The Latin American Grievance Narrative

In the last two centuries, two things have been constant throughout Latin America: the U.S. intervening in political, social, and military situations of Latin American countries, and Latin American leaders blaming all the ills of their nation on the United States. The latter occurrence has been back in the news as of late as leaders in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela seek to blame the United States for the latest political and social problems facing their respective countries. 

The latest examples of the grievance narrative have been prominent in the news. The first example has been the speech addressing the situation facing Cuba from its President, Miguel Díaz-Canel. In the speech Diaz-Canel blamed the U.S. for hiring mercenaries and the trade embargo for destabilizing his country. Another ideologue, the President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega recently declared “The Yankee’s Empire is a curse on humanity” while Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela seems to have the United States imbedded in his mind, as he recently celebrated that his country had broken free from the “irrational, extremist, cruel” U.S. oppression. 

No one doubts that the United States has an interest in Latin America. The Biden administration made their Latin America intentions very clear by giving them vaccine doses. However, American interests in the region are better served by a U.S. that focuses on expanding its influence, protecting its allies, and staying out of the political problems. By working this way, America denies the greatest political gift for left-leaning and America-hating leaders, the narrative of grievance.

The politics of grievance are not original to Latin America. Back in the United States grievance seems to be the driving force of every story in the 24-hour news cycle. Grievance politics are a symptom of what Kenneth Minogue defined in his book Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology as the highly special form of thought called ideology. 

Minogue argued that ideology seeks to construct a narrative of an oppressed vs. oppressor class. Ideology discovers that individuals and communities are living in a state of oppression, and the job of the ideologue politician is to liberate people from this injustice. Hence, ideologues foster and perpetuate grievance against oppressors as the means for attaining and perpetuating power in hopes of transforming society.

The ideological narrative of grievance against the United States is therefore a reliable instrument for Latin American ideologues to obtain and perpetuate their power for the achievement of their political goals. It’s a tried and tested tactic, because it’s politically appealing to the voting masses and redirects the blame game from the local politician to the U.S.

America is right to be concerned with the record of individual rights in these respective countries and should indirectly work with international partners on these issues. However, American interests are better served in portraying ambivalence about the political situations facing countries in Latin America. 

Consider the example of Cuba. America should lift the trade embargo and avoid addressing the political situation on the island. The trade embargo and sanctions against the Castro regime have not been beneficial for a free and democratic regime change. Instead, it has become a useful political gift to the regime to portray Cuba as a victim of American ‘imperialism’. 

The same could be said for the relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela. The U.S. sanctions against Maduro’s government have had the opposite effect of what the United States had intended. Venezuelans perceive aggression from the United States, which only hardens their political positions within their own country. The American response to the political troubles in Latin America should be vigilant. America should not be perceived as a bully because it only gives more firepower to the destructive local governments in Latin America. This won’t solve all problems, but it will certainly release tension. American policy in the region will be enhanced if it takes an ambivalent course of action.

The United States should adopt a policy of noninterference when it comes to internal problems and allow for these problems to be dealt with absent American action.  Intervening where we don’t belong has been a standard action of American policymakers, it’s time to understand we are simply fueling the fires of grievance against the United States. 

Ojel L. Rodriguez Burgos is a Ph.D. Student in the School of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews. His political commentary has appeared in The Hill, the Washington Examiner, and Forbes. Follow him on twitter: @ojelrodriguez

Image: Willian Alan Rogers

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