THE CIA IN LATIN AMERICA: DID IT WIN? DID IT LOSE by John Lantigua

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I picked up The Miami Herald newspaper today and read a front page article about how many Latin American countries with governments that are left of center are threatening to kick out the U.S. Agency for International Development – known as U.S. AID. For most people, the agency is just another government bureaucracy, an acronym that doesn’t mean much more than alphabet soup. But for someone like me who has been traveling to Latin America for thirty years, it is another one of those instances that drives home just how radically the political world has evolved over here in the Western Hemisphere in the past five decades. It also makes me wonder what the CIA agents I brushed elbows with, especially in Central America in the 1980s, some of whom worked under the cover of U.S. AID, are thinking today. Given all the years they put in working to shape Latin America to U.S. will, how do they feel they did?

U.S. AID has provided assistance over the years to help the poor, but it has also never made a secret of the fact that it is also in the business of supporting U.S. foreign policy, backing political leaders the U.S. considers its allies in Latin America, and, consequently, working against those it doesn’t care for.  One example cited by The Herald was $95.7 million that U.S. AID earmarked for Venezuela between 2002 and 2010, specifically for its “Office of Transition Initiatives,” which announces as its goal “targeting key political transition and stabilization needs.” Some critics of that office have told the U.S. that Venezuela has an elected government and that any transition should be left to the Venezuelan people. One of those critics was Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a vocal opponent of U.S. administrations in general, who in 2010 made it illegal for  Venezuelan organizations involved in political activities to take foreign funding. Of course, it’s also true that Venezuela donates lots of oil to the Cuban government –basically propping up the Castro brothers’ political organization—but we’re talking here about U.S. AID.

In Bolivia, U.S. AID has funneled money to political parties that oppose left of center President Evo Morales. Morales has also accused the agency of funding peasant protests against him and, according to press reports that cited correspondence between the two governments, Morales is threatening the agency with expulsion.

In Ecudaor, another leftist president, Rafael Correa, has also accused the agency of working against him and has said he is in the process of writing new rules that will govern what U.S. AID can and can’t do in Ecuador. “If they don’t want to follow them, then so long,” Correa was quoted as saying by The Herald.

Now, leaders of Latin countries didn’t very often act or talk this way to the U.S. back there before the Cuban insurrection and revolution fifty plus years ago. Of course, back then the U.S. was pouring its money into fighting leftist movements that threatened conservative leaders in Latin America –some of them dictators. Those old leaders were just fine with U.S. AID and if some of its employees were really CIA, so much the better.

The subsequent leftist guerrilla movements in many countries, modeled on the Cubans and aided by the Cubans, eventually forced the U.S. to make real its support for free elections all over the region. (Ironically, today only Cuba doesn’t have them.) Funding dictatorships became politically embarrassing. And what that has led to, in time, has been the election of left of center governments in many Latin countries.

In 1982-83 I was posted in Honduras for United Press International. We all knew that the CIA had built a big presence there to fight the Sandinista government and its comandantes, the first born sons of Fidel Castro. At one point it was reported that the CIA had more agents there than in any country except the Soviet Union. And at the time Honduras was home to only four million people or so.

I knew some U.S. officials were CIA and there were others that I wondered about. I crossed paths with them at receptions. Of course, in Nicaragua they were successful in supporting a right wing guerrilla war against the Sandinistas, who eventually lost the election of 1990 and left power. Today, the Sandinistas –and President Daniel Ortega — are back in power via the ballot box.

I picture the faces of some of those CIA agents and suspected CIA agents, probably retired now, and wonder what they think of what has happened in Latin America in the past thirty years. Elections are held almost everywhere, and that is a stated American value. But many countries in the region are much more to the left than they were all those years ago, and their leaders can get mouthy, and I figure that probably isn’t the way the old agents would want it. Then again, apart from Cuba, there are no communist governments and stopping communism was their principle goal.

Do they feel they won? Do they feel they lost? I wonder.

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