the Central Banks, public enterprises, health and education), rather than promoting security, it has already intensified violence and corruption in those countries in the region that have signed security agreements with the United States.

In fact, putting the police in the hands of the elite is leading to the extermination of the poorest of society and, putting the judiciary at the service of the elite can only justify and make legal that extermination (e.g. Merida Initiative and Plan Colombia).

The big question is freedom for whom and for what purposes? Thus, the subtitles are, (1) Promoting “Democracy”, Trapped in the Contradiction between Cuba and Honduras, 2) Promoting “Security”: Police Militarization, Elite “Justice” and Genocide (Plan Merida and Plan Colombia,) (3) Promoting Freedom from Hunger, Vultures and “Humanitarian” Aid, The Case of Haiti and (4) Promoting Freedom from Energy Dependency and The Question of Biofuels, The Case of Brazil.

To produce change it is necessary to move away from polyarchy towards popular democracy, to modify the structure and superstructure of world orders, to shift the focus from corporate freedom towards peoples’ freedom and to continue constructing a space that is anchored in humanity and solidarity rather than greed.

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